MUSIC’S RELUCTANT ROYAL INTRODUCES A NEW SOUND, EMBRACING A SUNNIER DISPOSITION IN SOLAR POWER, SO LISTENERS CAN CARRY A PIECE OF SUMMERTIME WITH THEM WELL INTO THE FALL

BY AMANDA MCCOY

When examining wild trajectories in the music business, it doesn’t get more propulsive than Ella Yelich O’Connor. Known professionally as Lorde, the precocious songstress was one month shy of 17 when her debut single “Royals” began tearing through the charts. The song’s poetic revolt, accompanied by a percussion of crisp finger snaps, captivated a global audience, and the New Zealand-born singer-songwriter became the youngest female artist in 26 years to top the Billboard Hot 100. Her first LP, Pure Heroine, went triple platinum in the U.S. and Australia, enchanting listeners with her profound reliability. Rather than bragging about Bugattis and private jets, the teen phenom challenged materialism, fame, and social status in brilliantly constructed electro-pop and hip-hop beats. She was almost immediately dubbed the voice of her generation, but unlike Kanye, she rejected this label, noting that “young people have never needed a specialized spokesperson.”

Eight years later, the now 24-year-old artist is following a four-year under the radar hiatus (during which she underwent a prolonged digital detox and even set her phone to grayscale) with her first new album since 2017’s Melodrama. Fittingly, she also unplugs on the LP, introducing a laid-back, analog sound that tackles an even tougher theme of the times: being happy. The tunes are essentially pages from her diary of the past few years, a love letter to the sun and fresh air, and how a quieter existence can breed joy. It might come off a bit Prozac-fueled and KumBa-Yah, but in many ways it’s a natural follow-up for a now-twenty something woman who amassed overnight international stardom for her scathing thesis on fame and celebrity. Throughout the album she toils with the highs and lows of giving up the spotlight. “Teen millionaire having nightmares from the camera ash,” she says in the opener “ e Path,” then admits she’s “got a wishbone dryin’ on the windowsill in my kitchen, just in case I wake up and realize I’ve chosen wrong” in “Stoned in a Nail Salon.”

But even amidst the vast shift in tone and the sparsity of musical reworks, Lorde’s lyrics are as rich, organic, and thoughtful as ever, grappling with how to find joy in this next season of life. It certainly lacks the bite of her earlier work, but instead offers a message about freedom, and we owe it to her to listen.

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