Melodrama is a word that encapsulates adolescent existence in Los Angeles. I am unnerved by its accuracy, unwound by the simplified singularity of its meaning, how it can encompass the burning, electric floor of my teenage life so easily, in nine letters.
Night after night, slathered in shiny, hungry eyes and gingerly-applied mascara, the sticky, metal smell of beer on a carpet just cleaned by the housekeeper. I don’t know how to not notice it, but they all seem immune to the ordinances of daytime life, instead breathing in pink smoke and curling arms around warm necks. I can’t belong in this, as much as 15-year-old me might have wanted to, I can’t stick around to see the spiritless chapter of this nighttime ritual.
My feelings are everywhere, all the time. When I listened to “Melodrama” for the first time, I didn’t feel quite so alone in that. Lorde reassured me, not that life isn’t s—–y and underwhelming and fraught with unending longing, but instead that she recognizes it, too, and how I can’t help but sometimes be swayed by it all to feel it.
Indifference to the chaos may be what I want, what the repressible, cold-eyed, unaffected template in me may want, but I can’t have it. Like it or not, Lorde reckons with the fact that this is her life, and she feels it, feels all of it, and she can’t somehow grow detached from her own emotions. They’re too big and crushing.
In “Perfect Places,” her voice is raw and almost like granite, uncertain of this self-assuredness she’s been feigning for so long. “What the f— are perfect places anyways,” she wonders. I can’t say that I haven’t asked myself that a good amount of times, feeling like a distant clump of motionless matter, worn out, heavy with the realization that nothing’s going to somehow make my youth more romantic or pleasant. I can’t get to a painless dreamscape far away from all of my self-doubt. I can’t pretend that the majority of my high school and middle school years haven’t been spent feeling, indeed, like a “liability.” “I do my best to meet her demands. You’re a little much for me.” I know. I’m a “little much for everyone.”
Lorde’s voice harbors a kind of inimitable, simultaneous listlessness, lethargy, and power that I can’t quite name or place. The aura of slowly-thickening malaise about her routine state of existence– the parties, sex, fame, and all that usual popstar jazz– is both achingly beautiful and unnervingly relatable. I can see what’s happening as it happens to her. I recognize the facade of carefree, magical behavior, of pretending that this young life of ours is inconsequential and marvelous in its sense of invincibility, and I recognize, also, what is hidden right behind all of that. The heartbreak seeps pungently through her lyrics.
In “Writer In the Dark,” we hear a different voice than what we’ve been hearing throughout the rest of the album– there is a certain resignation to it, a bitterness, that surprises us. But it isn’t surprising, not really. Lorde does not conceal her resentment: “Sorry I was never good like you/Stood on my chest and kept me down.” There is that pang of clarity yet again, choking me, almost.
The soft-spoken apology, crumpled, tissue-texture behind a small mouth that ignores how small the words coming from it make it feel. To shrink yourself down for the sake of someone else’s comfort. I am not capable of pretending that I am not flawed, but I’ve tried to glue together the shards of self to somehow dust away the messiness. I’ve regretted it.
We test ourselves in my city. How many miles can we drive untouched by the empty wine bottle on the passenger’s seat or inhalation of things we decisively deemed harmless? What is “enough,” what is the “limit?” These kids will lean against one another at glass houses and stick frustrated tongues into mouths and hands into underwear without asking, because the intoxication level is enough yes for anyone to care about double-checking and risking ruining the fun. Then the jokes crowd the tightened rooms, about things I can’t unhear, about asking for it, frat-boy chants drowning out the music, praising what we know is grotesque, what has already clawed its way into so many people here. This is not “funny anymore,” I want to scream. It “wasn’t ever funny.” Lorde, I imagine, stands amongst the dynamite crackle of children trying not to be children, and feels the way a lot of these blank faces do. Tired. Done with it all but desperately unsure of how to get out. “Red and chrome/All the broken glass sparkling/I guess we’re partying.”
“Homemade Dynamite” doesn’t lie. To throw oneself into this for the sake of doing it, because there isn’t anything else worthwhile. I used to judge my classmates for this kind of living, way back when, but I lost all that superciliousness early on. Everyone grows up differently. It’s not up to me to decide how they do it. It doesn’t make them stupid. I don’t do these things because I can’t stomach the noise, but I get it.
In “Sober,” Lorde is unafraid of the passion she and her lover share, unapologetically diving straight into the wild, but she pauses for a moment each chorus– “But what will we do when we’re sober?” The song remains upbeat and that’s the terror of it. All of the playing around will end when the alcohol does, when the rush fades into the background of Saturday nights and plain, painful daylight reality storms back. The knot in her stomach is tangible in this song. There is a tenuousness to her exhilaration that she cannot ignore. “We pretend that we just don’t care/But we care.” We do care, and no high will wash that away or establish some system of apathy and impenetrability in our hearts. Can “we keep up with the ruse?” I’m not sure.
This is more of a testament to the concept of melodrama itself rather than an album review, because I am ill-equipped for that. What I feel in “Melodrama,” though, is that soft, frail trembling in the chest, like lukewarm water gathering in the lungs, almost, anticlimactic and familiarly uncomfortable, but at the same time, when the gasping, heaving sobs come up, finally, it’s still enough to send you shaking and afraid of all that you can feel. Strangely enough, that’s not an insult.
“Melodrama” makes me feel what cannot simply be described in a paragraph or essay, but requires music and Lorde’s voice to make that feeling accessible and tangible. There is comfort in the discomfort and the intimacy of it. We know what Lorde is feeling because we’ve felt it too, and we can’t escape it, but this album makes me want to stick around to feel it again.