There was a lot to the unexpected success of Lorde. She was a 16-year-old artist from New Zealand whose big hit was an anthem to lower class teenagers. Her debut, "Pure Heroin" served almost as a personal world building moment where she expanded on those ideals of her battle against "White Teeth Teens" and staying out until all hours of the night. In the four years since, she has gotten a Golden Globe nomination and a stamp of approval from the great David Bowie. So, how does the artist recently out of her teens follow up an album that could be described as navel gazing? As "Melodrama" proves, it's mostly in expanding on her concepts of love and youth while exploring the sonic pallet. As a result, she has made yet another infectious ode to being young and part of the "loveless" generation that, much like her subjects, she messes with the listener's mind.
Lorde is an artist who exceptionally captures her generation in the span of a minute better than most can in an entire hour. Her music plays like the perfect soundtrack of a party mixer where bashful yet demented teens go to discuss their personal dreams and fears. Even when she doesn't sing, the song soars with the importance of a teenage angst. In the breakdown for "Hard Feelings/Loveless," the clean precision of the music tears apart to allow mechanical noises direct the song's midway point into a feeling of heartbreak. As much as the album is a jubilant cry to youth, it is also a reflection of the struggles to differentiate what is accidentally maturity. While songs like "Handmade Dynamite" are anthems about blowing up stuff with homeys, others like "Liability" reflect a forming conscience in Lorde. She wants to be young and reckless, but seems to be too drawn to annoying people.
What helps is that Lorde makes the universal themes song personal, even autobiographical at times. It is unclear who her friends are, or the lover that she constantly refers to. It's not even clear whether or not there is a significant other by the album's end. What there is is a bipolar and 21st century idea of dating. Even the triumphant opening number "Green Light" sounds like a call of freedom, yet later on in the album she sings of a girl as the only person she never disappointed. There's not enough of a narrative to suggest that it's a concept album, but it explores the many faces of Lorde in excellent detail. Thankfully her voice hits the right level of vulnerability that clashes perfectly with the music. She sounds more mature, grumbling when necessary. Even then, she allows herself to be self-effacing on songs like "The Louvre," where she suggests that being hung in the back of The Louvre is still a great honor.
If there's anything different about "Melodrama," it is the lack of exploration as an artist. Part of what made "Pure Heroine" so accessible was her journey from lower class artist to pop star sensation. There was a sense of discovery as she explored her identity through song. It was raw and engaging in ways only a young artist could pull off. For what it's worth, "Melodrama" is an excellent follow-up that shows that she's still a little out of place with contemporary pop. In fact, she almost seems to define the genre with her heartbreak. Even then, it's so memorable and jubilant that it's hard to really argue against it. The album expertly explores the melodrama of going from one age bracket into another. In that way, Lorde is proving to be one of the most promising young artists of the decade, if not the century. Time will only tell if she can find ways to chronicle her growth as an artist without losing her edge.
"Melodrama" may be a collection of songs reflecting the indecisiveness of youth, but every decision seems calculated to produce infectious music. With great lyrics to back it up, she manages to capture an attitude that only the best artists really can. There's plenty to mine from being young and frustrated, and Lorde manages to find a way to update it to a generation that isn't defined by the clean and chintzy nature of Top 40 pop. With her second album, she proves that she's more than a fluke. She's a true artist who can tap into something universal but so impossible to explain. And she does so without ever sacrificing her style, and in fact improves on the atmospheric gaze of her debut. It may be more about emotion than identity, but Lorde never is dull when she explores what makes her tic, or what makes her want to blow stuff up. Whatever she wants to do, she can write a catchy song about it.
Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5