Melodrama is Lorde’s (Successful) Quest for Identity

7.21.2017

By Justin Hermstedt

 

Melodrama is an album of high and low, flight and crash landing, ecstasy and hangover. In the four years since the release of Pure Heroine in 2013, Lorde has accumulated a new trove of source material for her autobiographical songwriting. With Melodrama, Lorde reestablishes her ability to translate her experiences into bittersweet illustrations of young-adulthood. Lorde, along with collaborators including Jack Antonoff (aka Bleachers) and Flume, crafted a comeback that’s too nuanced to be called a breakup album: Melodrama is a quest for identity.

 

The album comprehensively tackles the spectrum of emotions a breakup imposes. Lorde begins by revealing the unhealthy duality of her former relationship, then sifts through the different stages of grief and heartbreak she endured. Lorde begins and ends Melodrama with radio-friendly pop jams, but we’re taken on a visceral journey in the space between “Green Light” and “Perfect Places.”

 

“Green Light” is an energized kick starter to the album that places Lorde in a reckless post-breakup furor. Wasting no time, Lorde tosses a hope-filled key change at the listener after a scathing first verse (to be clear, we’re only 45 seconds into the album at this point). This divergence introduces the identity crisis that a breakup can hurl you into, especially when you’re young. When you love a partner, they become a part of who you are. You’re not yourself without them–you’re not whole. When they leave you, it doesn’t shatter your delicate glass heart; it tears a chunk of flesh from your body. Many-a-songwriter would whimsically say they were “left to pick up the pieces.” Instead, on “Sober II (Melodrama)” Lorde bluntly shares the “terror and the horror” of her “holy sick divine nights” newly alone.

 

The feeling that connects the first ten tracks of Melodrama is uncertainty. Lorde grapples with a number of pressing questions. How do you recover from heartbreak? Who are you without that person, without that missing part? Ultimately, what lessons and memories do you take with you from your failed relationship?

 

It’s difficult to answer these questions for yourself, and harder still to know if you’ve answered them correctly. On the question of how to cope, Lorde has a few strategies, each under the mantle of a different persona. The first Lorde we meet is the deadened ballader of “Liability.” Blaming or hating yourself is a foreseeable stage of grief, but she manages to escape the abyss of total self loathing. She leans on her own shoulder, calling herself “the only love [she hasn’t] screwed up.”

 

“Hard Feelings/Loveless” introduces us to two new shades of Lorde. These personas are like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, if Dr. Jekyll was timid and melancholic, and Mr. Hyde was a bad bitch. As “Hard Feelings” fades out, we start to get the sense that Lorde is going to be okay. There’s still some venting to do (cue “Loveless” and “Sober II”), but she’s given the first indications of inner-peace.

 

Inner-peace and acceptance are the goal from the get-go, (from the green light, if you will) but they don’t come naturally after being dumped. You’re given a few variables–anger, misery, delirium, etc.–and you have to plug them into an equation. Somehow, these terrible feelings are supposed to equate to peace.

 

In the third act of Melodrama, Lorde tries to make it compute. The last four tracks really are a remarkable sequence of music, and they propel the album above the sum of its parts. On the heart-wrenching “Writer In the Dark” Lorde finds strength in her solitude in New York:

I ride the subway, read the signs

I let the seasons change my mind

I love it here, since I stopped needing you

Now that she’s allowed herself to move on, Lorde reflects on what she wants to take with her from her former love. It’s okay, Lorde suggests, to cherish certain memories; they don’t have to be tarnished by the bad ones.

 

The reprise of “Liability” is one final vanquishing of self-blame. Lorde defiantly declares that its his fault, his loss, and his problem. “You’re not what you thought you were. Leave.”

 

“Perfect Places” was tepid as a single. It seemed playful and catchy, but not particularly deep. As the conclusion to Melodrama, it’s triumphant. “Perfect Places” chronologically pairs with “Green Light,” depicting a vignette of Lorde a year or so after the the events of the rest of the album. She tumbles through a cycle of partying, but remains very self-aware. Not all of her wounds have healed, but perhaps they don’t need to.

 

Amid her heartbreak, she rediscovers herself as a balance of those personas and who she was before. The impossible equation that neutralizes heartbreak hasn’t been solved, but it’s been reframed. Lorde processed the hopeless pits of self-blame, the unfulfilling pursuit of revenge, and the crushing weight of uncertainty, and she forged a stronger self. “The heartache, and the trauma, and the fucking melodrama,” have lead her here. The end of Melodrama finds Lorde wandering on, still learning and still healing. Miraculously, she’s able to roll her eyes at the melodrama of it all.

 

Expect adversity, and redirect it to change you for the better. Expect to hear “The Louvre” on season 2 of Riverdale. And expect to someday hear more from Lorde, a prodigious songwriter and voice of a generation.

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