It’s taken more than three years, but Lorde has finally put those trademark claw hands to good use and burrowed her way out of the shadows and into the light. And Taylor Swift, it appears, is leading the way.
New Zealand’s alternative pop phenom Lorde released her first song in more than three years Thursday, the first single from her long-awaited sophomore album, Melodrama. The song is called “Green Light.” It is delightful—an unusual word to use when describing Lorde’s music.
“It’s very different and kinda unexpected,” Lorde said when teasing the song on Twitter Wednesday. “It’s complex and funny and sad and joyous and it’ll make you DANCE.”
And not, like, herky-jerky, berserk goblin, embracing your inner misunderstood-dark-spirit-in-the-corner kind of dancing—one quirky trademark that helped the performer, so unusual with a voice and perspective more mature and complex than her years, stand out among her peers.
No, “Green Light” doesn’t invite you to dance like no one’s watching, but like everyone’s watching. At the club! In the car! In the CVS where the song will surely be on repeat for the next six months!
This is a vibrant, bouncy, bonafide pop song, one that’s very catchy and smartly produced. It’s also completely unlike any other Lorde song.
“Royals,” “Tennis Court,” “Team,” and even her most recent track, “Yellow Flicker Beat,” were provocative in how their melodies were disarming and her vocal performances almost dirty or sneering, all of it marked by a sort of disenchantment that actually served to demand attention.
It was all indie and alternative and electronica and, at the same time, nostalgic—together crafting something very weird but also very catchy, which gave her first album Pure Heroine both the force and precision to hit a pop music bullseye.
“Green Light” is almost jarringly more uptempo than her previous singles.
More, it follows what’s become the go-to pop hit formula, mastered by everyone from Sia to Katy Perry to Lady Gaga and, most glaringly, Lorde’s own BFF Taylor Swift: stripped-down piano and deliberate, breathy whispered vocals, eventually giving away to a thumping drum beat that explodes into an anthemic chorus. It’s the pop equivalent to a geyser release, going off over and over again for the next four minutes.
Still, when you’re doing paint-by-numbers pop, it’s possible to create something irresistible and aesthetically pleasing, as long as you stay within the lines. To that regard, Lorde has an almost surefire radio hit on her hands.
After listening to the song, it should come as no surprise that it was co-written and co-produced by Jack Antonoff, the mastermind behind pop groups fun. and Bleachers who also happened to be behind Taylor Swift’s transition from already highly successful niche artist to incomparably popular mainstream star—a trajectory that “Green Lights” certainly lays the groundwork for Lorde to follow.
Antonoff knows his way around an earworm, particularly those that borrow from ‘80s synthpop and marry the genre’s catchiest throwback tropes with today’s slow-build, shouty-chorus pop formula.
He co-wrote “We Are Young,” “Some Nights,” and “Carry On” for fun., as well as Bleachers’ “I Wanna Get Better” which, among other praise, had been ruled “the catchiest song of 2014.”
He collaborated with Sara Bareilles on “Brave” and, as mentioned before, with Swift on three songs from her career-changing 1989 album, including the single “Out of the Woods.”
It’s a sonic output of big songs with youthful, spirited messaging and a slightly retro familiarity that could soundtrack a John Hughes movie, if the director was around to make one today.
“Green Light” would fit right in with that soundtrack, which is high praise considering how catchy and popular those other tracks are. Still, it somehow seems oddly juvenile for Lorde, considering how evolved and settled into its own unique identity her discography has been thus far.
None of this is to blatantly criticize a young artist who seems to be purposefully retreating from the darkness of her blessedly peculiar early work toward a sunnier and more commercial sound. Sounds evolve, and so do artists. Lorde is 20—her youthfulness is still hard to believe—and, if “Green Light” is any indication, she is making music that sounds like something a 20-year-old would produce.
In an interview Thursday, the singer said that writing “Green Light” was an epiphany moment for her in terms of what her sound would be on this much-anticipated follow-up album.
“It had to be really special and really singular, and it couldn't sound the same as the old stuff and there was a lot of discovery that went on," she said. "And then I wrote the song and I was like, 'Oh shit, this is it.' This was kinda the first thing that we really… all of a sudden everything else we’d written for the record started to make sense."
Not that Lorde has abandoned the kind of heavy, complex songwriting that made Pure Heroine so attention-grabbing. Listen to the lyrics of “Green Light” and you’ll hear that it’s actually about a brutal heartbreak.
But in a pop music landscape dominated by powerful divas—the likes of Lady Gaga, Sia, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Adele, each of whom burst onto the scene because of how unique and different their sounds and aesthetic were—it’s interesting that in all of their so-called comeback outputs in recent years, they’ve all gravitated toward producing the same kind of sound.
In many ways that’s what made us crave the return of Lorde the most: curiosity about whether she was going to return and shake things up a bit, much the way that Beyoncé and Rihanna did with their last albums.
But following in the footsteps of Swift, who reinvented herself to mass-market success with 1989, it seems like she’s making her comeback with more of the same. Granted, an exceptionally produced, extremely listenable and fun version of the same. But the same nonetheless.