As a little girl, I looked up to musicians as godlike figures. With that said, the ones I always admired the most were either a lot older than me or dead. They were also far more glamorous than the population of suburban Baltimore, Maryland, so it was pretty easy to remove myself from pop stars’ and rock stars’ humanity. After all, I knew these people only as disembodied voices on the radio and tiny faces on the TV screen. They weren’t real. They were mystical creatures living out my own cartoonish fantasies and I was helplessly hooked on the concept.
There are a lot of reluctant realizations you make with aging. One of the more unfortunate realizations I stumbled upon was that (most) musicians are… normal. Playing music professionally is just a job; “entertainment” is just an industry. Musicians are not gods but rather human beings – and, as such, they do “normal” things. They have “normal” fears, anxieties, joys, and dreams. They have families and friends and people they hate. I miss the mysticism I once held, but I suppose the transition towards “realizing that your childhood heroes are actually not as magical as once perceived” was inevitable. You can’t live behind rose-tinted glasses forever.
It’s weird nowadays to be the same age as so many A-list musicians that, ten years ago, I would have placed on that godlike pedestal. Perhaps I am reluctant to look towards these musicians with such esteem because it feels unnatural to deify somebody who in another life could have been my twin sister, my best friend, my schoolyard nemesis.
Lorde was really the first musician to enter mainstream conversation who was of my own age and time. Thanks to institutionalized sexism (which put me in the bad habit of comparing myself to other women), I was immediately skeptical of her sensationalized popstar act. I didn’t want to believe that somebody could be so eloquent and clever and talented and still be the same age as me. The media was marketing Lorde as a deity (her stage name was LORDe – the comparison was all too easy), and, to be honest, I wasn’t particularly interested in being spoon-fed another industry larger-than-life figure.
My Lorde skepticism prevented me from listening to her debut album – besides the singles, which were everywhere – until about two years ago. By this time, Lorde’s initial media buzz had died down and the singer was quietly working on new material in New York. She was no longer the white hot name on everyone’s lips, and instead there were newer, shinier stars operating within the alt-pop sphere. To be honest, I’m glad I waited to listen, because when I first fell into Lorde’s debut album (headfirst and with little warning), the timing was perfect. She – Pure Heroine – was an album, a conversation, that I needed desperately but hadn’t thought to ask for (note: great albums have a funny way of always coming into your life at the perfect time). I devoured the record over long highways and late nights, always alone. She became my secret friend, always there to listen to me and to respond to everything that I shared with her. “Buzzcut Season” was a particular favorite from the tracklist.
Like all albums, Pure Heroine is a time capsule to a very distinct time and place in my life. I’m sure that it is for you, as well. That’s how art works – it bottles your memories in a permanent, perfectly preserved capsule, so conveniently removed from your own, slowly decaying body. Needless to say, I’ve changed a lot since those long car rides with Pure Heroine in the passenger seat. Lorde, I can only assume, has gone through similar changes – we’re the same age, after all. When Lorde announced her sophomore album Melodrama, I knew that this upcoming record would pick up right where both our lives had left off.
Yesterday afternoon my friend Olivia texted me that she had gotten guestlisted to an intimate Melodrama listening party in New York City. Olivia told me that she wouldn’t be able to make it (she lives in Washington, DC.) and I, the token New York City friend, could go in her place. (In another lifetime, I’ll find a way to repay Olivia. In the meantime, I got a video of Lorde saying hi to her. That’s valuable social currency, by the way.)
At eight ‘o clock in the evening, I funneled into a crowd of thirty-or-so young people outside one of my very own favorite haunts, East Village’s Sing Sing karaoke bar. The crowd wasn’t just a few random spectators from the street: these were badass kids with Lorde tattoos and an encyclopedic knowledge of the singer’s discography. The people waiting for the party were bursting with childish wonder to hear Melodrama in its entirety and, at long last, meet their hero. For many of them, Lorde was a god. I reached for my rosy-tinted glasses, and, after a few minutes of conversation in that line, I agreed.
After being thoroughly ID’d and sacrificing all audio-recording equipment (i.e. cell phones) to security, the members of the crowd were led into a small basement corridor underneath the club’s main bar. Our fated room was filled to the brim with a seemingly infinite supply of burgers, fries, cupcakes, soda, and pizza, and lit by a giant neon promotional image of the songstress submerged in water. (I decided to take advantage of the opportunity for feasting and stock up for the week. Now this was melodrama.)
Two slices of pizza, half a burger, multiple handfuls of fries, and an untold amount of mini cupcakes later, Lorde – the pseudonym of 20-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor – entered the room (to thunderous applause). Still cradling a platter of french fries on my lap, my jaw dropped at the musician’s casual demeanor and radiant friendliness. Before she even introduced herself to the crowd of strangers, I could tell she was already at home.
We sat cross-legged in a circle on shoddy chairs and the basement floor. Ella took a tiny stool for herself and plopped down in the middle of our messy circle, like a teacher poised to read a story for her grade-schoolers. This artificial power hierarchy wasn’t permanent; over giggles and cupcakes, Ella made it clear that she was one of us. She had even made little “Thank You” cards for everyone in the room: 50 of her favorite lyrics from the new record written on 50 different notecards, complete with little doodles and lots of hearts. The best way to describe the atmosphere in that karaoke bar chamber is as a “slumber party”. Sure, we were a room of mostly strangers, but Ella’s warmth made it bubble organically like a group of lifelong friends. Ironically for a woman who has perfected the craft of memorializing loneliness, Ella has an uncanny knack for bringing people together.
As we nibbled on our pizza (which only added to the whole slumber party vibe), Ella detailed the juicy (!) gossip behind each track on the album. She would speak for a few minutes, then play the next song via an iPhone and technically-disinclined AUX cord. Nothing that came out of her mouth was remotely provocative or TMZ headline-worthy (not that her personal life is anyone’s business), but in these conversations, it still felt like Ella was telling us her deepest, darkest secrets. I didn’t know Scorpios had the capacity reveal themselves so intimately, but Ella did so with fierce passion and truthfulness. This girl was spilling her guts to a room full of outsiders via song – and, to be honest, I don’t know how she had the power to do it. (Granted, the entire world is going to hear these secrets in just a few short days. This all must be a Scorpio thing.)
In response to Ella’s intimate honesty and trust, we spilled our guts to her, too. During “Liability” – the latest addition to Ella’s expansive catalog of “depression music” – one fan started crying. I’m sure half the room was in tears, but as soon as Ella caught sight of the first pair of stormy eyes, she ran to the fan’s side and wiped away the girl’s tears (eye-gunk and all) with her hands. The “girl-next-door” “best friend” label that journalists use to market Ella isn’t an act. She really is genuine and she really is nice. In her presence, Ella simultaneously makes you feel the safest and most vulnerable that you’ve ever felt in your entire god damn life.
Yes, Ella’s physical presence truly is magnetic. Every syllable she speaks spills out her mouth like poetry, even in conversation. While she didn’t prepare any complete songs, Ella did grant one fan’s request to sing a few bars of “Buzzcut Season” — and only then, after hearing Ella’s voice transition into “popstar mode” from something totally conversational, did I truly appreciate just how gifted her singing voice is. She commands her vocal chords like a wild beast.
Melodrama is a special album, and it’s worth any and all hype that you may have heard or anticipated. I’m not going to detail the content and production of the songs for you; it’s an incredibly versatile and gab-worthy record, but it’s still a record best discovered on one’s own. Like Pure Heroine, it’s an album to be devoured in one bite, and then kept close to the heart for months to come. It’s an album for falling in love – not just with people, but with places and things – and an album for falling out of love. It’s an album for accepting change and making change, brighter than Pure Heroine but still just as potent. It will fill a hole inside of your chest that you weren’t sure existed.
Given her age, Lorde could easily be my sister, but it’s hard not to acknowledge her brilliance as a product of something otherworldly. Perhaps I’ve outgrown deifying musicians, but I do truly believe Lorde is not of this earth (or at least too good for it). She is a celestial force to be reckoned with and a loyal, passionate, brave Scorpio to her core. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day Lorde truly did disappear into the sun, but until then (and afterwards), we at Modern Girls will continue to be some of her biggest admirers and advocates.
Oversharing and out-of-focus photos by Megan.