For someone who exploded onto the pop scene with “Royals,” a cautionary tale about celebrity culture and the pitfalls of observing our entertainment heroes as flawless, godlike figures, New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde has accumulated quite the dedicated cult fanbase – and the expectations of leaning into her role as the cerebral pop star doling out wisdom and life lessons are seemingly getting to her. Where her first two albums were brilliantly interconnected, sharply lyrical narratives about her whirlwind life of simultaneously dealing with teenage angst and the pressures of fame, her latest is about disconnecting from that lifestyle as she ages.
Keeping in touch with her fans as always through a series of personalized e-mails, Lorde detailed her life in the four years since Melodrama with tales of disconnecting from social media, relaxing back at home with gardening and beach trips, and even taking a trip to Antarctica to learn about climate change – a theme that pops up sporadically throughout the project. While her fans pored through the album’s initial lyrics and images, clamouring to be the first to settle on the perfect theory about aliens or cult leaders disguised by a summery, overjoyed new sound that might have been sarcastic a couple years back, things turned out to be finally, thankfully, surface-level. Sometimes, it’s as simple as finding yourself through a self-care day at the beach.
Here are eight takeaways from Lorde’s latest:
On the track “California,” Lorde pinpoints hearing her name announced by Carole King as a Grammy winner and being handed a golden trophy from the songwriter supreme as the moment she knew her life would never be the same. Her ascendence into the pantheon of celebrity opened her life up to opulence and extravaganza, but also constant criticism and stress. In an interview she gave about the inspiration for the song, Lorde says she knew she had finally returned to normality when she tried and failed to connect to a Grammy livestream on her laptop back in New Zealand, ultimately electing not to watch.
In another story about Lorde’s years as a “teen millionaire having nightmares from the camera flash,” she offers a couple lines about a trip to the star-studded 2016 Met Gala on the album’s opening song, “The Path.” Lorde showed up to the event wearing a cast on her arm that was signed by some of the most famous figures of the time, welcoming her into their club. Capturing the reckless energy and rush to get to the next Instagrammable moment that coloured her unusual teenage years and steadily wore her down, she admits to stealing a fork from one of the world’s most exclusive celebrity parties as a souvenir for her mother.
2017’s Melodrama was a deeply emotional concept album that could have only come from Lorde’s old lifestyle, revolving around the story of a single house party as she drew out every little interaction into soul-crushing insecurities and the feeling of chasing fleeting moments of joy. On Solar Power, Lorde decides that the highs she might have received aren’t worth the reputation of being the sad party girl, and she recruits the original sad party girl to solidify the realization: Robyn. The track “Secrets From A Girl (Who’s Seen It All)” functions as a letter to her younger self suggesting to rearrange her values, a spoken-word outro from Robyn closing things out as leaves the Melodrama party behind.
Many of Lorde’s most poignant lyrical moments over the course of her career have drawn reference to perfect summer nights, or the rush of the sun beaming down upon her. On an album called Solar Power, the sun sticks around as a major symbol, but its meaning has been flipped as Lorde searches for a newly domestic and normal lifestyle. With lines referencing her earlier self purposefully jumping hemispheres to remain in a constant state of summer, the rising sun of a new day now represents moving forward into a new future, the dawn after a wild night of debauchery. The track “Stoned at the Nail Salon” muses on the passage of time, instructing listeners to ignore outside pressures and be true to yourself before it’s too late.
Another major symbol from “Stoned at the Nail Salon” appears in its very first line, where Lorde reveals she keeps a wishbone perched on her kitchen’s windowsill to remind her of the two sides of herself. The wishbone represents two arms branching out from one central piece where they come together as one, as she addresses her fears that choosing a life of celebrity or a life of normality will see her missing out on the unique joys of one or the other. The wishbone serves as a reminder that the two paths are one and the same, and to live in the moment.
On the track “The Man With The Axe,” Lorde tells the story about how having a panic attack while performing in front of a Norwegian princess led to her discovering new love. On a dedication to her longtime boyfriend Justin Warren, a promotions director working at Universal Music New Zealand, she explains why she was so drawn to him, fawning over his down-to-earth personality, straightforward office job and sensible plans for the future. Comparing herself to a tree felled by his axe, she thanks him for freeing her from her more hasty and careless roots, a troubled concert in Oslo attended by the royal family serving as a major wake-up call.
On the back-to-back tracks “Leader of a New Regime” and “Mood Ring,” Lorde embodies the character of a self-absorbed former pop star getting ready to board a flight to the last bastion of safety in a world ravaged by climate change, a topic she mournfully addresses earlier on the track “Fallen Fruit.” She packs her designer clothes and tabloids, seemingly representing a picture of where Lorde would have ended up if she remained on her old path. On the bubbliest song of the bunch, Lorde offers a satirical takedown of those who look to diets, astrology, crystals and yoga – as well as problematically fetishizing “exotic” cultures and their holistic practices – for healing and wellness in a world where taking action is obviously needed. In one of her trademark emails, Lorde described her iPhone as the ultimate mood ring – that is, a distraction that tells us how to feel about our twisted world.
On the bittersweet track “Big Star,” Lorde credits her late dog, Pearl, for being a major catalyst in her shift in lifestyle by offering the kind of unconditional love that only a canine companion can. Pearl was the only one who didn’t have any ulterior motives or hidden desires of wanting something from a celebrity. In a 2019 email to fans, Lorde recounted having to scrap an entire album that she was working on as a result to Pearl’s passing due to illness after only about a year of ownership, her muse departed. Stating in an interview that she wrote the song with Pearl lying at her feet, this track written before his passing remained. Lorde sings that she looks at Pearl like her fans look at her, a transcendent force that can do no wrong. Now go hug your pets.