When we were sixteen, Lorde and I existed in worlds too small for our souls. We were restless. We wasted time. We read a lot. We went on too many destination-less drives, and when we spotted the skyline of a not-so-distant adulthood on the horizon, we shuddered in unison. We planned our escape.
Lorde and I are twenty now. I knew before Melodrama came out that she’d aged and transformed, because I had, too. I wasn’t expecting to hear the Lorde I knew from Pure Heroine, just like I don’t expect to wake up one morning and be sixteen again. It wasn’t about grasping for what we had once felt together; it wasn’t about hearing a certain sound. I just wanted to hear her voice again. I wanted to sit down with her, this old friend whose thoughts I hadn’t heard in years, whose experiences I hadn’t been able to compare to my own for so long. And by some stroke of painfully beautiful fate, we’ve ended up in the same place again. Somehow, after somersaulting in separate storms, we wound up landing in the same, new Oz.
Melodrama isn’t a perfect album. It starts with the worst songs, bangers that catalogue destructive coping mechanisms–the drugs and alcohol and escapism we’ve been taught to turn to in the face of reality. But those songs quickly disintegrate as Lorde loses her buzz, the numbness leaves her, and she starts feeling things again.
Gone is Lorde’s distance from the world on Pure Heroine. Instead, our Lorde is now at the centre of the party. She is very much caught up in the rush, but she hasn’t lost her acute awareness. She spins round and round in the eye of the storm, musing that her feelings must be “what they call hard feelings,” that “all this” must be “the party” they described. But she knows something they don’t, which is to surrender to her heart anyway. Although in the grand scheme of things she isn’t feeling anything particularly unique or singular, she knows it’s still hers to discover. She knows the lip service pop has always paid to heartbreak and loneliness will remain meaningless unless she experiences them firsthand; she knows she won’t understand the clichés unless she becomes a cliché herself. She has to embrace her own sensitivities. She has to perform her own melodrama.
Lorde grounds herself by celebrating her sorrow. She throws a party for her fragile, beating heart. She catches snippets of solitude and juxtaposes them with the exaltation of fresh independence. She describes the idealized version of herself whom she introduces to strangers at a party, but also manages to nail down the heart-wrenching pain and alienation that come with outgrowing yourself. She amplifies the flutters in her chest (“broadcast the boom boom boom”) and we are left to literally dance to the beat of her heart. Her life force. It’s irregular, it’s raw, sometimes it doesn’t make sense, and that’s precisely why it is so incredibly good.
Sure, her sound has changed, but so has she. So have I. So have we. To focus on how technically good Melodrama is would be to miss the point. The point isn’t that it needs to sound any certain way. It’s that these songs and words embody Lorde getting to know her new skin, that writing them helped her become acquainted with her new universe. It isn’t about the songs themselves, but the process. Through them, she has found her footing. That in and of itself makes this album a victory.