Words || Cameron Colwell
wow feels big and intense having liability out in the world strange part of myself for a lot of people to look at
— Lorde (@lorde) March 10, 2017
The thing people got wrong about Lorde’s new single “Green Light” is the idea that it signals Lorde losing some kind of unique edge, and assimilating into some nebulous field of women musicians. Contrary to the belief of more than a few think-pieces, neither Taylor Swift nor Robyn invented being a woman singing about heartbreak to a synth backing.
The need to compare her to other contemporary female artists is basically symptomatic of a culture that wants to pit women against women, and doesn’t offer any insight to the actual song. “Green Light“, while it certainly has a dancefloor-friendly hook, also retains Lorde’s signature lyrical vividness. In an old VEVO interview, Lorde talked about Raymond Carver being an important influence in her song writing career; in short stories, which she wrote before songwriting, “you don’t have time for filler, it’s got to be potent and short and sharp”. This is a quote which comes back to mind in terms of the power and minimalism of the images Lorde presents: “Did it frighten you / How we kissed when we danced on the light up floor?” stands out as an evocative and resonant central image, capturing all the melancholy of a bygone relationship while still having fun. It’s a deceptive and structurally clever song, clearly about heartbreak from the get-go, but with a memorable beat that doesn’t kick in until a little over thirty seconds into the track.
The song’s simultaneous complexity and verve also demonstrates an important artistic point: that you can have fun and be young and lose your shit on top of a car without being superficial.
If “Green Light” is getting messy for a change during a period of pain, “Liability” is living messy, being swollen with aching and longing, trying to stay connected to people who can’t deal with it and somberly understanding their decision: the boy who’s hurt Lorde, “don’t wanna know me / Says he made the big mistake of dancing in my storm.”
In an interview with Zane Lowe, Lorde said, “I had this realisation that because of my lifestyle and what I do for work there’s going to be a point with every single person around me where I’m gonna be a tax on them in some way,” a sentiment that’s been carried into a tearjerker piano ballad. What’s newly mature about this song isn’t its despondency: Lorde had a similarly heartbreakingly minimalist ballad in a 2014 cover of Bright Eyes’ “The Ladder Song”. It’s really the adult self-awareness in finding solace through melancholy that makes it stand out against Lorde’s previous work: “So I guess I’ll go home, into the arms of the girl that I love / the only love I haven’t screwed up.” It becomes clear Lorde is singing about herself shortly after: “all that a stranger would see / Is one girl swaying alone / stroking her cheek.” The singer is alone, but she loves who she’s alone with.
‘Liability’ is an interesting choice of title. It speaks to being young in a time when relationships are commodified and understood through the language of business. If there is a uniquely millennial element in the lyrics, it’s in their exploration of being a feeling, crying human being in a time where romance is too often understood as a transaction.
The title of the album these songs are a part of, Melodrama, feels like it has a different form of detachment from the resigned, apathetic sort that tempered Pure Heroine: Maybe it’s Lorde’s acknowledgement that her emotions will inevitably be seen as overblown and adolescent, so she’s going to wring them for all their worth, anyway. Whatever the case, Lorde has demonstrated that Pure Heroine wasn’t the product of a one-off prodigy, but the work of someone who’s just getting started.