You can remember 2013, the year of our Lorde, like it was yesterday. The snap track heard ’round the world. The mane of frizz, tustling to and fro, as its owner “dances like Gollum” as she put it. The biggest song and the biggest album of the year were not from some blonde Hollywood starlet, but a pale Kiwi teen who was making music with a guy that used to front a pop-punk band. On paper, none of it made sense. It wasn’t too long, however, before Lorde went from being the outsider and rule-breaking exception to the standard-bearer of a new generation’s pop sound.
New music from the Auckland native has become the equivalent of an Olympic event – both in terms of grandiose spectacle and the fact it seems to only happen every four years. What Lorde has offered in her relatively short career, however, is an exercise in quality over quantity. With a new album, Solar Power, set to be one of 2021’s blockbuster albums and as her return tour to Aus nears closer, it’s a pertinent time to take stock of what the prodigious singer has achieved thus far.
One rule: No ‘Royals’. It’s good; you know it’s good; all takes have been exhausted. Onward!
1. ‘Biting Down’, The Love Club EP (2012)
Let’s move sideways from ‘Royals’ to one of Lorde’s most underrated moments that materialised around the same time. From its mantra-like hook building from out the ether to its tense, pulsing production, ‘Biting Down’ is one of the earliest indicators of Lorde’s quintessential nature. It’s clear from listening that there’s a good reason her ascent was as fast as it was inevitable. Lorde had no aspirations to be the “next” anything, but as soon as she hit the scene every pretty-faced bedroom-dweller wanted to be the next Lorde. ‘Biting Down’ is unbridled potential; lightning in a bottle, soon to strike.
2. ‘Tennis Court’, Pure Heroine (2013)
“Talk it up like yeah” is the “like, y’know, whatever” of Gen Z. That’s how iconic ‘Tennis Court’ is, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg. As the opener to Pure Heroine, the song drops you right into the scene already at play – there’s no grandiose introduction, no build; just Lorde staring down the barrel. It toys with apathy, sadness and boredom – recurring motifs of the album – but also can’t hide its awe at the high-life’s marvels (“I’ll see the veins of my city/Like they do in space”). It’s teenage kicks and rebellion without a cause.
3. ‘Buzzcut Season’, Pure Heroine (2013)
Let this be an opportunity to state, for the record: ‘Buzzcut Season’ is the connoisseur’s choice for Lorde’s best song. A chilling documentation of suburban war and desperate escapism, there are few other songs on Pure Heroine so distinctly reflective of her fragile age than this one. Its synth feel like distant sirens or a submarine radar, its layered chorus of Lorde’s reiterate the song’s more striking imagery and its protagonist searches for answers amid an ever-changing world. Nothing Lorde has done before or since has felt so resonant and emotively striking. She has bigger hits, but not better songs.
4. ‘A World Alone’, Pure Heroine (2013)
The closer of Lorde’s all-important debut ensures that it’s seen out with her vision intact. ‘Alone’ carries similar thematic structuring to the rest of Heroine, but deviates from the synth-driven template care of a reverberating, shimmering guitar loop The arrangement builds, bends, breaks and rebuilds in a masterful display of songwriting, allowing listeners to draw in and subsequently stand back to take it all in when the moment calls. “People are talking,” Lorde’s chorus reminds her, time and time again. She never responds until the album’s final second: “Let ’em talk.” Lights out. She’s gone as quickly as she arrived.
5. ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014)
We only heard from Lorde a handful of times between Pure Heroine and Melodrama, but the freshly-minted megastar made sure they counted. Case in point: Making her presence felt at the cinema for the first time, syncing up with the brief YA dystopia craze for a moment of zeitgeist on The Hunger Games soundtrack. ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ works exceptionally well as a stand-alone moment in Lorde’s career, serving a singular purpose but also going pound-for-pound with her biggest hits. It’s the perfect in-between – grander than Heroine, but not quite clicking with Melodrama‘s aesthetic either. It’s in and of itself.
6. ‘Magnets’, Caracal (2015)
Credit to the Lawrence brothers: They know how to pick ’em. Disclosure have always matched their infectious, immaculately produced pop with some of the strongest, most distinctive voices around – lest we forget it was they who made Sam Smith a star in the first place. Their collaboration with Lorde still feels as vital and exciting as it did half a decade ago, with our heroine seamlessly slithering between beds of built-up synth tone and its sub-heavy, percussive-driven overflow into the irresistible chorus. This is just as much Lorde’s song as it is Disclosure’s – a 50/50 team-up that’s batting 100.
7. ‘Green Light’, Melodrama (2017)
That’s how you make a re-entrance. Not that Lorde was ever truly really gone for that long in the grand scheme of things, but it’s worth remembering the pop world runs on dog’s years. Lorde opens Melodrama the same way she opened Heroine: Immediate vocal, immediate keyboards. Where ‘Tennis Court’ expands, however, ‘Green Light’ ascends. It’s the minor fall and major lift, from red melancholy to bright green exuberance. It exists in a near-perfect dichotomy, perfectly balancing out accordingly. It’s more conventional than Heroine, sure, but consider this: The norm deviated to keep up with her in the first place.
8. ‘Supercut’, Melodrama (2017)
The shift in production from Joel Little’s immersive introspection to Jack Antonoff’s high-rise maximalism is exemplified by the lonesome rave of ‘Supercut’. Lorde had been remixed before, certainly, but one of her own songs had never sounded like its own remix the way this did. From the staccato synth drill to its thudding octagonal snare hits, the knife-edge balance between commiseration and celebration is stealthily walked by both parties. There’s a power to what’s achieved here, both for those that wrote it and those that see themselves in it when listening. No other current megastar achieves quite the same humanity.
9. ‘Perfect Places’, Melodrama (2017)
It’s a long way from Auckland to Los Angeles. By the time Melodrama ends, she’s seen the veins of her city – but she’s also seen them bleed out. She’s no closer to figuring out where she truly belongs in the world, either physically or personally. She observes prescribed monuments with false senses of permanence, hoping her reflection within them will assert some sort of unity. The beat goes on, however, and Lorde is none the wiser. That’s kind of the point, though, and that’s kind of what makes ‘Perfect Places’ so striking. This is a story to be continued.
10. ‘Solar Power’, Solar Power (2021)
So, where do we find Lorde in 2021? Going off the video, she may have found her own perfect place after all. This is definitely the sunniest disposition we’ve ever seen her in sonically – hell, it might be the first time she’s ever been within a 50-metre radius of an acoustic guitar. Even so, she sounds immediately at home – playful, confident and charming. Musically, “Solar Power” is a mosaic: George Michael, Primal Scream, Robbie Williams, A Tribe Called Quest. The individual parts are impressive enough, but as a whole piece, it deserves to be hung in the Louvre.
Lorde’s next album ‘Solar Power’ is out Friday, 20th August. Head here for details and tracklist. Lorde will return to stages around New Zealand and Australia early next year, with her Solar Power Tour. Dates here.