Welcome to weekly series The Singles Life, where known experts Katie Parker and Hussein Moses peruse, ponder and pontificate on the latest and (maybe) greatest in New Zealand music.
It’s been four (billion) years since Lorde put our country on the map and gave purpose to our meaningless lives with her debut album and runaway success Pure Heroine. Now, finally, we have her much-awaited follow up Melodrama in our hot little hands. It’s a new era for Lorde, but why does it feel like her staying power is being tested? We are here to find out.
Katie: What a wild ride it's been. In the four months since Melodrama was announced, Lorde has been doing promo like a mad woman: from that weird Auckland release for Green Light, to babysitting a ZM DJ’s children, to an onslaught of cover stories, she has really been doing THE MOST. Somewhere in there she even released four of the album’s songs: ‘Green Light’, ‘Liability’, ‘Perfect Places’, and ‘Sober’.
In the era of surprise releases, it's been a pretty intense press junket - even more so when you think about how enigmatic she seemed in her Pure Heroine days.
And now it’s finally here. What does it mean when an album drop feels like the end of something, rather than the beginning?
Hussein: Lorde built her brand on elusiveness and rejecting the idea that you had to totally buy into these cringey press cycles if you wanted to succeed as some kind of pop icon. Remember when she made a point of saying that the NZ On Air logo held a "negative power" for her generation? Or when you couldn't find a press shot of her, let alone read an interview with her? She did what she wanted and how she wanted to do it, which is precisely why people bought into it so heavily.
But that kind of self-awareness seems to have been squandered. Suddenly, she's everywhere you kind of wish she wouldn't be. Just about every single media outlet in the country has been granted interview time, which never would’ve happened in the past. Even now when she's talking directly to her audience, it often feels way off-brand and - to be frank - a little desperate. I get that this is how it works in the world of major labels, but at the same time it’s still hard not to feel like her authenticity got compromised as soon as she started buying into everything she once made a point of kicking back against.
Katie: It’s definitely a case of overexposure. For something we’ve waited so long for there’s been a sense of anticipation missing, and I feel like it's because she gave too much away. There are 11 tracks on the album and four had already been released - and of the ones remaining ‘Sober II’ and ‘Liability (Reprise)’ are basically sequels. By the time the album arrived, it felt like we’d already heard most of it.
Hussein: ‘Green Light’ still bangs, but the closest we get to anything like it on the record is ‘Homemade Dynamite’ which doesn’t land in quite the same way. I’d take ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ any day. ‘Perfect Places’ is a step too slow and it comes off sounding more like The Naked and Famous than anything else.
Katie: She’s still got a knack with turns of phrase and that weird poetic voice is still in tact. ‘Homemade Dynamite’ definitely seems set to become another single, and I really, really like ‘The Louvre’ though I wish it didn’t have that weird spoken word chorus. The sonic arc of ‘Writer in the Dark’ is pretty nice in the way it escalates to a swell of emotion that you kind of don’t really associate with Lorde.
Listening to it all as a body of work, the songs all sound a bit similar. As we all know very, very well by now, the narrative arc of the album covers going through a breakup, growing up and being a pop star - and all the songs touch on those themes to more or less the same effect.
I wonder if this would be less pronounced if the whole thing hadn’t already been explained to us so many times. These songs work a million times better as a tool to unlock the feelings and sensations specific to the listener than they do as insights into a Devonport girl’s coming of age which, to be honest, is fairly standard fare.
Much has been made of Jack Antonoff’s role here - Lorde clearly really, really likes him - but I wonder if his wall of voices signature sound is varied enough for him to be the sole producer on the whole album.
His music always reminds me of The Lion King for some reason.
Hussein: The songs haven’t exactly landed well with mainstream audiences, either here or overseas. You won’t find any of those four recently released singles on the US Billboard Hot 100 going into this week. Over in the UK, ‘Green Light’ is sitting at no. 50 while ‘Perfect Places’ debuted way down at no. 95. Locally, there’s two songs in the NZ Top 40 - ‘Perfect Places’ at no. 24 and ‘Green Light’ (which has gone platinum) at no. 35. It’s a bit bleak. Can we put some of this loss of momentum down to waiting too long between albums?
Katie: It’s tricky. She’s been gone a long time in New Zealand years and even more in the international market. A lot of the things that made her novel - youth, obscurity, innocence, perceived independence from the pop machine - are gone now, so this will really be a test of her staying power and resonance with those outside her (very fervent) fanbase.
I don’t think it’s as much of a disaster as the roll out kind of suggested it might be (somewhere Katy Perry sheds a single tear). If you buy into her poetic genius, there is plenty here to keep you going - maybe just keep away from her social media if you want the space to draw your own conclusions.
Speaking of social media - who is still reeling that the world’s most serious millennial was running a secret novelty onion ring review Instagram account? It’s the most relatable thing she's done lately and damn bloody shame it's gone.
Bring back Onion Rings Worldwide and we’ll talk.