It’s 2017. It’s 2017. It’s 2017. Lorde’s second album has just come out, its release coinciding with my own protracted breakup. I play Melodrama on an endless loop.
Then, for four years — as climate-change induced wildfires and national politics rage, to say nothing of COVID-19 — the singer stayed quiet. In the absence of news and social media updates, a proliferation of memes arose: memes about listening to her albums in lieu of therapy, memes about the endless wait for LP III, memes about how she would come along to save us by giving voice to our unspoken pandemic-era angst.
Her previous work, polished yet emotionally raw, partly explains this perspective. Themes of trauma — experiences that crystallize into singular moments in time — refract and reflect in the structure of Melodrama. Lorde, 20 at the time of the album’s release, explored snapshots of darkness at different angles: a painting suspended in “The Louvre”; a romantic experience recorded for posterity in “Writer in the Dark”; the intrusive yet unchanging imagery of “Supercut.” It was a vulnerable exploration of her own mental landscape.
Yet, as if anticipating her new direction, “Liability,” a central track on Melodrama, ends with the repeated phrase: “They're gonna watch me disappear into the sun / You're all gonna watch me disappear into the sun.”
On Solar Power, which released last week, Lorde reappears in the light of the sun. Here, the hooks don’t take off in the manner of her previous releases — they’re not meant to; they cruise at ground level, a steady and leisurely pace maintained throughout the album’s 43-minute run time. In describing her creative process, Lorde said, “Every song on the album, I did say it has to sound like the sun, and this one in a big way. It sounds like the beach, the waves, the girls lying on the beach.”
Lost in much of the promotional hype leading up to Solar Power was the quiet news that in the interim between her previous album and her latest, Lorde had started therapy. Famously private, she didn’t share much more than that, but she doesn’t need to — and anyway, the new sonic landscape of the album speaks for itself. Whereas the propulsive and explosive beats of Melodrama mirrored the rhythm of thoughts racing out of your control, the bubbly basslines of Solar Power reflect the steady progression of growth she’s experienced in the years since.
Lorde, though, is aware of the weight of the expectations placed upon her, and this too forms a major through line of Solar Power. She’d been thinking, she explained in interviews leading up to its release, about “the worship that comes towards someone like me.” Elsewhere: “My kids — my community — they’re expecting spiritual transcendence from me, from these works.” And: “We’re taught to view famous people as gods now — and I just wanted to dismantle that.”
Lorde saw the rock messiahs of a generation past, and took a different path, not wanting, perhaps, to be another false idol. On her first chorus on the opening track of the album, “The Path,” Lorde makes her position clear:
Now if you're looking for a saviour, well, that's not me
You need someone to take your pain for you?
Well, that's not me
In the context of her interviews, some of the album takes on a satirical tone, though it’s more gently winking than barbed, like when she deconstructs the myth of her public perception in the title track while playfully riffing on her mononym:
Lead the boys and girls onto the beaches
Come one, come all, I'll tell you my secrets:
I'm kinda like a prettier Jesus
She’s also always been a singer who pays tribute to her favorite artists and influences, and that’s just as true on Solar Power. This time, though, she vibe checks the apocalyptic party scene of Prince’s 1999 in a blissed out faux-flight attendant’s spoken word segment. Robyn, one of the many collaborators on the album, promises listeners: “When we’ve reached your final destination, I will leave you to it / You’ll be fine.”
Lorde is happier — but that doesn’t mean that all of her fans have been ready to come along with her on her journey of growth. One of the most popular reaction memes to the album juxtaposed promotional images from the Pure Heroine and Solar Power eras — respectively dark and sunny — reading, “I feel like 2014 Lorde would have hated 2021 Lorde.”
The singer, always one of our most self-aware pop stars, has anticipated this, though. On the closing track of the album, “Oceanic Feeling,” she recalls her 2014 aesthetic, crooning in a breathy falsetto:
Now the cherry-black lipstick's gathering dust in a drawer
I don't need her anymore
'Cause I got this power
It’s 2021. Lorde isn’t here to save us. She’s moved on from our expectations, but she hopes the sun — and maybe some therapy — will show us her path.