The last 4 years have felt… long. Maybe it’s just the passage of time, maybe it’s the string of ever-extending lockdowns, or maybe it’s the fact that Lorde hadn’t released a song since Melodrama ripped our hearts out and ran them over in 2017. At the start of the summer season, something shifted. A more palpable change than the Earth’s ongoing revolution, like spring bowing its head to the solstice: a beach-bummed Lorde, alongside trusty Jack Antonoff, released Solar Power. With blue skies and the background vocals of Clairo and Phoebe Bridgers, this single screams summer. Actually, it says summer in a very even-toned voice. Because guess what? Lorde is happy!
After the globally popular devastation of her sophomore album, this tonal shift is unexpected. For some, it’s a breath of fresh air! She’s funny, referring to herself as a “prettier Jesus”, she’s smoking up by the water with her canvas-clad beach pals, and she’s kicking off the summer with the energy of a “Good Vibes Only” t-shirt. Though I love that for Lorde, I was personally underwhelmed by the lead single. It’s simple and sunny, two things I love in most cases, but a bit boring on the first listen. While I did warm to it the second time around (expectations adjusted, sans music video), it wasn’t the mainstay summer song I anticipated. But, why not? It has the makings of a bop to be featured on every Summer 2021 playlist you could find on Spotify. If Twitter is any indicator, it looks like I’m not alone in my disappointment.
The recent release of the Solar Power album brings to mind other singers whose music “got happy”, if not lyrically then sonically. A few examples are Taylor Swift’s Lover, Chance the Rapper’s Big Day, or Mac Miller’s Swimming. These albums embraced a newfound joy rather than the artists’ respective trademark blues, garnering comparatively lukewarm reviews from fans. An artist doesn’t have to be sad to make good art, but, as a listener, nothing feels better than feeling understood.
Melodrama understood heartache. It made vulnerability cool. Lorde owned the qualities people weaponized against her (being emotional, clingy, “too much”) and turned them into something pretty and poetic. Now, 4 years later, she gifts the masses some easy listening, a song that does not require of us any emotional labour -- refreshing after a very heavy year. While it may be a jarring tonal shift in contrast to the dynamism of her dramatic predecessor, Solar Power delivers a much-needed reminder of freedom, warmth, and fun. It is, as Lorde articulates, “a celebration of the natural world, an attempt at immortalizing the deep, transcendent feelings I have when I’m outdoors.”
I wonder, then, if I would have experienced the single differently without its music video informing my first impression. Dancing across the sand with the confidence of someone who is in a cult but doesn’t quite get that they’re in a cult, Lorde inspires a sort of bliss that makes this viewer uncomfortable. Though these Midsommar-esque visuals are as simple as the song itself, they contextualized some lyrics as doctrinal rather than silly and fun. Separated from this cast of lovers, the single is one for BBQ parties, patio hangs, and beach frolics.