Why I’m Excited For Lorde’s ‘Green Light’ Reinvention

"This feels like stepping from the street into the club, from the elevator into the party, from tiny Auckland to big, bright New York City."

Waiting for new music from Lorde has felt painful. Pure Heroine, her 2013 debut, was unassuming and deeply personal and, because of these traits, easy to love. The downside to this was that the album was her only full piece of work. Fans worked through it and picked it apart over and over (lord knows, I did) but once you know something inside-out, you tend to want something new.

I would have settled for more of Pure Heroine’s quiet vignettes of adolescent life in suburbia, or another freakish, apocalyptic war-shout like her song for The Hunger Games soundtrack, ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’. But ‘Green Light’, released this morning, is not like either of those things. With this first single from her upcoming second album Melodrama, Lorde manages to pull off a full-scale musical reinvention without having to renounce her identity.

The deft balance of new and old in ‘Green Light’ is a coup; it retains all of the iconography and tropes that were built up through Pure Heroine, but reflects and refracts them in different ways. It feels strange to discuss an artist on her second album in terms of tropes and iconography within their work, but Lorde’s commitment to her identity, to her stylistic references, to her icons, has always been inspiringly dogged and consistent. On ‘Green Light’, you can hear growth in the way her relationship with these symbols and tropes has changed. They’re all there, but they’re now more complex — less cut and dried.

The passenger seat of a partner’s car, the setting for Pure Heroine’s most intimate track ‘400 Lux’, is gone. In ‘Green Light’ she does her makeup — an act undertaken in private spaces, or spaces of familiarity — in a stranger’s car. The suburbs that she wrote about on her first album, sometimes toxic and sometimes thrilling, are gone, replaced with a new and unfriendly city.

Pure Heroine ended with the words “Let them talk” but on ‘Green Light’ the talk is getting to be too much; “All those rumours, they have big teeth”, she sings quietly, her “dreams of clean teeth” from ‘400 Lux’ slowly becoming darker, more nightmarish. Small details like these are crucial to Lorde’s craft; pop tends to show us things in broad strokes, but she inverts this, painting small details in order to point at something larger: a breaking of trust, the end of intimacy, the beginning of something new.

The references to classic indie bands like Broken Social Scene are replaced with “brand new sounds” both in the lyrics and the music itself; the sparse, hip hop-influenced Joel Little production of Pure Heroine is replaced with Jack Antonoff’s piano house keys and new wave-y guitars. The tonal shift from verse to chorus is brutal and jarring, but it works — it’s like stepping from the street into the club, from the elevator into the party, from tiny Auckland to big, bright New York City. When you listen to ‘Green Light’ you can hear Ella finding power in dancing and house music and a different kind of wildness.

‘Melodrama’, as a term, is generally used as a pejorative, but in a historical sense it wasn’t always like that. A melodrama is just a play set to music featuring absurd or outlandish plots. The set design was often hyper-real to contrast with the fantasy of the plots. I get the sense that Melodrama, as an album title, was conceived with that in mind — a mashing together of the real and the unreal, dealing with fame and family, the old and the new, Auckland and New York.

‘Green Light’ feels like change — the raw and diaristic lyrics are being contrasted with the wild fantasy world that Lorde and Antonoff have created. But even if this song isn’t entirely representative of the new album, I have a feeling that Melodrama will still be witty and weird and scary and beautiful, like everything Lorde does. I’m waiting for it.

Shaad D’Souza is a freelance writer from Melbourne. Follow him on Twitter here.