"Happy Birthday Melodrama! or on Growing Up Alongside Lorde’s Music" by Valentin Espey-Davis

June 16, 2019

In 2013, songwriter Ella Yelich-O’Connor released Pure Heroine under the name Lorde. I was 11 years old and the summer prior I had lost my home to financial ruin I could not yet fully understand. I moved in with my grandmother, where my new room claimed a cold tile flooring that always seemed at odds with the dusty, clotted, and warm air. It was incredibly still, and entirely silent.

Eventually autumn spilled into the Missourian streets and yet my room remained sunken with heavy summer melancholy. I pleaded to music to drive out my seemingly incurable fatigue; Pure Heroine answered. Lorde’s voice poured into empty space and moved me to revel in the hush, in the coolness at my feet as I moved wildly to the clean, sharp, magnetic pulses of the music. Within days I was conversing with melodies in the beginnings of an intimate dialogue between artist and listener.

Pure Heroine was unique because it spoke my reflection to me, empowering the image of my mundane existence. My skin was not perfect, but “in craters like the moon.” I wore clothes I lied about being thrifted, and sang along to the assurance that “we’ll never be royals.” Ridden with insomnia following another lonely day at a new school I internalized the cries of "Ribs," “we’re reeling through the midnight streets/and I’ve never felt more alone.” The promises, prayers, and passionate declarations of Lorde’s debut album allowed myself to feel the weight of a maturity that most adults tried to deny me.

Nearly four years later and June 16, 2017, Lorde released her sophomore album Melodrama, coincidentally coinciding with the precipice of my sophomore year. Again I found myself unconsciously internalizing the words that I listened to as if they were meditations. Sophomore year was the happiest of my life, the sunniest, a glimpse into joy I had not known since the deep, consuming battle with depression that had taken middle school away from me.

It was also manic, fevered, and carelessly young. The roar and crescendo that haunted the parties of Melodrama seeped into my own life. Lorde sings in "Green Light," “I whisper things the city sings them back to you.” I did not know this line was a guarantee and as the year unfurled I discovered myself tuning in to a collective murmur. I stood through car sunroofs and heard the cyclical story of loving, losing, dying, and evolving become louder and more melodious. I looked at my friends and knew that we were fireflies in glass jars: alight and fiery, flickering, dull, then dead. Pure Heroine taught me how to make a home, Melodrama taught me how to burn with it.

In an interview with Time Magazine, Lorde remarked that this album was “about pain, but it’s more so about joy—the process of discovering joy and reclaiming joy. Like crying and dancing in equal parts.” In accidentally mirroring the narrative arc of Melodrama, I reclaimed joy preemptively from thieves many did not know lingered on the horizon of the year. I found out second semester I would be moving again, this time across the country to New Jersey. For a while I told no one. It was time to burn with celebration, not anxiety. I laid in streets and gave stars new names with friends and we lauded rebirth. Hair dye stained my cuticles and my first contacts watered my eyes. I ignored endings and settled in beginnings, Melodrama playing the entire time.

Light bounced on the water of my apartment complex’s pool as I took pictures of my friends while it rained, "Supercut" and "Homemade Dynamite" joining the party from a phone speaker. Theo Wenner’s photographs of Lorde were tucked hurriedly in a backpack as we chased the imagery memorialized in album art during the summer storm. We snuck out to watch sunrises from tennis courts and picked flowers at midnight. I loved, I kissed, I wrote and laughed and sang (poorly,) I took out of focus pictures. In my sophomore year I found intimacy and secret keeping and recklessness that mirrored the fervent quality of Lorde’s sophomore album - and a year later, June 16, 2018, I finally moved again. I reacquainted myself with the quiet. I found cool pavement and my muscles remembered dancing. I was 11 years old; there were no strobe lights, no drinks, no lovers, just a world alone. The forceful distance that had been forged between myself and the experiences that had so consumed me was biting. It was burning and strong, but real and sincere.

Lorde once said of her ballad "Liability," “I feel like if I’d had that song when I was 15, maybe it would have been kind to me.” Kind is a strange word to describe the sting of remembrance, but it is an accurate one. To encapsulate loss was to acknowledge the love that was had.

Lorde’s albums are so sacred to their listeners because of their cathartic sincerity. Pure Heroine was a loving chronicle of suburban youth from the honest voice of a 16 year old. Melodrama was similarly vulnerable because of the self awareness that accompanied its party spirit, an awareness too absent in the modern pop genre. Yes, I could be high to the contents of Melodrama but I could lay in the oft forgotten lows with it too.

"Hard Feelings/Loveless" and I unpacked New Jersey together. The screams of "Supercut" and I laid awake on an air mattress replaying visions of elation. "Liability," "Writer in the Dark," and "Sober II (Melodrama)" helped me shift through residual tensions and trauma that remained permanently unresolved. From the memories of years prior and the above tracklist I built a blueprint of a lost home and began again.

Another year later and I’m closing out my last week of Junior year in New Jersey, fully settled in. As the anniversary of both my move and the Melodrama release approach I want to wish Lorde’s sophomore album a happy 2nd birthday. Thank you for growing up with me.

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  1. Beautiful!!!! The best submission I’ve ever read for this publication. Lovely prose and stunning emotional writing I can relate to with my heart. I feel I am celebrating with the author. Love this piece♥️

  2. “Pure Heroine taught me how to make a home, Melodrama taught me how to burn with it”. Amazing. Loved reading this.

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