Green Light // Lorde
Alright, English majors, keep it in your pants (your travel copy of The Great Gatsby, of course): Lorde’s “Green Light” isn’t a reference to that. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s green light represented the shining, intangible past, but Lorde’s is that of a street light’s, signaling permission to move onward.
In 2013, Lorde released Pure Heroine and became world-famous almost overnight. In time, its minimalist, electronica/dreampop sound has proven to serve as a blueprint upon which most of current pop has piggybacked (though not always to the same effect).
That’s a lot to follow up. Understandably, Lorde took four years to develop her sophomore album, and Melodrama did not disappoint, establishing Lorde as a generational artist. Melodrama’s lead single, “Green Light,” is an anthemic microcosm of the larger album, and prevents me from writing ten pages about the whole thing, as much as I want to.
The first thing you might notice about “Green Light” is its unconventional structure. There are multiple mini-songs within the whole: a mournful piano ballad, an 80’s house piano dance song, and a synth-driven chorus explosion that would make EDM proud. Each of these sections, teased within the first 80 seconds, has its own unique energy and emotions, but rather than contradicting each other, they multiply the depth of the story.
Lorde uses these switch-ups to ration out the song’s payoffs and crescendos, withholding the full scope of its energy until its fluorescent explosion of a finale. This composition cleverly parallels the song’s central theme, because it’s only through experiencing the highs and lows of the story that both Lorde and listener receive satisfying closure.
Though the composition is impressive, it’s ultimately Lorde’s delivery and gravitas that take center-stage. For all the bold, full-chested emotion Lorde unleashes, she doesn’t scream — and doesn’t need to. Sliding from droll, sardonic wit, to sing-songy mocking falsetto, to unexpected surges and snarls, it’s immediately clear what separates Lorde from her imitators: Theatricality. Without even hearing the lyrics, you could infer the emotions from her delivery alone.
“Green Light” is messy, cathartic, and euphoric, like singing and dancing in the street in the pouring rain. It’s these kinds of complex, multi-dimensional emotions that Lorde is an expert in depicting. Any artist can be self-serious and dramatic, but “Green Light” is different, because it’s more than just the melodrama. Lorde shows all angles, from furious spite to lessons learned, because she knows emotions are neither linear nor isolated. We all have to be melodramatic sometimes.
“Green Light” can bloom and burst from a pair of headphones and explode across a festival crowd. It feels huge — a musical quality that’s hard to nail and harder to explain, but it’s certainly enabled by the strength and depth of each of the small things. Lorde rages with emotion and power, even in a shadowy whisper. Her music expands and unfolds with further listens. And that is the hallmark of a talented musician.