Reviews

On Solar Power, Lorde Steps Out of The Spotlight and Onto The Sand

Earlier this year, Lorde’s website had one simple message for her fans: “Patience is a virtue.” It’s been four years since the singer’s last release, Melodrama, so it’s safe to say that fans have been quite virtuous, but as the excitement ramped up for the singer’s latest release patience was beginning to wear thin. 

On the longest day of the year, their patience was rewarded as Lorde marked her long-awaited return, releasing a new song “Solar Power,” the lead single off of her third album of the same name, which dropped today.

For Lorde fans who have not only been struggling through the pandemic, but also through four years of uncertainty as to when the Kiwi popstar would return, the album announcement was like a beacon of hope. Lorde would no longer be masquerading as an onion ring connoisseur on Instagram, she was back to doing what she’s incredible at (although her onion ring reviews were pretty good, too).

Her past albums have been acclaimed as incredible encapsulation of teenage life, and the true lows that teenage girls can feel have helped usher in a whole new wave of pop artists, including the likes of whisper pop queen Billie Eilish, Halsey and her influence can even be felt on Taylor Swift’s 2017 album “Reputation.”

Of course, we’ll never know if pop would be as sad if not for Lorde, or as artsy, or dreamy, but I think it’s definitely safe to assume that she has changed the landscape. So when she announced she was coming back, she could have stuck to the same format, which presumably would have continued to be great, or she could have made something brand new. Lorde chose the latter, and she stepped into the sunlight on Solar Power, the singer’s third studio album.

After two stellar dream-pop and electro-pop albums that have helped to shape the direction that the pop genre has moved toward, Lorde broke away with a different, more low-key sound on this album, clearly inspired by ‘60s flower-power music, but a lot of the work also hearkens back to beach-friendly aughts music like Hoku or Natasha Bedingfield. She’s having fun on this album, and breaking away from her reputation as a dark and broody lyricist, especially in the lyrics from the album’s self-titled single “Solar Power,” “Can I kick it? Yeah, I can.”

But the album has its dark turns, its own heartbreak, as does any Lorde album. On Solar Power, the singer seems troubled by her own fame. It’s not an uncommon topic for artists to tackle after establishing themselves, it’s something that Billie Eilish focuses on heavily in her latest album Happier than Ever, and it seems natural that Lorde, after a four-year break away from the limelight, would too take some time to approach this subject.

Becoming one of the biggest names and trend-starters in pop is, of course, going to cause some introspection, and throughout Solar Power, we can see Lorde taking a look at her own fame, and what impact it’s had on the artist. On “Fallen Fruit” she laments “We had no idea the dreams we had were too big.”

She also confronts the pressure that fame brings in terms of being seen as a role model, or someone to look up to. For Lorde, who soared to success when she released “Royals” at age 16, that’s got to be a lot of unwanted pressure. Due to the fact she’s already had a long and extremely successful career, it’s easy to forget that she’s still only 25-years-old. She wants to have fun, which she’s starting to do on this album, and doesn’t want to feel the pressure of being looked up to or what other baggage people tend to throw on the shoulders of young successes. Lorde sings about this on the album opener “The Path,” in the lyrics “Now if you’re looking for a savior, well, that’s not me.”

“The Path,” while serving as the album’s intro point, also stands as one of its highest points as well. Another standout point is midpoint track “Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All),” which features a spoken word cameo from Robyn. The three singles that she’s released also stick out, especially her latest, “Mood Ring,” which evokes comparisons to “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield.

Maybe an early sign of the times, this is Lorde’s first album that she’s not releasing on a physical CD because of environmental concerns. Lorde announced in a statement that the album is “a celebration of the natural world,” and she doesn’t want to create something that will “end up in a landfill.” For fans who want a physical manifestation of the album, the singer is releasing an eco-friendly music box that will contain a download card, along with handwritten notes and exclusive photos.

The two music videos that Lorde has released so far are also capturing a new mood for the singer. “Solar Power” features the singer frolicking on a New Zealand beach with some Auckland-based pals who are all dressed as if they were in the happiest cult of all time, following their leader, Lorde. The New Zealand-shot video is reminiscent of the 2019 film “Midsommar” in which an American college student comes to be a leader in a Nordic cult. “Mood Ring” has similar cult-like vibes throughout the video, in which Lorde’s hair is a shocking peroxide-blonde hue. For legal reasons, I’m, of course, not saying that Lorde is starting a cult, but with the goodwill that she’s garnered in the genre, and the laid back vibe of Solar Power, I’d be willing to bet she’d have quite a few devotees lining up to join. 

Lorde shaped culture and defined an era of pop that was yet to come with her first release, Pure Heroine, and she continued to reign successful on Melodrama. On this album she’s rejecting fame, enjoying the sun and embracing environmentalism. It’s unknown yet if this new venture will take her to the previous genre-shaping heights, but after the year we’ve all had, the messages on Solar Power are something to strive for.

Solar Power is out now.

Photo by Ophelia Mikkelson Jones*

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