Despite her stardom, all Lorde wants is to live simply. Over the past decade, the singer-songwriter has released just three albums – Pure Heroine (2013), Melodrama (2017) and most recently, Solar Power (2021) – often taking a long hiatus in between to recharge and find new inspiration for her music.
Recently, Lorde says she has changed. In order to focus more attention on her personal life, she adopted a dog, Pearl, in 2018, but sadly lost him to illness a year later. In a heartfelt letter to her fans, Lorde explained her decision to put the release of her new music on hold, writing: “As anyone who has had the pleasure of raising a dog can understand, my life grew exponentially. Pearl brought an immeasurable amount of joy and purpose into my world. Love vibrated all around us. I felt my life growing and swelling in healthfulness, this orb of contentment glowing around me and Pearl, and our family.”
“We spent almost all our time alone together, him asleep under the piano as I played, or on the porch together, or in the park, where he became a blurry speck of gold in the green, far away. After years on the road, I spent a lot of time at home, growing things, making food slowly, writing. I was receiving huge amounts of energy I can only describe as divine, and I was working hard to communicate it all to you by way of the album. I felt I had been given this great gift that I needed to share with you all.”
“Big Star” from Solar Power is a song about Pearl, written before he got sick. Lorde says of the tender moments she shared with him, “I wrote this at home on the piano. I remember he was lying underneath it, I looked down and was like... ‘You big dummy. You’re never going to know that I’m writing this song about how much I love you.’”
THE RISE OF LORDE
In 2012, fifteen-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor from Auckland recorded an EP titled The Love Club with producer Joel Little, which included “Royals”, a track with a distinctive hook that grabbed the attention of the music industry overnight. Lorde’s stage name stems from her obsession with nobility and aristocracy, a spontaneous choice that saw her adding an “e” to the word “lord” for a feminine touch.
Speaking to Vogue, Lorde recalls the unexpected fame that took over her life: “The first weekend we put it out, I went on the SoundCloud and all these people who I didn’t know were listening to it. I think I realised that this is bigger than just me and my friends.” Well-known music critics even compared the success of “Royals” to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and the band’s drummer Dave Grohl told Rolling Stone that when his daughters started singing along to it, he was so happy and relieved that a popular song had such substance and depth, as opposed to the “stripper pop” that dominated the airwaves back then.
Describing the moment she first heard “Royals” on the radio as “feeling very proud, but very shy”, Lorde goes on to say that the first album, Pure Heroine, was based on teen angst, which was relevant to what she and her peers were feeling that that time.
PICKING UP SPEED
When Pure Heroine was released, Lorde’s musical career was propelled to unprecedented levels, making her the first New Zealander to top the US Billboard charts. At the tender age of 17, she won her first Grammy awards for Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance.
Riding on the wave of her newfound prominence, Lorde went on to curate the soundtrack for the third The Hunger Games instalment, Mockingjay Part 1, which featured heavy influences of hip hop, synth pop and electronic beats. Produced by Paul Epworth and performed/co-written by Lorde, the lead single “Yellow Flicker Beat” is a dark yet powerfully-defiant tune that echoes the mind of the main character, Katniss Everdeen. Slowly, the song progresses from a low hum without any background music, to an explosive climax accentuated by the weight of the lyrics:
People talk to me, and all their faces blur / But I got my fingers laced together and I made a little prison / And I’m locking up everyone that ever laid a finger on me
Even before turning 21, Lorde was already enjoying a string of successes beyond imagination – between 2013 and 2015, she was named as one of the most influential teenagers in the world by TIME, featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30, and was placed in Billboard’s 21 Under 21.
A NEW HOPE & PURPOSE
When Lorde’s sophomore album Melodrama came out in 2017, the shift from “we” to “I” as the main theme showed the world a more grown-up side of the singer. In an interview with The New York Times, Lorde describes the record as “the good and bad parts about being alone”. Melodrama resonated well with fans who identified with heartbreaks and botched relationships, and also received critical acclaim, debuting at number one on the US Billboard 200 and receiving a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.
However, for Lorde, keeping up with expectations, especially after “Royals”, became increasingly hard to live up to. Consequently, she dropped off the radar after completing her Melodrama tour, cutting herself off social media in an effort to be less “Lorde” and more “Ella”. Removing the internet from her life, she chose to be more available for her friends and family during what she calls her “hibernation” days.
After losing her beloved dog Pearl, Lorde took a trip to Antarctica as a creative reset. There, she found a renewed purpose: “I’d been interested in Antarctica ever since I was a child, and the recent climate change made me want to visit even more.” This inspired the release of Going South in 2021, a memoir and photobook that became the precursor to her third album, Solar Power. All proceeds from the book will go towards a postgraduate scholarship fund for an Antarctica New Zealand scholar.
In an email to her fans, Lorde shared about her experience in Antarctica, “I hadn’t yet started writing again after finishing Melodrama. I realised after the trip that what my brain had been craving was a visit to an alternate realm. I’ll always hold this trip up as a life highlight for many reasons, but I’m particularly grateful for it as one that showed me the beginnings of the new world which I continue to build, and am very excited to start showing you soon.”
STEPPING INTO THE SUN
With Solar Power, we see a mellower, softer side of Lorde that had not existed before, which is translated through the use of instruments like acoustic guitars and drums. While her older music style could be categorised as electropop or dream pop, the signature gloominess and frustration is gone, replaced with a warmth that seems to tell the world that Lorde has let go and moved on.
Summer in New Zealand is her favourite season, and it shows in the album’s single of the same name. Dressed in a sunshine yellow top and skirt from sustainable fashion label Collina Strada, Lorde invites you to groove along with her as she gently sings, “Forget all of the tears that you've cried / It's over (over, over, over) / It's a new state of mind / Are you coming, my baby?”
Echoing Lorde’s passion towards climate change, Solar Power is not released on CD – in its place is what she refers to as a “music box”, which is plastic-free and 100% bio-degradable. “I didn’t want to make something that would end up in a landfill in two years, but more than that I wanted to make something that symbolised my commitment to asking questions of our systems, and making stuff with intention and sensitivity,” she explained.
A far cry from the catchy, cleverly-arranged tunes that we used to associate Lorde with, Solar Power is an album that grows on you the more you listen to it. Calling the experience of making the record “reverent” in an interview with Vogue, Lorde, who has synaesthesia (the ability to associate sound with colour), aptly describes Solar Power’s colour in one word: “gold”, and we completely agree.
Cover Credit: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for iHeartMedia
Writer | Michelle Tan
Having spent the past decade turning her passion into profession, Michelle is a freelance writer/translator based in Malaysia. Her lifelong dream is to become an urban hermit.