As a long-time fan of Ella Yelich-O’Connor — the Kiwi pop sensation better known as Lorde — June 16th is a day I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It’s been close to four years since Ella released her smash-hit debut Pure Heroine, and her music is something that’s resonated with me in a way few artists’ work has.
Like Ella, I have synesthesia- meaning that I process colours when hearing music (I also associate numbers and letters with colours!). I shouldn’t have been so surprised when I found out both of us were synesthesiacs (a word I just made up), because her albums are very diverse in colour, whereas most artists’ discographies usually have similar shades and tones throughout their entire careers.
Melodrama, like Pure Heroine, is a light show of an album. Whereas PH played with the natural colours of sunsets and oceans, Melodrama is strobe lights, neon lights, Christmas lights, street lights. It’s powerful and weird and vulnerable and resilient and interesting and different and complex. It’s a trip of an album, and if you’re interested, I have a track-by-track review, including my synesthesiac interpretations of the album! I hope you enjoy, and, of course, give the album a listen- it’s worth it!
Stand Out Lyrics: Did it frighten you/how we kissed when we danced on the light-up floor?
Colours: Blue and Green
In every way, Green Light is an obvious choice for both the first single and album opener. There might be flashier tracks on the record, but GL is the perfect opener for both the narrative and stylings of Melodrama. From a synesthesiac perspective, the song is a swirling tornado of blue and green hues, and the track effortlessly shifts between being a post-heartbreak ballad and a carefree dance-pop anthem. The most jarring moment in the song is definitely that transition from the synth-y, shark metaphor-heavy refrain to the upbeat piano melody of the chorus, but that’s exactly what it is that makes Lorde so special; she’s not afraid to take her music to a weird, risky place, which she does a lot over the course of the album. I will, of course, miss the obscure poetry and coming-of-age themes of Pure Heroine, but Green Light feels like a promise from Lorde to her fans: we might be on completely new turf, but it’s still the same old weird, authentic, brilliant Ella.
Stand Out Lyrics: I know this story by heart/Jack and Jill get f*cked up and possessive when it gets dark
Colours: Dark Blue and Teal
As someone with synesthesia, different songs leave a more visceral impression on me than other. Sober is by far the most vibrant, “colourful” song on Melodrama- it leaves me wondering how some people can’t feel the bold royal blue and teal leaking from the airwaves. The song even leaves another sensory impression on my mind, which is rare- the song feels like a sharp gust of cold air.
For those of you who don’t process colour and temperature through sound, this probably doesn’t mean much to you, but let me tell you, you don’t have to be a synesthesiac to get chills from the track’s powerful brass. The twisted, altered vocals that serve as bookends for the track are a nice touch as well. The song is definitely a stand-out track on the album, with the only weak spot being the fact the production sometimes overpowers the lyrics and vocals of this track (one glorious exception being the raw, punch-in-the-gut line: but what will we do when we’re sober?).
Stand Out Lyrics: So let’s let things come out of the woodwork/I’ll give you my best side/tell you all my best lies
Colours: Hot Pink
Trust me when I tell you that I’m saying this with a heavy heart: Homemade Dynamite might just be a rare misstep for Ella. Sure, the chorus has been stuck in my head since I first heard it in April, but the rest of the track just seems so… bland. It lacks everything that makes Lorde- and Melodrama– so deliriously wonderful. The perspective on partying and drinking is much less complex and interesting than on other tracks, and the production feels a lot like her Love Club EP in the sense that it sounds, well, cheaper. For any other artist, it might be a solid Friday night jam, but it’s not stronger than anything on PH and it certainly isn’t a stand out track for me. Not to mention the second verse is disturbing at best and a little problematic at worst- I understand that Melodrama is trying to contrast the “fun” and “dark” elements of a night out, but it does sound a little bit like she’s glorifying intoxicated driving, or at least being overly gratuitous with the theme. I will say this, however: most other artists would play this song as the My-Saturdays-Are-More-Fun-Than-Yours Cool Girl, but Ella instead chose to present a teenager-going-on-twenty who’s desperately trying to be that girl. Even on a track like this, Lorde is still tapping into a kind of honesty and vulnerability that’s rare these days across any genre, let alone dance pop.
Stand-Out Lyrics: They’ll hang us in The Louvre/In the back/But who cares still The Louvre
My favourite, favourite thing about Lorde is the unabashed weirdness of her music- after all, my favourite song of hers spends a lot of time focused on hair catching fire, living in holograms and caressing brains. But I wasn’t exactly prepared for the weirdness of The Louvre. After all, the title made me think it would be another Liability-esque piano ballad about Paris. I was, of course, wrong.
Instead, this song feels like Disintegration-era The Cure, simple pop balladry with strange lyrics galore. Do I know what broadcast the boom and make them dance to it means? No, but that’s part of the fun. This song is probably the most guarded song Lorde’s ever released- behind the sarcastic wisecracks about being hung in The Louvre, she’s actually unpacking some heavy commentary about toxic relationships. While Lorde might be fairly confessional in most songs, in this track what she’s really trying to get up feels bottled up beneath the surface, ready to erupt, and, if you’re willing to wait a couple more tracks, I promise, it’ll all come spilling out
Stand Out Lyrics: We slow dance in the living room but all that a stranger would see/is one girl dancing alone, stroking her cheek
Colours: Yellow and Copper
Liability is a copper track: not flashy, poppy or even that long, but shining nonetheless. In fact, it’s the best track off Melodrama, and one of the best in her entire discography. Every line of it is just so Lorde—emotional, agonizingly honest, a little bit strange. The lyrics manage to be metaphorical and realistic, wise and vulnerable, often at the same time. The song is barely three minutes, but in that contained timeframe it packs one hell of a punch. It’s a track that transcends the themes and experiences that influenced both Pure Heroine and Melodrama. It transcends age and romance and circumstance and hones in on something beautiful enough and truthful enough to make me, my mother and my younger sister cry at the same time, all for different reasons. It’s a triumph, to put it simply.
Stand-Out Lyrics: Oh but I still remember everything/how we’d drift buying groceries/how you’d dance for me
Colours: Both tracks are a light, breezy pink
Hard Feelings/Loveless are two separate, connected tracks, of which Hard Feelings is my favourite. While teeth may have dominated Pure Heroine, the changing of seasons- more specifically the end of summer- is a prominent theme in Melodrama. It’s used to reflect on both the end of a relationship and the gutting feeling of growing older, and most tracks on the album deal with both hand-in-hand. It was an interesting choice on Ella’s part to clump most of the songs that explore partying and drinking at the beginning, because from The Louvre onwards, this album is pretty heartbreaking (in a delightfully painful way). Hard Feelings is certainly more raw than The Louvre, tearing down the façade of coolness and embracing the pain of heartache. The first track is a gorgeous exploration of the things that make relationships mundane, significant and painful, from grocery shops to I-think-this-is-the-end car conversations. Then Loveless begins, and it feels as though the walls have been built back up — Loveless is a sassy, fun, short track that doesn’t tug on the heartstrings nearly as much as Hard Feelings, but doesn’t really seem to be trying to, anyways.
Sober II (Melodrama)
Stand Out Lyrics: You asked if I was feeling it/I’m psycho high/I know you won’t remember in the morning when I speak my mind
I’ll keep my reviews of the interludes short given the fact that the tracks themselves are short as well. Sober II is a silvery, haunting track that, for some reason, makes me imagine a creepily specific image of Ella in a tattered white dress, looking out over an unrealistically clear lake.
Anyways, it’ll almost certainly be overlooked by the album’s longer tracks, but it truly is a gem. The instrumentals are soaring- my best guess is the only reason Ella doesn’t use orchestras more often is to curb unwarranted Lana Del Rey comparisons- and the background vocals are lovely and ghostly, all at once. Overall this track, complete with broken glass and psychedelic trips, full-heartedly embraces the theme of melodrama, and now I’m crossing my fingers for L3 being a little more violin-heavy (a girl can dream!).
Writer In The Dark
Stand-Out Lyrics: I am my mother’s child/I’ll love you til my breathing stops
Don’t judge me, but I spent most of this track crying. I’ve always believed that Lorde is such an underrated vocalist, but this track was more than even I could imagine. Her voice is more raw and emotive than I’ve ever heard it, and by the first I’ll love you til my breathing stops, I was sobbing. As painful as it may be, hearing an artist at their most vulnerable and unguarded is something that is truly spectacular and special, and for that, I’ll always be grateful for this song and this album. Despite the darkness of the lyrics, this song is a bright, beautiful shade of the gold, the colour of the sun we’re all gonna watch this icon disappear into one day- hopefully a long, long time from now.
Stand-Out Lyrics: So I fall/into continents and cars/all the stages and the stars/I turn all of it/to just a supercut
Colours: A neon spectrum
This is about the time I realized that Lorde may not get another Royals-level hit during this album cycle, and it was also about the time that it wasn’t something she was aiming for at all. At just twenty years old, Lorde is already at a point in her career where she is over prioritizing radio-friendliness over artistry. Even on the glittery, eighties-style spectacle that is Supercut, Ella is tapping into something too emotional and raw to be found on heavy rotation on the average pop-radio listener’s morning commute. It is, however, the perfect track to be screamed along to in the packed arenas and stadiums that are in her future. I genuinely hope this song is released as a single at some point during this album cycle because while it might be a demonstration of how much her pop has evolved since 2013, it still has the makings of a bonafide smash hit, and if she gives this song a chance, I know the rest of the world will as well.
Stand-Out Lyrics: Maybe the tears and the highs we breathe/maybe all this is the party/maybe we just do it violently
I kind of love the fact that there’s a reprise on here, because reprises just feel like such an album thing to do. Lorde is, after all, an album artist, and you’re cheating yourself if you’re only giving time of day to her singles. The reprise might not be as powerful as Liability, but it compliments the rest of the album quite nicely and, if anything, it’s a much better primer for the themes and ideas of Perfect Places than it is a reprise, anyways.
Stand Out Lyrics: All of our heroes fading, now I can’t stand to be alone
Colours: Purple and Gold
Arguably the most Pure Heroine-esque track on Melodrama, Perfect Places is an almost flawless way to close this record. This record may have went in a number of daring directions, but Perfect Places has everything that made Lorde’s fans originally love her: dazzling background harmonies, raspy vocals. kick drums and snyths, a unique, insightful perspective on youth. In terms of colour, it’s a shimmery swirl of purple and gold, unlike anything Lorde has done before. The song just feels like sitting on a curb in suburbia after a wild night, smudged mascara and all. Lorde closes the album with a line that only Lorde could sing with such depth. It leaves you wondering what the fuck is a perfect place, a perfect night, a perfect life, a perfect youth. It makes me feel as though Melodrama was just a feverish dream, an overflowing house party with Ella in the centre, a renaissance heroine. Melodrama is an album that’s messy and strange and thoroughly fascinating, it’s magical and strange all at once. I can’t tell you if I would have ever imagined anything like it had you asked me to picture a perfect record, but I think Lorde sums it up perfectly: what the fuck is a perfect record, anyway?