Image Description: Lorde on stage wearing a flower crown on a dark blue background
Usually, around Valentine’s Day we start to see a lot of those “50 Best Breakup Songs of All Time” and “Perfect Songs to Cry To” lists pop up, and don’t get me wrong, I love those. But this year is different. A lot of us have spent the majority of the last 11 months in some form of quarantine or isolation, so I for one, don’t need much help in the “songs to cry to” department. Given the harsh realities of the last year, what I need right now is catharsis. In its original use, catharsis is defined as the release of the emotions by vicarious experience, especially through drama- or even better, through melodrama.
She takes you through the comedown in a way that isn’t jarring by addressing each dark desire, every fever dream fantasy and inclination to backslide
This year more than ever, Lorde’s iconic Melodrama is the perfect Valentine’s Day album because it gives us just that. In the dead of winter and seemingly endless monotony of this pandemic, I want to talk about Lorde’s perfect summers. At the very core of Melodrama is the concept of the perfect summer, it recurs over and over again- it’s her trademark. “The Louvre”, Melodrama’s ode to the perfect summer, is arguably the most celebrated song on the album, and with good reason! I hear the opening whisper- “Well, summer slipped us underneath her tongue / Our days and nights are perfumed with obsession”, frequently, in my dreams.
What makes Melodrama the viscerally cathartic masterpiece that it is, is Lorde’s willingness to dive fearlessly into the romanticized nostalgia of those perfect summers, and not just in one sad song. Throughout the entire album we relive them with her, and ultimately, release them. Through Melodrama Lorde becomes a master of tragedy- her self-indulgence is tempered by the hyper self-awareness which begins with the title and continues throughout the album. She takes you through the comedown in a way that isn’t jarring by addressing each dark desire, every fever dream fantasy and inclination to backslide… it’s fun.
In the chorus of “The Louvre” Lorde poses the question “Can you hear the violence?” over an arrangement of dreamy synths and an electric bass pulsing with urgency. She reveals the audible “violence” to be her pounding heart, and chooses to amplify it- “Megaphone to my chest / Broadcast the boom boom boom boom / And make ‘em all dance to it”. Lorde has described Melodrama as one long, lonely hedonistic party, and she dances with us feeling everything throughout the whole night. She lets you live inside your what-if fantasies, lets you slip into the dream world of the rose-tinted past and doesn’t make you feel bad about it, she celebrates your delusions of grandeur; she walks with you through the museum of your perfect summers and then brings you back down to earth to tell you that you’re enough.
Lorde has described Melodrama as one long, lonely hedonistic party, and she dances with us feeling everything throughout the whole night.
While simultaneously basking in the glow of the summer memories in “The Louvre”, Lorde slyly insinuates their dark undertones and her initial willingness to ignore them to preserve her Louvre-worthy love. In the second verse, she concedes drolly, “Blew all my friendships / To sit in hell with you”, but since “The Louvre” is the perfect summer song she quickly backtracks to remain in the fever dream “But we’re the greatest / They’ll hang us in The Louvre”.
It’s in “Liability” where the perfect summer really meets its reckoning. In the final verse Lorde deviates from the gentle, almost resigned murmurs that constitute the rest of the track, to sing with mounting intensity “I know that it’s exciting running through the night / But every perfect summer’s eating me alive until you’re gone”. When I tell you this line haunts me… amidst the melancholy ballad, half lamentation that she’s “too much for everyone” half testament to self-love, we are forced to confront the price paid for every perfect summer. We are forced to recognize that they didn’t bleed into perfect autumns, so how perfect could they have been, really?
With the final banger of a bookend for the album, “Perfect Places”, we get a semblance of an answer to this question. In “Perfect Places” we feel both the fervour and the darkness of the party; Lorde repeats “It’s just another graceless night” matter of factly, between images of drunken dancefloors and kissing strangers. However, it’s in the refrain that ends the song where the clarity really begins to sink in– “All the nights spent off our faces / Trying to find these perfect places / What the fuck are perfect places anyway?”. Ironically, it’s in this final question that I find the most solace. By challenging the very existence of “perfect” places, we are able to celebrate the imperfect places, the imperfect people, and yes, even the imperfect summers. The catharsis comes with the realization that although all of the idealized moments that we revelled in throughout the dreamscape of the album may have had their imperfections, that doesn’t make them any less fluorescent.
Image Credit: DavidEye via Wikimedia Commons