that her lat­est al­bum, Melo­drama, is a bona fide smash, the woman who changed pop mu­sic is left to pick up the pieces. Lit­er­ally.

Fashion (Canada) - - Culture Cover - By Greg Hud­son Pho­tog­ra­phy by Arkan Zakharov Styling by Ke­mal Har­ris Creative di­rec­tion by Brit­tany Ec­cles

IMAG­INE THAT YOU are a pop star. More than a pop star, ac­tu­ally. Imag­ine that you are one of the big­gest pop stars in the world: Ac­cord­ing to some very re­li­able crit­ics, your first al­bum changed the di­rec­tion of pop­u­lar mu­sic. It was so sur­pris­ing, so ur­gent and so young and dif­fer­ent and of-the-mo­ment that David Bowie said lis­ten­ing to you was like lis­ten­ing to the fu­ture. You’re that kind of pop star—the im­por­tant kind, the kind that seems to tran­scend (or is it el­e­vate?) the very term “pop star.” Let’s con­tinue this thought ex­per­i­ment. You’re that pop star. You haven’t re­leased an al­bum since your mu­sic-chang­ing de­but, and that was nearly four years ago. You haven’t ex­actly dis­ap­peared, but there’s likely some pres­sure for your sec­ond al­bum to live up to the prom­ise of your first. And, whether that pres­sure was mo­ti­vat­ing you or not, you worked in­cred­i­bly hard on this, your sopho­more re­lease. For two years, you wrote and sang and tweaked and ex­per­i­mented and cried and flew around the world more times than you can re­mem­ber. And to­day that al­bum drops. What do you do? If you’re Lorde (yes, you’re Lorde—who else would you be imag­in­ing?), you sit down and fin­ish the jig­saw puz­zle you’ve been work­ing on. “This beau­ti­ful wooden puz­zle that I bought,” she ex­plains when we chat dur­ing her re­cent visit to Toronto. “That was the main achieve­ment of the day.”

I have no rea­son to doubt this story. In fact, sit­ting down to fin­ish a puz­zle on what might con­ceiv­ably be a re­mark­ably stress­ful day seems like a very Lorde thing »

to do. Af­ter all, this is the same pop star whose ma­tu­rity and tal­ent at 17 in­spired a half-se­ri­ous In­ter­net con­spir­acy the­ory that she was ac­tu­ally a woman in her 40s and pos­si­bly a witch. But it’s also like she knew I’d need an over­ar­ch­ing metaphor upon which to hang this pro­file, and so, on the day Melo­drama dropped, she fit the last piece of her puz­zle into the ex­act right spot.

Lorde—real name Ella Yelich-O’Con­nor—has just taken a shot of ap­ple cider vine­gar. “I’ve heard that it’s gen­er­ally good for your health,” she ex­plains. “I’ve been trav­el­ling a lot, so I’m try­ing to do ev­ery­thing I can to keep the flu away.” In a few hours, she’ll close out the iHeartRa­dio Much Mu­sic Video Awards with a rau­cous per­for­mance of her sin­gle “Green Light.” Be­fore that, she’ll be on­stage, look­ing ra­di­ant, to ac­cept the award for iHeartRa­dio In­ter­na­tional Artist of the Year.

But right now, she’s back­stage, wait­ing for her sound check. She’s try­ing to find the bal­ance be­tween an­swer­ing per­sonal ques­tions—ques­tions that, on sec­ond lis­ten, are maybe a lit­tle too earnest, es­pe­cially given her sur­round­ings—and not look­ing like she’s be­ing asked per­sonal ques­tions. The re­sult: a lot of parental-style laugh­ter punc­tu­at­ing her sen­tences.

And by “parental-style laugh­ter,” I mean both the kind of laugh­ter you might use when re­spond­ing to your par­ents in or­der to de­flect fur­ther scru­tiny and the kind of gen­er­ous laugh­ter par­ents de­ploy when their child, who is too young to un­der­stand or dis­play ac­tual wit, says some­thing that’s sup­posed to be funny. The fact that her laugh­ter con­tains sev­eral pos­si­ble in­ter­pre­ta­tions is part of the Lorde puz­zle. She’s re­served but still au­then­tic.

Lorde was born to artis­tic par­ents and raised in Auck­land, New Zealand. Af­ter an imag­i­na­tive child­hood, she started singing along­side her gui­tar-play­ing friend and post­ing the songs on­line. (In­ter­est­ing fact: To this day, Lorde doesn’t ac­tu­ally play any in­stru­ments. “I’m hy­per-mu­si­cal, but I don’t re­ally play any­thing,” she says. “I write the songs with dif­fer­ent chords be­cause I know ex­actly what I want chord-wise, and then I sing out the chords. I’m very mu­si­cal, just not in the tra­di­tional way, I guess.”) She was dis­cov­ered when she was 12, and then Univer­sal gave her a devel­op­ment deal.

It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber here that Lorde is only 20 years old. That means she was 12 in 2009—the heady days of Han­nah Mon­tana and the pu­rity-ring-wear­ing Jonas Broth­ers. But the young artist didn’t want to sing songs that other peo­ple wrote for her. She didn’t want to be man­u­fac­tured. She re­sisted and was in­stead al­lowed to de­velop her sound by her­self.

That sound, as you imag­ined ear­lier, changed ev­ery­thing. Sud­denly this shy, in­tro­verted, creative teenager—who wrote her first al­bum, Pure Heroine, as a kind of jour­nal­is­tic en­deav­our chron­i­cling the ab­sur­dity of ado­les­cence—was a global phe­nom­e­non, com­plete with fa­mous friends and pa­parazzi and zany In­ter­net ru­mours. The suc­cess of Pure Heroine could have bro­ken her; Lord knows suc­cess has dam­aged a fair num­ber of tal­ented teens. But it didn’t, ob­vi­ously. Lorde kept liv­ing her life. That isn’t to say she didn’t learn from the ex­pe­ri­ence, though. “The main thing is that you’re the only one who has to go home and still be you and live with what you’ve done that day,” she says. “And so when it comes to mak­ing a de­ci­sion about some­thing, if peo­ple say I should go a cer­tain way, I think, ‘You guys get to go home and take off the hat; I never get to take off the hat.’”

Lorde learned things dur­ing her time away from the spot­light, too. Most of them, in some form or another, are what con­sti­tute Melo­drama. You can hear the life lessons—or at least the jour­ney be­tween ex­pe­ri­ence and life lessons—about heart­break, the weight fame has on con­nec­tion and the in­con­sis­tent yet pal­pa­ble thrill of at­trac­tion as well as the rest­less en­ergy of be­ing young and alive. Of course, trans­lat­ing all those lessons into mu­sic re­quired some help.

That help mostly came in the form of Jack Antonoff, who, de­pend­ing on your prox­im­ity to hip mil­len­nial cul­ture, you might rec­og­nize as the gui­tarist from the band fun., the leader of the band Bleachers or Lena Dun­ham’s boyfriend. Antonoff and Lorde bonded quickly over a shared will­ing­ness to start com­pletely from scratch. The goal was to build her al­bum as if Pure Heroine hadn’t hap­pened. “It was such ex­plo­ration,” she ex­plains. “The in­stinct is to as­sume that I wrote all the lyrics and he did all the pro­duc­tion, but son­i­cally this al­bum is so my baby.” This, by the way, is another piece of the Lorde puz­zle. One thing that Antonoff didn’t have to do was help Lorde fig­ure out what she does and doesn’t like. That isn’t very sur­pris­ing given her story thus far, but it’s still kind of sur­pris­ing. “I think I def­i­nitely shoot from the hip prob­a­bly 90 per cent of the time,” she ad­mits. “There were times when Jack would be like, ‘Just give me a sec­ond; don’t shoot this down straight away’ and I was oc­ca­sion­ally sur­prised, which was nice.” And as is of­ten the case with those who are opin­ion­ated, her opin­ions would ex­tend be­yond her own mu­sic. “I need to tem­per my opin­ions,” she says. “The analo­gies I draw can be so mean. Jack al­ways said he was scared when he would play me a Bleachers demo and I would look at him and say, ‘Who is this for?’ That’s like the scari­est ques­tion be­cause you can al­ways tell when some­one doesn’t know who a thing is for.”

In Lorde’s case, she knew it was for Ella. “I’m the kind of mu­si­cian who works on some­thing and doesn’t even need to put it out—just make it and pop it in a vault,” she says. “I make work to chal­lenge my­self. The process is very much about me hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with my­self. It’s a very pri­vate process, and so I feel like I’ve run a marathon by the time it comes out. I do love that peo­ple hear the work; I think I would be sad if peo­ple didn’t.”

Melo­drama wasn’t the only ma­jor pop al­bum to come out this spring. You may re­call that Katy Perry also re­leased her new al­bum around the same time. Each record was re­ceived very dif­fer­ently. It’s hard to be­lieve »

they both os­ten­si­bly rep­re­sent the same genre and thus have the same tar­get au­di­ence—that is to say, ev­ery­one. Where Lorde’s was ap­praised as ev­i­dence of a blos­som­ing, con­tem­pla­tive, sen­si­tive and au­then­tic ma­tu­rity, Perry’s al­bum came off as empty. Maybe Lorde, be­cause of who she is, was primed to get bet­ter crit­i­cal treat­ment than Perry, but that’s not the point. The point is both are pop artists, and I get the sense that Lorde wouldn’t want any pop prac­ti­tioner to be writ­ten off as im­ma­te­rial. To hear her de­scribe it, there’s some­thing in­her­ently beau­ti­ful— and true—about pop. “It’s about dis­till­ing emo­tions down to their sleek­est, shini­est and sim­plest form,” she says. “And if you do that suc­cess­fully, it’s like shoot­ing up the clean­est drug imag­in­able. It’s not cut with any­thing; it’s so sim­ple it just goes straight to your brain.” Love of pop: That’s a puz­zle piece, too. That be­ing said, this puz­zle metaphor is a bit un­gainly. Be­cause, in the end, what pic­ture forms? It’s tricky be­cause Lorde has al­ways seemed fully formed. Cre­at­ing Melo­drama wasn’t easy, and though she isn’t per­fect, she has al­ways seemed some­how whole. But then she’s not putting the puz­zle to­gether; we are. She’s hand­ing us pieces, each one giv­ing us a clearer, more com­plete im­age of who she is, who she wants us to know. And while I get the sense that she’ll al­ways re­serve some pieces for her close friends and fam­ily back in Auck­land, she’s giv­ing us more than enough pieces to see her and to see our­selves in her. And so we’ll take what­ever pieces she gives us—be­cause the pic­ture that’s form­ing is al­ready mirac­u­lous.


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