Lorde's "Pure Heroine": A Promising Paradox

Lorde is the voice of a generation – one focused highly on drinking, partying and popularity. While she evidently takes part in the festivities she describes, she still sees how fake and fragile each component of high school life is– a trait wildly uncommon for 16-year-old girls. She notices that she and her fellow adolescents only “smile out of fear;” a fear of challenging the delicate, chaotic atmosphere surrounding them. In Pure Heroine, Lorde dares to break the mold.

Each song on Lorde’s new album aims either to expose the wild teenage atmosphere she has personally dealt with or to share her own fears for the wellbeing of both society and her self. The fluctuation in her confidence and happiness greatly matches how her life has both ups and downs, although there seems to be a general downward trend. Every track is worth listening to, with beats and vocals that somewhat relate to groups like the XX, yet are distinctively unique, especially when considering lyrical content.

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In “Tennis Court,” Lorde confidently asserts her mastery of this awareness, internally observing what her fellow teens consider casual conversation as well as contributing to it. Her friends and she often “go to the tennis court, and talk it up”, but she recognizes that the constant gossip is meaningless.  Limited subject matters have Lorde “bored,” and she looks forward to leaving “on [her] first plane." She can never show it, though. After all, “it’s a new art form, showing people how little we care.”

Continuing her critique of teenage culture in “400 Lux,” she openly admits, “We’re hollow like the bottles that we drink.” However, just like drinking and driving, Lorde is unstable and unsure of her ability to control the ride that is high school. She prays that “Moses can drive from here,” not only implying that drinking and driving is just stupid bravery, but also confessing that teenagers may need someone like Moses to free them from the slavery that is this way of life. In harsh contrast, she regains her confidence for the massively popular “Royals.” She has control over certain aspects of high school life, and popularity is one of them. She wants to be the “ruler” and has supposedly “cracked the code,” as if there is an equation to thriving as a teenager.

Most of the remaining tracks are plagued with self-concern and doubt. In “Ribs,” Lorde admits, “it feels so scary, getting old” – and she is only 16. She knows that she and her friends can “laugh until [their] ribs get tough, but that will never be enough.” It’s difficult to make light of the surprisingly mature situations she must deal with. It almost feels like it isn’t real, like she “live[s] in a hologram,” as she states in “Buzz Cut Season.” Teenagers are “cola with the burnt-out taste;” they seem bubbly on the outside, but all of the stress they deal with has them completely drained.

Her final attempt to prove (perhaps to herself) that she has control is the track “Team.” She lives in a town she is quite familiar with, and boasts how “we sure know how to run things.” However, that is already a new point of interest – “we”. No more of the “let me be your ruler” business. There is open competition for this popularity, as all the girls are “dancing around the lies [they] tell, dancing around the guys as well.” She is not sure who has the throne, which leads nicely into the next track “Glory and Gore,” focused completely on the battle for popularity. It exposes how brutal teenagers can be, how often they are out to get “blood.” That isn’t to say Lorde is only concerned about the atmosphere around her; she is starting to seriously question whether she could escape the vicious cycle, or if she would even want to. She confesses that “secretly [she] loves this,” and doesn’t know that she would “ever wanna go free.”

The next two songs have Lorde questioning herself as both a famous artist and also an average kid. In “Still Sane,” she knows that “only bad people get to see their likeness set in stone,” and as she begins to amass a fan base, she begins to wonder “what… that make[s] [her].” She then assumes the role of a popular girl for “White Teeth Teens.” In a classic example of being too popular for your own good, she paints a scene where a popular girl walks into a party that she considers to be barely worth her time. “We wouldn’t be seen dead here in the day” so try to “impress the empress.” The twist is that Lorde somehow believes that she is “not a white teeth teen,” very contradictory to the image she has given of herself up to this point. She may be more mature in the sense of recognizing issues of teen life, but that does not mean she has been able to escape it.

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The album finishes with “A World Alone,” a song that recognizes that if nothing changes, everyone will ultimately end up isolated. The society Lorde has openly criticized is “a train wreck waiting to happen,” and something has to be done about it. She believes it is a copout to say, “The internet raised us,” because honestly, “maybe people are jerks.” She isn’t going to simply blame the issues on this or that; it is extremely ineffective to sit around and play the blame game. She would rather focus on fixing whatever went wrong. Teens constantly “make a mess, go home, and get clean,” never taking responsibility for what they do and leaving it for other people to sort out and fix. She wants society to change, but also knows that she is probably too deeply involved in the cycle to escape now.

In Pure Heroine, Lorde stands face to face with a deteriorating society. Every song is beautifully crafted to expose her hollow confidence and uncertainty. She tries her best to seem like she has power over every detail, but ultimately, this task proves difficult for a girl of her age. After a mere 16 years of life, she recognizes that teenagers are in need of a champion – someone who will sort out the mess so they can regain some sense of control. Lorde wishes she could save them, but she is a promising paradox, the heroine on heroin; how can she be their savior if she is addicted to what she despises most?

Stream Pure Heroine for free here.

Images via Tumblr.

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