In this golden era of female pop stars, Lorde stands enigmatically apart. Her 2013 debut album Pure Heroine was a meditation on teenage introspection written by a shockingly self-aware 16-year-old. Now comes a sequel in which the New Zealander born Ella Yelich-O’Connor explores the pain and joy of growing up through a prism of drunken parties, stop-start romances and existentially-unmooring hangovers.
It’s a dark, riveting affair — a masterpiece of off-kilter pop that confirms Lorde as perhaps the most fascinating figure the music industry has produced since pop supplanted rock as the medium of the age. Once again, her trembling voice contained multitudes, signalling wry despair on bad romance rumination ‘The Louvre’ and the temporary euphoria of the dance-floor on single ‘Green Light’.
That and almost every other song her was co-written with Jack Antonoff of Bleachers and Fun — a phlegmatic pop nerd whose downbeat sensibility dovetails with Lorde’s gloomy melodrama. More often than not, the fruits of the mind-melding are riveting, with Lorde’s crepuscular coo paired with gothic beats on ‘Hard Feelings/Loveless’, a bleak anthem in which the singer casts her herself as a deranged stalker.
The record’s centrepiece is ‘Supercut’, a chilly dance montage where Lorde once again mooches over a departed beau as Antonoff’s grooves twinkle and sigh in the background. Throughout, her willingness to show her vulnerability is striking — it is, for instance, impossible to imagine Taylor Swift delivering a line such as “I’m a liability… you’re a little too much for me” with the unvarnished honesty Lorde displays here.
Pop as open-veined confessional is a tradition going back to Abba — however, Lorde makes it feel vital, vivid and contemporary. Older but not necessary wiser, with Melodrama she shows us artistic development and personal fulfilment do not necessarily go hand in the hand. Along the way, she has given us perhaps the first great pop record of 2017.
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