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Lorde’s “Solar Power”: Returning to the Sun

If asked to put a name to the most influential pop artist of the last decade, it might be tempting to direct attention to one of the era’s biggest hitmakers: Ariana Grande, Drake, The Weeknd, Travis Scott, Taylor Swift. However, I don’t think any single song had as significant an impact on the pop music landscape as Lorde’s breakthrough smash “Royals”. 2012 was riding high off the club music boom, with artists like Kesha, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and Pitbull dominating the charts, but with the arrival of sleeper hit “Royals”, the shallowness of this kind of music was laid bare.

Her distinctive, minimalist New Zealand bedroom pop came like a breath of fresh air, with her adolescent perception and cynicism cutting through pop’s maximalist façade. From then, pop music began trending increasingly towards a more mid-tempo, downbeat energy, with alt-R&B and melo-trap slowly left to fill the vacuum. Of course, Lorde didn’t do all this, not single-handed, it was the product of changing cultural trends and the increasing impact of streaming and growing irrelevance of radio, but “Royals” always felt like patient zero to me.

Despite the success of her breakthrough, Lorde has remained an enigmatic non-presence on the music stage. Rather than courting the mainstream and capitalising on her moment, she waited years before releasing a follow up to her seminal first album, and when it did come, the critical darling Melodrama sounded totally unlike the airy, spacey and atmospheric Pure Heroine. Despite their difference, the two were unified by their common quality, each standing as arguably the best pop albums of their respective years. Lorde’s distinctively breathy delivery shirked seductiveness or sensuality, instead projecting an intense, bratty vulnerability and sense of dramatic pathos, and each of her delicately layered songs encapsulated feelings of yearning for sociability and emotional purpose.

On paper, she seems like the perfect artist to give voice to the feelings of the socially stunted generation the recent pandemic has created. However, like many bigger name artists, she has continued to sit the pandemic out, awaiting her moment, and with the release of her first single in three and a half years, it’s clear why.

The song is called “Solar Power”, and it styles itself unapologetically as a song for the summer, for a moment of re-emergence from a period of exile and confinement. This is the part of the pandemic Lorde has been waiting for, and this is the song to take us, gingerly, out of isolation and back into wizened social whirl. This she articulates with more humour than ever, styling herself a “prettier Jesus” as she leads others into the surf, casting off their phones into the brine, re-embracing an analogue form of interaction.

She’s certainly sounding freer and more seductive than ever, with a cheeky delivery to suit the sun-kissed single cover. With precise and intimate production from Jack Antonoff, and guest harmonies from Clairo and Phoebe Bridgers, the song kicks off in low key fashion, with Lorde singing in hushed tones over Antonoff’s eager acoustic strumming, before steadily blooming and adding more layers of instruments and voices to the ensemble. The whole song is structured to sound less like a lead single and more like an intro track, I’ll be shocked if this isn’t the opener to the forthcoming album.

That’s my only real issue with the song—it sounds like it’s in a perpetual state of growth, like a song in its adolescence, ending just as it seems to lose its babyish softness. The closing leg of the track is blissful, especially once you feel it kicking in with the beat drop and with trumpet and saxophone coming in to complement the chorus of voices, but it still leaves one wanting more. Perhaps that’s the intention though, a grand build up of tension ready for release once the record arrives.

Written by Hal Kitchen

Primarily a reviewer of music and films, Hal Kitchen studied at the University of Kent where they graduated with distinction in both Liberal Arts BA and Film MA, specializing in film, gender theory and cultural studies. Whilst at Kent they were the Film & TV sub-editor and later Culture Editor of the campus newspaper InQuire and began a public blog on their Letterboxd account.
Hal joined 25YearsLaterSite as a volunteer writer in May 2020 and resumed their current role of assistant film editor in November 2020.

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