how lorde’s first album captured suburban dreams and realistic teenage life

Before her new track drops, we revisit her first album, 'Pure Heroine.'

by Wendy Syfret
02 March 2017, 5:10pm

For the past several months, Lorde's fans have partaken in a figurative scavenger hunt for clues and suggestions about when her new album would materialize. That was escalated to a literal scavenger hunt this week, as mysterious ads appeared on New Zealand TV and the star began posting clues about her upcoming record in locations around Auckland. With the first single, "Green Light," promised to drop this afternoon, many fans have been revisiting and reflecting on the impact of her breakthrough record, 2013's Pure Heroine.

It was an unprecedented treat that this project — which deals so directly and honestly with the inner life of a teenage girl — became a cultural and critical phenomenon. Four years on, the way the then-teenager managed to capture and magnify the quiet joys (and creeping suffocation) of growing up in the suburbs is still startling. While tracks like "Ribs" hit the familiar beats of love and angst that have echoed in our ears since Tommy Sands scored a Billboard hit with "Teenage Crush" in 1957, it's how the singer conveyed her hometown — with dueling boredom and pride — that marked the record as exceptional.

When she dismissed Grey Goose and ball gowns on "Royals" — claiming she craved "a different kind of buzz" that can be found spending time with friends — we were called back to a time when social circles were everything. She reminded us of the moments when the rest of the world felt far away, like it was made for someone else. But that was okay, because the insulation of love and familiarity acted as a pleasant buffer to any stinging realities. Who doesn't remember and pine for the kind of confidence and comfort that allows one to declare, "We're bigger than we ever dreamed" and "Life is great without a care"?

But this breezy comfort isn't romanticized or rose-tinted on Pure Heroine. While Katy Perry's teenage dreams involve driving to Cali and getting drunk on the beach, and One Direction's lyrics promised true and undying love, Lorde embraced images of flat suburbia. Her boys and girls had "skin in craters like the moon," "live in cities you'll never see onscreen," and weren't very pretty but sure knew how to run things. They were part of a presentation of adolescent emotions that wasn't epic or grand, but rather realistic to the feelings harbored by actual teens.

Although the presentation was low-key, it never suggested the emotions cloistered in young hearts were less worthwhile than those held by adults. Rather, it found subjects in friends more often than lovers. For most us, the deepest and most regular heartaches at 15 were about whether or not our pals would standby us as we wondered if our friendships would survive the delicate shell of school. With this in mind, you can see why "And you know we're on each other's team" would stand as a more comforting declaration to a kid than Taylor Swift singing "You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye, And I got that red lip, classic thing that you like" a year later.

In fact, the weight of the record comes from the fact Lorde doesn't buy into that myth of adolescence, the romance that sees us return to this period through art and recast it as some kind of tender wonderland. Even when she picks up these well worn images, she plays with and distorts them, suggesting "White teeth teens are out."

In turn, she doesn't lend her own teen years any real meaning — no one is learning huge lessons or defining who they are, because that's really not what teenagers are thinking about. Rather, she offers a quiet appreciation for a place that formed her. On "Buzzcut Season," she admits that the warnings from the men on the news never feel real, as "it's so easy in this blue, where everything is good." But this comfort is tangled up with a growing feeling of suffocation, as the home town that feels safe also begins to feel small. It's a musical flash point to the moment when childhood begins to crack, and the light of adulthood seeps in.

Ultimately the record is perhaps the most direct and eloquent statement about the eternal teen juxtaposition of wanting it all, feeling desperate to grow up and start life, but knowing deep down that to leave this stage is to make an exit you can never undo. Lorde knew that as soon as she did get on that plane, and saw the veins of her city like they do in space, she'll be removed from it. And eventually also come to cast these moments in a saccharine glow as they become artificially-flavored memories. Or, as she sings on "A World Along": "Bruising the sun, I feel grown up with you in your car, I know it's dumb." Trust us Lorde, it isn't.


Text Wendy Syfret
Photography via @lorde

Think Pieces
Growing Up
Pure Heroine
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