Lorde’s first single from her new album Solar Power, released in June, made many wonder if it contained some kind of hidden message. Acoustic guitar was so straight-forwardly sunny, and the lyrics talked about just having fun on the beach. Did Lorde, whose music is normally so dark and melodramatic (her last album was named that! ), play a joke on us? Sarcasm? The topic of climate change really came up? He insisted, “No.”. The album, she told The Guardian’s Laura Snapes, was about a more pleasant appreciation of nature and a reminder of “how precious life is” than it was about global catastrophes.
Upon listening to the full album on Friday, it became even more evident that one of Solar Power’s main themes is right there in the first song’s lyrics: “And I throw my cellular device into the water.” Lorde is inspiring us to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature. Her songs have been dubbed “love stories,” in reference to Mark Rylance’s call for artists to reconnect people with nature. Solar Power tries to accomplish this, but it feels like a half-hearted effort–the album is easy listening, with some clever lyrics, but it just doesn’t capture its message quite convincingly.
On Solar Power, most songs have more to do with leaving behind her glitzy, stressful life.
Rather than a love song album, it is an album of “please take me back” songs to nature. In 2013, Pure Heroine, her debut album, was released. Four years later, Melodrama followed. Lorde’s two Grammy-winning albums, her numerous nominations, and her devoted fan base were all awarded to her for the wise words and moody, danceable tunes they featured. As Lorde nods throughout the album, by now she has seen it all: she attended the Met Gala with a broken arm, traveled to Antarctica to learn about climate change, and been through the nightmarish machinery of pop stardom. She is more over it all in this album than she was in Pure Heroine’s “Royals” or in Melodrama’s “Sober” (and “Homemade Dynamite” and “Perfect Places”).
On Solar Power, most songs have more to do with leaving behind her glitzy, stressful life. In tracks like “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” Lorde talks about how much she wants to let go of her youth and fame. “The Path” is a thesis for the album, in which Lorde talks about a teen millionaire who has nightmares about the camera. “Oceanic Feeling,” in which she focuses on swimming and cicadas, yet she still can’t help but look back: “Now the cherry black lipstick is collecting dust in a drawer / I don’t need her anymore.”
Our time with Lorde is mostly spent trying to gain enlightenment, rather than reconnecting with nature. Lorde lives in a world very different from ours, so sharing this journey is awkward. Is it really necessary for her to do that? Although the album’s message about the need to unplug is strengthened by her lyrical focus on the wealthy lifestyle she no longer needs. In The New York Times, she states that her fans expect spiritual transcendence from her: “My kids and my community expect spiritual transcendence from me and these works,” she says. Even in the quiet time between albums, Lorde remembers feeling “over the hill” in comparison to others, like younger, richer, and more famous peers. In “California,” she reflects on all the ups and downs of fame and says “goodbye to all the models, all the bottles?” Where are we supposed to go from here? The album’s plea to relax and go out can sometimes come off as a little patronizing because of these blind spots.
The album can be seen as an exploration of the gray area Jenny Odell describes in her book about escaping the attention economy, How to Do Nothing, which Lorde has cited as an inspiration. Oderl offers an alternative to the hamster wheel of capitalism before you drop out of society. Taking the outsider’s perspective without leaving, she writes, “To stand apart is to be oriented toward what you would have left behind.” Standing apart means approaching the world (now) from the perspective of what it might become (the future), with all the hope and sorrow it entails.
In light of this, the parts of Solar Power that appear confusing may be intentionally so. Lorde is experiencing a somewhat less relatable version of what many of us have been coping with lately: realizing we’ve been swimming in the attention economy before we knew what it was, and struggling to unplug without abdicating responsibility. Essentially, it seems that Lorde has really taken it to heart that she can’t escape from everything and run away to a forest like she always wanted; now she’s finding ways to stay engaged while opting out. Having that space might have had something to do with Lorde being able to make the album in the first place. In an interview with The Guardian, she said, “I believe that in order to write about our world clearly, I need to be able to see it clearly myself.