I wish Lorde had been around when I was a witchy, seventeen-year-old weirdo. Obviously, Lorde is an infinitely cooler, smarter, more talented, more self-possessed witchy seventeen-year-old weirdo than I was. But I see enough of myself in her – or maybe of her in me – that I wonder sometimes, when I’m sitting up at night, listening to Pure Heroine on repeat like a teenager, how different I might have been back then if I’d had someone like dear strange Ella Yelich-O’Connor to look up to. Someone young and weird and creative who was proof that a different kind of coolness and brilliance was possible. Someone who showed that there were different ways of being a girl and killing it – even if you didn’t look or act or feel the way they said you should.
There’s something about Lorde that hits me right in the ribcage every time. Songs like 400 Lux and Ribs and Tennis Court and A World Alone just kill me, because they capture something about being young that is so subtle and so achingly real. It’s hard to even put a finger on what makes it so potent – I mean, it doesn’t make much sense that a line like ‘You buy me orange juice’ could make you feel so overwhelmed with adolescent yearning – but it just does. It conjures up the strangest kind of nostalgia, one that simmers and stays with you. It’s this familiar, stirring blend of intimacy and loneliness, of trying to be brave ‘even when we’re smiling out of fear.’
When she says things like, ‘Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?’ you know what she means. When she says, ‘We’ll laugh until our ribs get tough, but that will never be enough’; when she says. ‘Everyone’s competing for a love they won’t receive’; when she describes jovial teenagers with glowing teeth, who ‘love it when the hairpins start to drop’, then admits that she’s really watching this foreign, glossy gang from the outside… you feel all of that wistfulness too. But then she says, ‘When people are talking, let ‘em talk’ – and well, she kind of convinces you she’s right.
When I was a teenager, I only really had male heroes. The music I loved made me feel less alone, less displaced, and there was something about earnest, tattooed boys in eyeliner that I felt a real connection to. I thought, these are my people. And you know what, some of them are (or were) incredible artists and people, and they’ll continue to be important to me, creatively and personally. But I see now how much I was missing out by not having any girl heroes as well.
Back then, I felt like I really just didn’t like girls in general. I think for a lot of girls, that whole claustrophobic high school environment can pretty easily lead to those sorts of feelings, so you develop an instinctive sense of distrust, fear and bitterness towards other girls. It can take a long time to overcome that – but you have to. You really have to. Then when you do, you’ll find the girls you do look up to, who inspire you to be bolder and better. (Even if they are younger than you, which can make you feel a little foolish and inferior. Still, it’s like something Taylor Swift said in this Rolling Stone interview, also referring to Lorde, as it happens: ‘It’s like this blazing bonfire. You can either be afraid of it because it’s so powerful and strong, or you can go stand near it, because it’s fun and it makes you brighter.’)
Someone like Lorde, though, just might have been cool and intriguing enough to get through to me back then. There’s this song from The Love Club EP called Bravado, where she describes being socially anxious, and being anxious about being socially anxious, and she expresses that feeling more honestly than anything else I can think of right now: ‘All my life I’ve been fighting a war; I can’t talk to you or your friends… It’s the closest thing to assault, when all eyes are on you.’ But then she describes finding a kind of confidence she can fake well enough, until she eventually feels like ‘when the lights come on, I’ll be ready for this.’ Then there’s this: ‘I was frightened of every little thing that I thought was out to get me down, to trip me up and laugh at me. But I learned not to want the quiet of a room with no one around to find me out.’
All I’m saying is, this girl is pretty cool.