There has been and always will be misery and misfortune in the world. For many people, if you’re not wallowing in the negativity along with them, you’re minimizing it and are a part of the problem. This sort of critique is now being directed at musical artist Lorde in light of her newest studio album release, “Solar Power.”
Lorde rose to prominence in 2014, when she was about 17 years old. She became known for her dark, gritty aesthetic and artistic flair, her gritty, introspective music, and her cherry black lipstick.
Since then, her music and aesthetic style have changed dramatically, giving her the appearance of growing more positive and more confident in herself – apparently embracing change where her younger self may have been reluctant.
Despite this being a healthy and natural thing (assuming we aim to change and grow as people), netizens have found a way to criticize that and make it seem like this is a bad thing. Does the criticism come from zealotism applied towards fixing the world at all costs? Or maybe something more basic, something like personal selfishness?
A Personal Journey Alongside Lorde’s Music
I’m about Lorde’s age, and I remember her music immediately resonating with me when I first listened to her first studio album, Pure Heroine (2013).
The electro/indie pop music was new for me and opened doors to exploring different music. The themes she sang about I lived vicariously through as a lonely wallflower teen, uncomfortable in her own body and mind, and anxious about the world. I remember it all very fondly. It felt like someone got me. “Buzzcut Season” was a particular favorite as someone who felt very easily depressed and anxious by the ugliness and violence seen in global conflicts, while surrounded by peers whom I perceived to live in a bubble, blissfully unaware of all of it.
Her next album, Melodrama (2017), was and still is one of my favorites. At the time of its release, I had undergone my first (very tumultuous) heartbreak, and it was filled with titles that I could have used easily to describe the emotions I felt. My Spotify account could probably tell you how many times I repeated “Supercut” and “The Louvre.”
Now, about four years later, Lorde has come out with a new album, Solar Power (2021). The titular music video released some time before the album provided some insight into the feel of it.
While Lorde’s previous albums encapsulated feelings of isolation and sadness, smallness in the grand scheme of things, drama and lost love, Solar Power is more mellow – a reflection of moving beyond that sadness and growing more confident in herself, acknowledging and moving on from experiences that have brought her to where she is today. Even the album art is something brand new for Lorde.
Now in my early twenties, the music strongly resonates with me almost song-for-song in this album yet again. There’s a reflectiveness in “Stoned at the Nail Salon” that I feel so deeply at this point in life where you realize it’s only natural to grow into a different person as time goes by with different values, priorities, and likes. “Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen It All)” reflects on growing up, how quickly it happens, how the pain you felt so intensely as a girl goes away, and how it’s on you to let go of some of that in order to embrace happiness.
While Solar Power’s themes are largely focused on happiness and growth, I don’t believe it fully abandons sadness or Lorde’s introspection – it’s the happiness and relief you find in catharsis, and I think it’s a good attitude to have or aspire to have as you grow older.
Apparently, No One’s Allowed To Change in a Sad World
Solar Power has been met with a number of critiques – on the music itself (see the infamous Pitchfork review for which the author Anna Gaca was bullied by Lorde fans online for calling the music “drab”) and on the themes of the album.
Lindsay Zoladz from the New York Times called the album “subdued” and wrote, “Earlier this summer, when Lorde first released the album’s breezy title track, some listeners who had expected a sound similar to her bruising, resilient 2017 triumph, Melodrama, were left wondering if the 24-year-old known in civilian life as Ella Yelich-O’Connor was kidding. Was this a sendup of influencer culture or a music video explicitly designed as a carousel of Instagram screenshots? How could someone who’d previously made an emotionally operatic 11-song concept album about running into an ex at a party suddenly toss off a line as carefree as ‘Forget all of the tears that you’ve cried, it’s over’?”
As if we should expect Lorde to produce the same kind of music, stuck in some form of perpetual heartbreak to supply her with these sorts of songs. Should we not move on from heartbreak? Is it not normal to look back and smile at what happened, and how you were able to move past it and embrace something better?
We shouldn’t expect Lorde to produce the same kind of music, stuck in some form of perpetual heartbreak.
In the opening of her critique of Solar Power, Anna Gaca from Pitchfork critiques happiness and the means by which we may pursue that, in some way (maybe inadvertently) calling happy people and pursuers of happiness, dumb (or dumb-adjacent, those who ‘act dumb’).
Gaca wrote, “You have to act so dumb to be happy, nowadays. You can’t read the news and you can’t check social media; don’t look at the death toll, don’t look at the wildfire, don’t look at the weather... After [Lorde] wrapped the world tour for her second album, 2017’s Melodrama, she went home to Auckland and was hardly seen in public. She undertook a tech detox, giving up social media and setting her phone screen to grayscale, to make it less enticing. When she wanted to gain perspective on the climate crisis, she traveled to Antarctica. She made Solar Power, a self-aware, scaled-back album that asks you to “breathe out and tune in,” like a strange little paperbound spiritual text at a hippie bookshop.”
So, according to Gaca, you have to act dumb if you’re trying to be happy by removing the endless, persistent stimuli coming from your phone. To be happy to you have to be intentionally obtuse and ignore the bigger picture. It’s weird if you try to be happy. If you’re actively trying to be happy, that entails regularly “acting dumb” – and aren’t people who actively act dumb, just dumb?
One Twitter user tweeted, “I feel like 2014 Lorde would have hated 2021 Lorde,” on August 18.
Three days later, that same user said the original post wasn’t actually about her happiness or confidence, despite the pictures coming from an original post that had lyrics from Lorde’s “Oceanic Feeling” as the caption: “Now the cherry-black lipstick's gathering dust in a drawer/ I don't need her anymore/ 'Cause I got this power.”
Despite the Twitter user’s intentions (whether that was the original intention or an attempt to save face in light of replies to the post), many users and critics called out the album for being drab or Lorde for not sticking to her original aesthetic.
While it’s not required for anyone to state exact reasons why they don’t like something, it all boils down to the “simplicity” of the cheery music, which is supposedly different from Lorde’s past music. For this critique, it would help to have actual side-by-side examples, because the music isn’t any less complex or varied than it was in previous albums.
It's as if, if you’re happy, you put yourself above the world’s suffering, and somehow that’s selfish.
I don’t think many would admit to this as it would emit a sense of bitterness, but it seems like what people hate to see is happiness and change. It’s trendy and romantic to be sad and depressed all the time. You’re a heroine, in tune with the suffering of the world, empathetic and drowning with sorrow. If you’re happy, you put yourself above that, even if it’s just temporary, and somehow that’s selfish. Which is ironic, in a world where we’re supposedly valuing mental health and personal happiness and well-being over everything else.
There’s a sense of relatability that’s important for an artist or celebrity’s success. It’s part of why Lorde came to be a favorite artist of many growing up. But when an artist changes for the better, or embraces new change happily, why do critics jump at calling that drab, bland, or otherwise bad? It gives the sense that this change or newfound happiness is something bad and needs to be remedied, like Anna Gaca saying you need to act dumb to be happy.
What not everyone ventures to imagine is that maybe a happy aesthetic or feeling of contentedness and satisfaction in a piece of work doesn’t mean the creator is happy 100% of the time. Maybe they’ve equipped themselves to better deal with suffering and to affect good change in the lives of others and the world. And just maybe, that’s an attitude worth adopting for yourself.
Love Evie? Let us know what you love and what else you want to see from us in the official Evie reader survey.