“She’s so melodramatic.” It’s an insult nearly every young woman has had lobbed at her, anytime she’s dared cross the heavily policed gates of emotional regulation. Many times it’s even directed to women by other women as a way to devalue feelings, which should always be minimized and neatly packaged when expressed, if expressed at all. On her sophomore album, Lorde rejects all this. Written in the wake of her first major breakup, Melodrama revels in feelings without guilt and with zero apologies. Lorde’s heart is in ruins, and misery enjoys nothing more than an explosive wallowing session, spearheaded by a drunken night out. Opener “Green Light” most immediately recalls those blurry nights spent at a bar, swiping through dating apps in between whiskey shots. Throughout the album, she never explicitly tells her ex to fuck off, but her tone is unmistakably resentful. Never upset a Scorpio: Their unmatched loyalty (“I am your sweet psychopathic crush”) is matched only by their obsessive need to taunt those who wrong them (“Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark”).
In our early 20s, the intensity of our feelings hasn’t fully subsided from those feelings’ teenager dimensions. We just have more social agency to act them out. Instead of obsessively journaling for hours in a darkened room plastered with posters and magazine clippings, we can drink ourselves into abyss at a dive bar. We can lose ourselves in lights and dancing bodies wrestling between temperance and debauchery—what Lorde calls “Homemade Dynamite” on the Tove Lo-assisted song. We can live out our wildest emotions without the constraints of decidedly grown-up concepts of experience, perspective, sophistication. Writer Sean T. Collins argues that Lorde naturally appeals to those who “drink too much and romanticize their bad decisions.” And although Collins is usually right on the money, Lorde herself isn’t actually romanticizing anything on Melodrama. She’s just being, feeling, experiencing. It’s not glamorization; it’s just the way we all live out our youth, with emotional fires and embarrassments aplenty.
Though there’s a loose “night out” concept to Melodrama, the music itself is so rich and cohesive—and such a marked evolution from her 2013 debut, Pure Heroine—it barely needs a theme to tie it together. In a nod to the early ’00s, Lorde plays with the elongated song transition on “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” and while it isn’t deployed as effectively as, say, Justin Timberlake’s “LoveStoned/I Think She Knows” (admittedly, a hard bar to clear), it speaks to her abiding, cerebral appreciation for the power of a good pop tune. In a 2014 interview with Tavi Gevinson, Lorde waxed earnestly about how passionately she enjoys working within the medium, and that remains apparent in the complexity of her approach. Here Lorde and producer Jack Antonoff have upgraded the sparse kick drums of Pure Heroine with intricate syncopation that doesn’t travel where the ear would expect. “Sober,” the album’s finest song, meanders among a calculated rigidity, asking for several listens before the placement of the trumpet hits begin to make sense. It’s Lorde’s “The Dreaming,” albeit with a glossy clubbiness that puts it firmly in 2017. Occasionally, the production threatens to overshadow her fast-paced lyrical ingenuity, like on “The Louvre,” but even that track’s satisfying choral moments make up for the rushed verses.
What Melodrama confirms most of all is Lorde’s uncanny ability to drill down so precisely on grand emotional themes that would fell lesser songwriters. Tackling a bad breakup certainly isn’t new in pop music, but it’s delivered here with an honesty an energy that is uniquely her own. She doesn’t generalize or hide from her feelings, and in doing so, she brings her listeners the comforting reminder that our messiest years yield some of the moments when we’re most alive (and for the olds, that they’re happily behind us). The greatest reward of Lorde’s music is recognizing her growth reflected in ourselves.