Few records over the last decade have captured the attention of the public as much as The Breakup Album. Of these, Taylor Swift‘s Red and Olivia Rodrigo‘s Sour not excepted, none are spoken of in more reverent tones than Lorde‘s Melodrama. At the time of the album’s 2017 release, even those won over by the poetic gravity of Lorde’s 2013 debut ‘Royals’ were taken aback. Melodrama was something completely different. Even for an artist known for introspection and honesty, it was a startlingly personal confession.
You only have to hear Lorde once to know her forever
To understand the initial impact of Melodrama, attention must be given to the context in which it arrived. In 2017 an aura of gravity and mystery sat heavily around Lorde. In 2013 the 16-year-old New Zealand songwriter had taken the world by storm. After introducing herself to the world with ‘Royals’ she then released her first album Pure Heroine. On it, she sang with a wisdom beyond her years. Here Lorde presented an original and exciting musical style. Fans only had to hear her once to know her forever. A record-shattering viral success, Pure Heroine was the first album of the Spotify era to launch a superstar pop act’s career.
Melodrama is a cornerstone of modern music
Turning 5 years old on June 16, Melodrama was a very different album. At the time of its release, Lorde described her second record as a loose concept album based around a house party. A listener only has to hear its song’s lyrics to piece together the real story. As ‘Hard Feelings/Loveless’, ‘Supercut’, ‘Sober II (Melodrama)’, ‘Writer In The Dark’, and ‘Greenlight’ make clear Melodrama is, in fact, a cinematic breakup album.
‘Greenlight’ is Melodrama’s centerpiece. It tells the story of one of the most painful experiences every human being has to face. Our first real heartbreak. (And then the difficulty of moving on.) Using one of the oldest tricks in the pop playbook, it sets heart-wrenching lyrics set to upbeat music.
Lorde wrote about “a crazy year” in her life
“I wrote this album about this crazy year of my life,” a 20-year-old Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor explained at the time of Melodrama’s release. “I partied a lot and I felt all the feelings – and it was all so fluorescent. So I decided to call the album Melodrama.”
Melodrama was unconventional. Lorde continued to assert herself as a headstrong and determined artist. She was the voice for millions of others who had felt the same. And for this reason, the cultural influence of Melodrama cannot be understated.
Lorde during the filming of her ‘Greenlight’ music video.
A generation of young women connected with what Lorde expressed. None put this better than pop star Billie Eilish. “I grew up listening to [Lorde],” Eilish shared with Jenesaispop in 2018, “because she started to become known when I was about 10 years old, when she released ‘Royals’ I think she was 16, and I’m 16 now. She knows what this is. Lorde is a friend, and a sweetheart, and everything she does she does so well, and so hers. Everything Lorde has done is perfectly Lorde, it’s like no one has done anything like that.”
Lorde in 2021.
Melodrama touched the heart of a generation
Billie Eilish is not alone in her praise. Lorde is one of the most influential acts in modern music. When it comes to her work, Melodrama spoke most strongly. Heartache is universal. At age 20 Lorde came closer than any of her contemporaries to sketching an honest portrait of the feelings she went through growing up. Flying in spectacular color, she plunged bravely into a boundless pool of introspection. Doing so she hit upon some of the deepest truths which accompanying the experience of being young. In this sense, Melodrama is less a concept album than a vivid series of emotional episodes. Reaching into her own experience Lorde uncovered feelings common to us all. In doing so, she touched the heart of a generation.