Lorde Is Returning To A Pop Mainstream Made In Her Own Image. Where’s She Been In The Meantime?
The internet is abuzz with rumors of Lorde’s return. Throughout the past week social media sleuths have decided two new songs called “Mood Ring” and “Solar Power” are imminent, with the follow-up to 2017’s Melodrama surely dropping soon after. At this point the stans are starting to sound like cult leaders who keep pushing back the date of an apocalyptic event. One theory suggested the songs would be out last Friday; that didn’t happen. The new prominent idea is that “Solar Power” will arrive on June 21, just in time for the summer solstice. Alleged single artwork keeps popping up, then disappearing.
It’s clear something is on the horizon. In their 2022 lineup announcement, Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival touted “Lorde, who will emerge from her retirement with her third album after her unforgettable visit in 2018.” She’s been sharing progress reports on her “fucking good” new music via email dispatches to fans over the past few years and hinted at its release in 2021 while urging her fellow New Zealand young people to vote last fall. She has also confirmed the new album has a title, conceptualized during the 2019 trip to Antarctica that inspired her to begin writing again. And just this afternoon, Lorde updated her website with a “Solar Power” teaser featuring that leaked artwork and a caption: “Arriving in 2021… Patience is a virtue.”
Assuming Lorde does come back soon, she’ll be re-entering a pop mainstream made increasingly in her own image. A lot has changed since she emerged as a teen phenom with her 2013 debut Pure Heroine. Back then, her minimalist approach was a stark contrast from the styles that were ruling the radio back then: hard-thumping EDM, smooth yet rambunctious bro country, miasmic molly-infused hip-hop, passionately howled arena-ready rock from the likes of Mumford & Sons and fun., pop hits from Taylor Swift and Katy Perry eager to flirt with the prevailing sounds of the moment, epic auteurist rap albums from brand-name stars aplenty, belted out Adele throwbacks, Pharrell’s moment of funky domination. The sparse simplicity of “Royals” stood out. At the height of wealth-flexing pop excess (remember Artpop?), so did the song’s anti-materialist message. When her songs did get big, they glided rather than jostled, and she directly scoffed at being told to throw her hands in the air.
On the other hand, scaling down the bombast helped Lorde find common ground between stylistic tribes. Joel Little’s production drew faint lines between spooky underground pop tracks by the likes of Purity Ring and the darkly lurching rap radio hits produced by Mike Will Made It. Lorde was sort of a rock artist, but also kind of synth-pop, with traces of hip-hop and jazzy throwback theatricality at the fringes of her sound. By not fitting in anywhere, she ended up fitting in everywhere, landing “Royals” on radio formats from alternative to rap — and Top 40, of course — on its way to #1. She seemed emblematic of her generation’s disregard for genre, and of the way streaming had accelerated the tendency for music’s many parallel mainstreams to blur together.
Melodrama did not spin off hits with the same ferocity, but Lorde still topped the albums chart, headlined arenas, and piled up rave reviews. And if anyone doubts her influence, listen closely to the young women currently ruling pop music four years on from her latest dispatch. The Grammy-anointed Billie Eilish is probably her most obvious descendant — prone to stylish electro-organic pop with limited frills, similarly jazzy in their approach to swooning balladry, with a disposition that suggests infinite warmth for their friends and powerful wrath for their enemies. You can hear the grandly spectral choruses of “Team” and “Perfect Places” echoing back in songs like Olivia Rodrigo’s smash “drivers license” and even bits and pieces of Taylor Swift’s more recent catalog. (If 1989 was Swift’s first full-fledged pop album, it was also quite clearly the first one after Pure Heroine dropped, though to be fair both artists have tended toward the same producers too.) The form of melancholy bedroom-pop that has become a phenomenon by intuitively blurring the line between the indie rock and pop mainstreams owes a lot to Lorde’s artfully intimate approach. Less than a decade on from “Royals,” 24-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor is revered as a queen among alt-leaning pop acts and pop-minded rock artists alike.
So, what has Lorde been up to since the touring behind Melodrama wrapped up? Although mostly absent from social media, she has returned to make social and political statements from time to time. She has given scant few performances. She has traveled to Antartica. She has reviewed onion rings. She has posted deeply expressive updates on her progress with producer Jack Antonoff. Mostly, she has kept her comings and goings under wraps, but here’s a supercut of her public presence between albums two and three.
Nov. 12, 2018: Accuses Kids See Ghosts Of Copying Her Stage Design
Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s appearance as Kids See Ghosts at the Odd Future Carnival features a large elevated rectangular box that reminds Lorde quite a bit of the one from her own recent arena tour. “I’m proud of the work I do and it’s flattering when other artists feel inspired by it, to the extent that they choose to try it on themselves,” she writes in an Instagram story. “But don’t steal — not from women or anyone else — not in 2018 or ever.”
April 17, 2019: Covers Simon & Garfunkel With Marlon Williams
At a benefit for victims of the Christchurch shooting in their native New Zealand, Lorde and Marlon Williams cover Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound Of Silence.” Lorde also performs her own “Team” with Bic Runga.
Nov. 2, 2019: Announces Dog’s Death
Lorde reveals in an email to fans that her dog Pearl, adopted just a year earlier, has died after suffering multiple cardiac arrests. The grieving process, she reports, will inevitably alter and delay the creation of her new album: “He was instrumental to the discovery that was taking place. I felt he led me towards the ideas. And it’s going to take some time and recalibration, now that there’s no shepherd ahead of me, to see what the work is going to be.”
Nov. 19, 2019: Pranked by Colbert
From tragedy to comedy: During a visit to New Zealand, Stephen Colbert barbecues with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, her fiancé Clarke Gayford, and Lorde. During the cookout, he presents Lorde with a can of peanut brittle. When she opens it, a toy snake pops out.
May 19, 2020: Some Real Progress
In a new email dispatch, Lorde fills in fans on the past several months of work, before and after coronavirus. We’re told there were productive sessions with Antonoff in Auckland and LA. “It flowed. A thing started to take shape. And then, of course, the world shut down. We’re still working away — Jack and I FaceTimed for over an hour this morning going over everything. But it’ll take a while longer.” Also this new music has developed “colours” of its own, distinct within her catalog, and it’s “so fucking good.”
June 1, 2020: Stands With Black Lives Matter
While acknowledging the often performative element of celebrity political messaging, Lorde offers her support to the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police. “It’s hard to strike a balance between self-serving social media displays and true action,” she writes. “But part of being an ally is knowing when to speak and when to listen, and I know that white silence right now is more damaging than someone’s wack protest selfie.”
Oct. 7, 2020: Urges New Zealand Residents To Vote
On election day in New Zealand, Lorde encourages her followers to brush up on issues including the End Of Life Choice Bill and the Cannabis Legalisation And Control Bill, and to make their voices heard at the polls. “Do it for our beautiful country and for me,” she writes in an Instagram story. “And next year I’ll give you something in return.”
Nov. 18, 2020: Interviews Cazzie David
Lorde and Cazzie David (daughter of Larry) apparently struck up a close friendship via Instagram many years ago. In this conversation for Interview, they discuss all kinds of things that are not new Lorde music.
Nov. 24, 2020: Announces Her Antarctica Photo Book
Lorde reveals she visited Antarctica in 2019, a trip to be documented in a new photo book called Going South benefitting climate change scholarship. She also says the trip was her catalyst for finally beginning LP3: “I realised after the trip that what my brain had been craving was a visit to an alternate realm. Albums live in their own realms in a way, and Antarctica really acted as this great white palette cleanser, a sort of celestial foyer I had to move through in order to start making the next thing.”
Dec. 12, 2021: Reveals The New Album Has A Title
During her Antarctica trip, Lorde also came up with her new album’s title, she reveals in an interview with Newshub.
Dec. 20, 2020: Onion Ring Reviews Return
The onion ring reviews Instagram account @onionringsworldwide, which Lorde was running secretly in 2017 before being outed by the press, stirs back to life with a post captioned, “Don’t call it a crumb back…”
March 31, 2021: Another Cover With Marlon Williams, This Time Springsteen
In her home base of Auckland, where concerts returned much earlier than in most of the world due to rigorous COVID-19 containment measures, Lorde once again teams up with Williams for a cover. The song in question: Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than The Rest.” Do these two Marlon Williams collabs represent the bookends on her LP3 creative process? Her faithful fans can only hope so as they await the return of their Lorde.
This column was on vacation last week, so we missed the moment when Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 with the biggest one-week total of the year so far. Also debuting in the top 10 last week were Twenty One Pilots’ Scaled And Icy at #3 and 42 Dugg’s Free Dem Boyz at #8, but as usual, the big news was Rodrigo. With 295,000 equivalent album units, including 72,000 in sales, Sour just barely surpassed Taylor Swift’s 291,000-unit debut for Fearless (Taylor’s Version). Now Swift has come along and denied her pal Rodrigo a second week atop the chart.
Thanks to the release of a vinyl edition of the album, Swift’s folklore sequel evermore returns to #1 for a fourth nonconsecutive week. The album already broke Jack White’s one-week vinyl sales record by moving more than 40,000 copies in two days after its release on Wednesday, May 28. As Billboard points out, it then went on to sell another 102,000 copies the following week, thereby obliterating the same record. It’s already the second best selling vinyl LP of 2021 behind Harry Styles’ Fine Line. Combined with promotions including autographed CDs from her webstore and independent retailers, evermore‘s sales climbed to 192,000 this week, with overall units topping out at 202,000. Not bad for an album released more than five months ago.
After Rodrigo at #2, J. Cole at #3, Morgan Wallen at #4, Moneybagg Yo at #5, and Dua Lipa at #6, Juice WRLD’s Goodbye & Good Riddance returns to #7 thanks to the release of its deluxe edition. DMX’s posthumous Exodus debuts at #8 with 32,000 units and 14,000 in sales. The Weeknd and Luke Combs round out the top 10.
Over on the Hot 100, BTS hold on to #1 with “Butter” for a second week. When it debuted atop the chart last week — the 62nd song in Hot 100 history to enter in the leading position — it became the K-pop septet’s fourth #1 hit. They nabbed all four in the past nine months, which Billboard calls the fastest accumulation of an artist’s first four #1 hits since Justin Timberlake did it in just over seven months across 2006 and 2007. It was the fastest for a group since the Jackson 5 did it eight months and two weeks in 1970. Last week Olivia Rodrigo’s “deja vu” reached a new peak of #3, while “traitor” debuted at #9, giving her three songs in the top 10 along with #2-ranking “good 4 u.” This week’s top 10 has no debuts and offers nothing too significant stat-wise.
Note: Due to this column taking last week off, this section includes tracks from the past two weeks and is slightly longer than usual.
Billie Eilish – “Lost Cause”
Eilish continues to write great songs and steep them in radically minimal arrangements that sound unmistakably like her. You love to hear it.
Sigrid – “Mirror”
This is how you do disco revival. Sigrid is one of the best pop topline writers of her generation.
Hayley Kiyoko – “Chance”
And this is how you do sparkly, squelchy synth-pop revival.
MØ – “Live To Survive”
And this is how you do throbbing New Order-gone-all-the-way-disco pastiche.
Dua Lipa – “Can They Hear Us”
Speaking of throwback pop songs, here’s a low-stakes movie-soundtrack throwaway from Dua Lipa. It’s nothing special (and not much like her Future Nostalgia material), but the sax that creeps in at the end takes this faux-epic slow creep somewhere closer to spectacular.
Bad Bunny – “Yonaguni”
This is exactly the kind of moody, pop-leaning reggaeton song I want to hear when it’s ridiculously hot outside.
Tinashe – “Pasadena” (Feat. Buddy)
Relatedly, for her first big move of 2021, Tinashe samples “Hey Ya!” on an uptempo West Coast dance track that sounds like a sweltering summer day. It’s a vibe, feeling right.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Ariana Grande shared some of her wedding photos. [Instagram]
- Jason Derulo is releasing a graphic novel based on a character he has made TikTok videos about. [Games Radar]
- Mike Posner climbed Everest. [Himalayan Times]
- Lady Gaga’s Chromatica Ball tour is postponed until summer 2022. [Twitter]
- Kesha, meanwhile, announced a summer US tour. [Kesha]
- Justin Bieber did a Justice medley on The Voice. [YouTube]
- Bieber also did “Somebody” at the Junos. [YouTube]
- Also at the Junos, the Weeknd won five awards. [CBC]
- Megan Thee Stallion and DaBaby lead the 2021 BET Awards nominations. [Deadline]
- Juice WRLD’s Goodbye & Good Riddance was rereleased with two new songs, “734” and “Lucid Dreams Remix” with Lil Uzi Vert. [Juice WRLD]
- Twenty One Pilots did “Shy Away” on Fallon. [YouTube]
- Doja Cat, Benny Blanco, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar appear in the latest trailer for Lil Dicky’s second season of DAVE. [YouTube]
- Billie Eilish, H.E.R., and Kid Cudi will stage unique performances for Amazon’s Prime Day. [Market Watch]
- Dua Lipa rides a mechanical bull in her new “Love Again” video. [YouTube]
- Drake responded to Klay Thompson’s viral boat video. [Instagram]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME