My dear friend Amelia, who understands my love of Fran Fine, 13 Going On 30, and the entire faculty of the Pace University Communication Studies department like no other, often finds herself on the receiving end of my text messages about whatever trend in media is irking me at the moment. She didn't ask for this — in fact, I'm not really sure how she was delegated this cumbersome responsibility, other than the fact that we were the sole representatives of humanities majors within our college friend group — but she always humors my rants with a level of patience I am truly lucky to have found in a friend.
This story begins on a Thursday when Amelia and I were both at work. From our respective summer jobs several states away, we discussed via text the singer-songwriter Lorde. I was struggling to articulate what it was that made me hesitate to adore Lorde in the same way her fans do. I wasn't harboring any strong love nor deep hatred of Lorde’s music, but something I couldn’t yet identify left me ranting to Amelia, as usual, about the way Lorde is so unconditionally revered in our social circles. That night, Lorde’s album Melodrama was released, and by the end of the workday on Friday, I was completely sold on it. On Saturday, here visiting New York for the weekend and celebrating my 22nd birthday, Amelia gave me the loving look of simultaneous confusion and acceptance I have come to expect from her as I confessed that my admiration for Lorde's music had shifted literally overnight. Still, my thoughts and feelings about this topic felt twisted and unclear, so I decided to do what felt like the sensible thing: write them down rather than forcibly drag even more of my friends into my head.
Lorde’s album is all of the overused positive adjectives that reviewers write when describing great albums. The lyrics that close the first half of “Hard Feelings/Loveless” pierce poignantly through any background noise in your head or outside of it; the sound of “The Louvre” builds in a way that we can assume reflects the way the described relationship felt; “Writer In The Dark” hooked me on first listen, and if that surprises you in the slightest, then you haven’t been paying attention to this blog at all. The album is an extraordinary piece of art from beginning to end, with a caliber of both storytelling and production that artists should aspire to.
But despite the name of this blog (which I really should change, since I never seem to write reviews of anything other than my own life at this point, so let me know if you have any suggestions), I don’t want to write any more of a review of Lorde’s album Melodrama. We already know the reviews are positive and the sales are high. What I feel I need to address, and what I was texting Amelia about that Thursday, is the way Lorde’s music is discussed and written about in popular culture by those who are impressed by her talent.
There is a widespread connotation of shock that comes with the praise of Lorde’s talent. Lorde turned twenty in November, and her songwriting on both Melodrama and her 2013 debut album chronicles her experiences as a teenage girl. She is young. Like, she's younger than me, which is frightening and something I still haven't fully come to terms with. And people react to teenage girls and young women writing about their feelings. To marvel at how talented Lorde is as a writer and an artist (especially because of her age, but not exclusively because of her age, as her writing would be impressive coming from anyone) is understandable. Appreciating and admiring her talent is necessary. But to act like she’s the first teenage girl to ever have complex, deep feelings about heartbreak and coming of age is ignorant.
Lorde is certainly impressive but not unbelievable. All of the elements of the heartbreak so perfectly described on Melodrama — the loneliness and the drinking and the healing and the reminiscing and the self-doubt and the ricocheting between—are things that teenage girls experience all the time. She polishes up these experiences and writes gut-wrenching lyrics and produces a sound that matches them excellently, but she is not the first teenage girl to have a heartbreak that should be taken seriously. She is absolutely an outlier in her talent, but not in her emotions, experiences, sensibilities, complexities, or validity.
The New York Times article released as part of Lorde's return to the public eye after her between-album hiatus portrayed her as a mysterious young woman too talented for her age. There was an inherently condescending and sexist angle to it that discredited not Lorde, but the rest of us—it perpetuated the idea that Lorde is deeper and darker than any other girls her age. The article, which has a tone I believe is typical of the way we’ve been talking about Lorde since her rise to fame, places the singer as a sort of manic pixie dream girl of pop music — but instead of her storyline revolving around a man, it revolves around her personage as a girl who is “not like other girls.” She stands as a pillar, a standard to which all other teenage girls and young women should be held. This angle fails to acknowledge that teenage girls have long been feeling these same things that Lorde is singing about.
According to the New York Times article, in 2014 a copy of Lorde's birth certificate was sought out because people simply could not believe that she wasn't "a grown woman"—read: people simply could not believe that teenage girls were capable of creating art inspired by their own experiences that was good enough to impress them. The article mentions that Lorde's first album was written as she took a "quasi-anthropological mind-set," refusing to drink at parties as a fifteen-year-old, because she was too busy "scrutinizing adolescent rituals" to actually partake in them. This fact is cited as evidence that Lorde isn't like her peers—she's not your average teenager getting white-girl-wasted on the weekends; she's looking down at other girls from above and critiquing them for the sake of the albums that are just so impressive to the middle-aged people listening to her stories that they must find some reason that she is like them, and not like ew, them. (This angle also disregards girls like me, who didn't have the chance to teetotal and make grand, sage observations about adolescent parties at age fifteen because they never got invited to the high school parties in the first place.)
I do not blame Lorde for her precocious reputation—it is a reflection not of her arrogance but of journalists' and fans' refusal to accept that teenage girls can be intelligent and mature and complex without being an anomaly or a rarity. This one journalist's angle is only a single sample of the larger narrative surrounding Lorde and her public persona that I witness often enough to feel the need to rant to Amelia about it. Lorde should be treated not as the ameliorated alternative to teenage girls everywhere but as a representative of teenage girls everywhere. She is important because she is one of us, not because she is better than us.
Journalists see in Lorde the spirit of a young woman who is unlike other young women, but I see in her pieces of myself and my friends and my sisters and my roommates and my peers. In her album I hear the conversations whispered in front of the north wing lockers before first period English. Because of her album I remember the midnight conversations I had in my tiny gray car after my night shifts at the local ice cream shop in high school, wearing our pink t-shirts soon to be stained by the stagnant, gooey hot fudge smeared on them that couldn't compared to how thick our feelings were in those exposing moments. I feel the secrets spilled in the early hours of the morning during my freshman year of college, when we believed the white cinderblock walls of Suite J would keep everything we shared sacred and private inside (we were right). I hear the dialogue of Hannah and Marnie in the early episodes of Girls. I read in her lyrics the page-long text messages my friends and I have sent to each other expressing all of the things that were too raw to reveal to each other in person. I see the unexpected loneliness I poured into a soft brown journal when I lived in Italy for four months when I was twenty years old and couldn't figure anything out. I hear the clicking keys of my computer keyboard as I exchange long messages about the future with my colleague Emma from across the office this summer.
My peers and I have done all of the things Lorde described on Melodrama. We've felt like liabilities, cried in the taxi, overthought p-punctuation use, wondered what we'll do when we're sober, let the seasons change our minds, spilled our guts beneath the outdoor light, been nineteen and on fire. Lorde's lyrics are poignant not in spite of her teenage girlhood but because of it. Ultimately I realize my hesitation to embrace Lorde that Thursday stemmed from my refusal to act surprised that teenage girls and young women can have complex, nuanced, epic, valuable, relatable, and melodramatic feelings. It's all right here, if we stop discrediting the girls around us, and are willing to listen to young women in the same way that we're listening to Lorde. And in the same way that Amelia listens to me.