It’s been four years since Ella Yellich-O’Connor, known colloquially as Lorde, last graced the airwaves as “the next big thing” in popular music.
The role was a surprising one for the then 16-year-old Kiwi, whose quieter, more inquisitive bedroom confessionals came out at a time where hyperactive and sugary acts such as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry were in taste.
Her hit single “Royals” generated a different kind of buzz once it hit pop radio in the United States, serving a gap that many in the industry didn’t realize was there. The sparse instrumentation and throbbing basslines accentuated the strange and fragile voicing of Lorde’s melodies, making her a superstar among a certain sector of fan.
Lorde had her big break at the 2014 Grammys, nabbing “Best Pop Performance of the Year” and “Best Record of the Year” for “Royals” and garnering multiple nominations for the album Pure Heroine.
But, just as soon as she arrived, she disappeared. Until today.
Lorde announced on Twitter on Tuesday she would release a video for her new single “Green Light”, from the newly-announced album Melodrama, on Wednesday afternoon.
Here’s the video, directed by Grant Singer.
My immediate thought is that it’s going to take a lot of getting used to Lorde’s new sound if you’re a fan of the sound of Pure Heroine.
The single, produced by Jack Antonoff of fun., is a layered effort, amplifying the pop sensibilities that Pure Heroine exhibited to an unforeseen level from any prior work the singer has done prior.
From the first note, it is immediately evident the sound is a more mature one, building up an anticipation to the chorus —a noted departure from Pure Heroine‘s tendency to tone down the importance of the chorus— and instead focus on making Lorde’s vocal line a key part of the background melody.
The pulsating bass lines and drum beats that became a signature are still there, but the reserved synthesizers of Pure Heroine, an album about teenage insecurity, is gone from at least this single. The constantly banging piano that replaces the drones from songs such as “Tennis Court” and “Team” also gives a sense of… fun, which is a rapid departure from the usually brooding Lorde.
The use of backup harmony vocals is also immediately different from Lorde’s normal tendencies. No more do they serve as sweeping, supporting “oohs” and “woahs” to Lorde’s inner-most thoughts as they used to. Rather, in “Green Light,” they interact with her and even fight for top billing at times, perhaps finding a new role in her songwriting.
That songwriting, which propelled Lorde to stardom in the first place, is perhaps the best part of the single.
Lorde still exhibits the self-conscious, unsure teenage tendencies from Pure Heroine, often making allusions to “big teeth,” a key symbol of societal pressure in her previous album.
But along the way, Lorde finds ways to show her growth as an adult, melding her regrets of “doing makeup in different car mirrors” and “waking up in different beds and rooms” with a cautious optimism about finally getting “the green light” while her harmonies scream back “I want it, I need it.”
It’s a level of clarity and emotion Lorde wasn’t quite able to achieve in Pure Heroine or even The Love Club and lends a uniquely dramatic charm to this particular piece, which appropriately enough, is the lead single for an album titled Melodrama.
Sure, fans will criticize its overwhelming melodic tendencies (the piano can be extremely demanding of attention at points and the bass drum is predictable to a tee) and the seeming embrace of the more sugary pop tendencies that marked her peers in 2013, but the sound is still different enough to where it can be enjoyed by old and new fans.
Lorde had to get out of her bedroom diary sometime, and this single is the first step towards her growth as an artist.