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  • Ella Manoff

10 Years On: Adolescence and Disillusionment in Lorde’s Pure Heroine

In September, Kiwi singer-songwriter Lorde’s first album, her enigmatic and now iconic Pure Heroine, turned ten. A venue in Manchester marked the occasion with a listening party — hosted in a pitch-black underground basement. Only fans of the album will know why this choice fits so perfectly. It nods to where some of the record's standout moments take place: that claustrophobic and disorienting space that holds particular precedence in suburban teenage lore.

Yet what’s more crucial is the darkness. To take away visual stimulants is to foreground the sense of prickling tension the record translates so well; Lorde’s debut LP is, after all, a portrait of growing up bored in the suburbs, waiting for something bigger to happen. Like the record’s minimalist production, it is an auditory experience stripped to its bare essentials, letting Lorde’s imaginative sonics inhabit a world of their own. Pure Heroine wasn't made for the dance floor.

Lorde’s debut album rode the wave of unexpected hit ‘Royals’, a sparsely produced alternative pop track critiquing the superficial popular culture she once laughed at with her friends. After putting her work on the internet, a virtually overnight success transplanted her from the Auckland suburbs to the public stage of the music industry where she became a reluctant ambassador for the new wave of pop. Bruce Springsteen covered her song. David Bowie called her the future of music.

Her record captured the boredom and exhilaration that sit so closely together in adolescence, prone to intermingle with explosive results. Pure Heroine was a unique ode to youth because it emphasised the in-between moments of stillness where not much happens at all. ‘A World Alone’ relives ‘that slow burn wait while it gets dark’, while in ‘White Teeth Teens’, she and her friends ‘Do nothing and love it’. Lorde captured the hormonal, anticipatory state of mind that intensifies passing moments; the record reverberates with an omnipresent, quiet tension. It isn’t made to be played at the party, but over headphones on a long walk home.

Lorde’s brand was starkly antithetical to everything pop culture had come to represent by the early 2010s — and perhaps this explains her quick rise to success. The post-internet generation was able to see through the shiny veneer of homogenous pop culture that successfully distracted the masses for years. Alone online, teenagers searched for inspiration and connection — they wanted an artist they could see themselves in. 2013 saw two templates of the female pop star: a bombastic caricature (Kesha, Lady Gaga), or a self-made character with a fabricated past and present (to varying degrees of disingenuity — Lana Del Rey is the obvious candidate for aestheticised self-mythologisation, but Taylor Swift had risen to fame on shaky Southern roots and sustained a career off constant self-reinventions). Lorde broke this mould by presenting an authenticity that felt raw and unusual. She was a disillusioned teenager from an unextraordinary background — and didn’t purport to be anything otherwise. Her background made her a genuinely convincing underdog — her thickly applied winged eyeliner, black clothes, and shaggy curls felt like authentic self-expression rather than a marketed image. The brand or image attached to Lorde always felt secondary to the intense emotions her music set out to convey. In early performances, she was mocked for her wild, unchoreographed dancing. But there is something commendable and empowering in choosing to be so vulnerable.

Post-recession pop had pivoted hard to nihilistic party culture, where each person is simply a body on the dance floor and a disciple of the night. The earnest centring of self that Pure Heroine preached was unfashionable in its time. Radio was taken over by Auto-Tune-saturated club beats and EDM bangers meant for getting wasted to forget the outside world. Young and unscathed by the wreckage she stood in, Lorde was interested in a bigger, more existential picture. Pure Heroine regards this with equal anxiety and apathy; it is sparse in production but not without heart and thoughtful while following up on the cynicism of its lead single. The party of Lorde's moody electro-pop universe feels quintessentially adolescent in its marriage of euphoria and realism. Lorde doesn’t narrate the sugar-rush feeling of the shots, but the spiralling epiphany she races through after.

While ‘Royals’ put Lorde on the map, it is deep cut 'Ribs’ that has best stood the test of time and become emblematic of the album’s electrifyingly anxious spirit. Lorde says she wrote the song when her parents left her alone for a few days, unwittingly handing her a microcosm of independence that spiralled into a philosophical crisis. Her sharp eye for observation that we saw in the opening track ‘Tennis Court’— she watches the ‘veins’ of her city from an aeroplane— scans over a drunken memory of a house party. With ‘Lover’s Spit’ left on repeat, she experiences a moment of clarity.

Some songs stray far further from the conventional pop template: the ambient track ‘Biting Down’ feels so harshly stripped down, that it is borderline amelodic. ‘Team’ opens with a tribal call that melds into a sparse trap beat.

Broodingly atmospheric ‘Buzzcut Season’ describes a lazy summer spent with friends, absorbed in their own world while ignoring ‘explosions on TV’. She knows her self-made prism is artificial. It is brilliantly put: ‘Nothing’s wrong but nothing's true/ I live in a hologram with you’. While ignorance might be bliss in moments, her dedications go to those who break the veil; truth-telling represents a love language. In the peacocking, insecure world of teenagers, real honesty is precious to Lorde when it comes by. ‘I’m the one you tell your fears to’, she says at ‘Buzzcut Season’s’ bridge, letting slip that it is sincerity she really craves. In ‘400 Lux’, she tells a crush she likes them because they can ‘talk like there’s something to say’.

It feels like the album is set in two worlds: her new life in a culture she grew famous from mocking — conceptualised on ‘Glory and Gore’ as a gladiator ring of entertainers fighting to the death — and the quiet suburbs where she made the record’s most poignant memories. ‘Ribs’ aches with childlike yearning, ‘I want it back, I want it back’ she pleads — but it is caught up in a slew of relentless beats and sucked into the escalating chaos, the prospect of slowing down perpetually out of reach. Much has been said about the opening line ‘Don't you think that is boring how people talk?’ juxtaposing the last ‘Let them talk’. Does it mean she is a little less afraid of getting older now? She has already told us she would rather live with what is real and terrifying than comforting and fake. By the close, she chooses to step into the limelight, finding her own peace of mind within the glare.

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