It’s the year 2013. At 17 years old, Lorde, (Ella Yelich-O’Connor) and her debut album have somehow graced the Rolling Stone’s Top 50 albums of the year, landing in the cushy top 7 spot. I was in high school at this time, and conveniently, also 17 years old. I, however, was working at an outlet mall and still taking a yellow bus to school because I didn’t have a car. And while we were living completely different lives, I remember thinking that Lorde’s album just spoke to me in ways that others didn’t. It was cheeky, defiant, but also infused with smart, teenaged perspectives and truths that other artists just couldn’t seem to hit on. Now, 5 years later, I’m looking back at Pure Heroine as one of my favourite albums from my teenage years. It’s one of those albums that will always serve as a time capsule for that part of my life. 5 years isn’t exactly a long time, but still- even though I feel worlds away from my former self, listening to Pure Heroine now, I can remember exactly who I was when I heard it the first time.
And good or bad, those fundamental adolescent years are characterized by intense emotions and teenage angst that just makes listening to music sound so damn good. Every sad song, every ballad, feels written just for you. It’s this concoction of puberty hormones and petty middle school melodrama that makes everyone look back at the albums that defined their teenage years so fondly. For me, Pure Heroine will always be one of those albums. For a lot of my peers, that album is Mac Miller’s K.I.D.S (If you were born in the mid-late 90s you would have been a pre-teen at the time of its release) and I think that’s part of the reason why the internet is so completely shaken by his untimely death. Miller was always in the spotlight because of who he was or wasn’t dating, and it looked like he had years of a strong career ahead of him- but it’s not the loss of new music that hurts. It’s that you’ve developed a special connection to the soundtrack of your adolescence, and now, those memories are tinged with this knowledge of the future, and that’s unsettling.
Miller’s deeply tragic death inspired me to listen to Pure Heroine again, just to experience the music as it was then and as it is today. One standout track is Ribs. Her voice sounds glossy and lithe, sleepy and sighing. The song is minimal, with just one throbbing beat swelling in the background, as she mourns the collective loss of youth among teens, not necessarily of her generation, but that universal experience of kids becoming more exposed to the adult world, and that punched-in-the-gut realization that there’s no going back. The lyrics remain dark and introspective, such as, “I’ve never felt more alone/ feels so scary getting old.” The whole number feels less nostalgic and more resigned, and it’s easy to see why it’s melancholy beauty transfixed so many listeners. Hearing this song blasting through my headphones was like slapping a bandaid on whatever was bothering me.
Then there are the tracks Team and Glory and Gore. Both sport apocalyptic auras, hungry vocals- more growl than lilt- and anxious, eerie undertones. Team recalls, “living in the ruins of a palace within my dreams.” Glory and Gore is even meatier, discussing our culture’s hunger for drama and our obsession with celebrity beefing, break-ups, and Cardi B’s shoe catapulting towards Nicki Minaj’s face. Lyrics such as “Glory and gore go hand in hand/
That’s why we’re making headlines,” is the most obvious nod to a media landscape that feeds off of sensationalism and violence.
Another favourite track is 400 Lux (the song title is the name of the luminance experienced on the earth’s surface at sunset or sunrise) in which she takes on a queen of suburbia vibe. In this song, she is a teenager rediscovering the only world she’s ever known: her small suburb, evident in the lyrics “I like these roads where the houses don’t change/ where we can talk like there’s something to say.” Another standout lyric is “We’re hollow like the bottles that we drain,” because really- what 16 year old thinks that way? It’s disconcerting that this seems to be a reality for many teenagers, but with the overabundance of music about partying these days, the line shines. She’s singing about what she knows: her friends, her classmates, her town, and that’s why it works.
Lorde at Chaifetz Arena March 2. Photo by Lawrence Bryant
The whole album feels complete when you realize the first line of the first song “Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?” matches with the last line of the last song, “Let ’em talk.” Essentially, it feels like our heroine has spent the past 9 songs critiquing our love of inconsequential gossip and obsession over the trivial, but in the last song, she finds herself shrugging away from the disenchantment with a final, dismissive, Go with it. Lorde’s songs are as splashy and mesmerizing as any DJ Khaled production, with a Florence + the Machine gloom and Teenage Dirtbag cynicism that’s as surprisingly charming as it is disturbing. Her lyrics are ominous and wise beyond her years, and as a whole, the album feels luminescent despite the darkness.
If you want to know the actual cultural influence of the album that literally changed pop music so irrevocably that even David freakin’ Bowie said listening to Lorde was like listening to the future, there are better articles for that. There’s no denying her place in pop history. But the magic of artists like Lorde, and say, Mac Miller, is that they have such a hold on their fans because of their presence in other people’s personal histories. Lorde will forever remind me of 17, much the same way that many will always associate adolescence with Millers’ K.I.D.S, or Pink Floyd or Fleetwood Mac or, God help us, Lil Xan. Our favourite albums are little time capsules for ourselves, and despite one-hit wonders and Spotify Singles that never make it past the New Artist playlists, there’s comfort in knowing there will always be artists out there working to create that album that might one day be the soundtrack to someone’s summer.