I had the unfortunate coincidence of turning 16 when Lorde released her debut studio album, Pure Heroine. That was also, of course, an earlier age of social media that almost seems prehistoric now. One where Twitter was still merely the place to speak into the void about your hobbies and minor irritants in your life, and Tumblr was the place where adolescents published things that probably should’ve remained deep in their psyches for all eternity.
To be on Tumblr in 2013 or 2014 meant scrolling through an endless sea of bad jokes, dangerous beauty standards, and a parade of Lana Del Rey and Lorde fans. They made an entire virtual personality out of using lyrics like “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air” as captions. To quote a tweet from just last month, “Anyone who had a Tumblr account from 2010-2014 has a master’s degree in social media.”
This Internet discourse would pave the way for Gen Z icons of the moment like Halsey, Billie Eilish, or Olivia Rodrigo. It was also one that led teenage Ella Yelich-O’Connor, known professionally as Lorde, to be instantly named the voice of her generation (a label she would ultimately reject) with only one album under her belt. Culture critics of 2013 were evidently embarrassed by the twerking and blurred lines that plagued popular culture that year and found Lorde’s rebellious genre-jumping pop to be a groundbreaking breath of fresh air.
While the singer’s youth-oriented indie music would indeed make her the face of mid-2010s pop, a persona sustained on her 2017 follow-up Melodrama, hasty labels, acclaim, and accolades led many to ignore and forget the elephant in the room. Their author was still a young white woman finding herself in an increasingly divided digital world. As Madame Spears once famously proclaimed, she’s not a girl, but not yet a woman.
The first singles from Lorde’s highly anticipated third studio album Solar Power clearly indicate that the singer was trying something new on for size. Self-described as her “weed album”, Lorde’s latest record finds her attempting to make peace with the world around her, and maybe herself as well. But the result is a disorganized, hackneyed collection of songs that don’t so much deepen her existing body of work but rather introduce an unlikable version of a 24-year-old woman riddled with white privilege.
That’s not to say that I would have wanted Lorde to make another album more in line with the pop of Pure Heroine or Melodrama. Quite the contrary: a change of pace could not have come sooner for the New Zealand star. But much like Nick Jonas singing “you put the sex in sexual” on his latest solo album, the last thing the world needs right now is another white woman in her 20s realizing that life isn’t as simple as she once believed. For a widely acclaimed lyricist like Lorde, one could have expected more than “Stoned at the Nail Salon” from the woman who wrote, “We crave a different kind of buzz.”
But perhaps that’s what Solar Power seeks to prove false: the notion that an artist who previously made generation-defining pieces of art can’t change tunes or faces, especially when she’s a woman. As the folks of Twitter also pointed out last week, 2014 Lorde would probably hate 2021 Lorde’s guts. And maybe that’s the point. That Lorde wanted to make a stylistically messy record to indicate that she’s not tied to any one image or reputation for the remainder of time. “Growing up a little at a time, then all at once / Everybody wants the best for you / But you gotta want it for yourself, my love,” she asserts on “Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen It All)”, the album’s only memorable track. Unfortunately, Solar Power just isn’t palpable for anyone beyond Lorde’s existing fanbase or background noise for a mellow summer picnic.