• Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

10th anniversary retrospective: ‘Pure Heroine’ by Lorde

ByElla Manoff

Oct 25, 2023
Lorde with a microphoneLorde

On 27th 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 in an underground basement, pitch-black. 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 bring up 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’s 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. 

Pure Heroine speaks in particular to anyone of an age group raised by the internet. Her debut 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. Lorde was among the first generation of entertainers to find stardom suddenly through 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.

Perhaps she turned up at a time when the world was ready for a change. Lorde was a refreshing antidote to her colleagues in pop: a less sexualised Halsey, a more convincing underdog than Taylor Swift, with a penchant for Lana Del Rey-esque romanticisation of the dried up and burned out. When Lorde performs, she doesn’t seem to care about what the audience is looking at. Barely aware of her own body, she closes her eyes and becomes at one with the music; she’s telling you to do the same. 

Post-recession pop had pivoted hard to hedonism. Radio was an endless string of party bangers; EDM and club beats saturated with AutoTune,  meant for a night getting wasted to forget your problems. Meanwhile, 16 year old Lorde was dealing with her own existential dread. Sparse in production but not without heart, thoughtful while following up on the cynicism of its lead single; the party of Lorde’s moody electro-pop universe is a place to spiral and have an epiphany. 

While ‘Royals’ put Lorde on the map, its deep cut ‘Ribs’, which sounds like the screaming inside of Lorde’s teenage mind, that are most emblematic of the album’s off-kilter, electrifying spirit. 

Lorde says she wrote ‘Ribs’ when her parents left her alone for a few days; a microcosm of independence that had her spiralling into a black hole of anxiety.. The song crashes into euphoric, pulsing harmonies that build to an explosive catharsis. Her sharp eye for observation that we see on opener ‘Tennis Court’, watching the “veins” of her city from an airplane, is scanned over a drunken memory of “Lover’s Spin” left on repeat, where she experiences a moment of clarity. 

Some songs stray from the pop format; experimental ambient track ‘Biting Down’ feels so harshly stripped to its bare essentials, it is borderline a-melodic. ‘Team’ opens with a tribal call that melds into a sparse trap beat.

‘Buzzcut Season’ describes a lazy summer spent with her friends, absorbed in their own world while “explosions on TV” happen in the background. She knows her self-made prism is artificial; “nothings wrong but nothing’s true/ I live in a hologram with you”. While ignorance might be attractive 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 rare to come by. “I’m the one you tell your fears to” she says at the bridge of the song, letting slip that it’s sincerity she really craves. On ‘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 public life in what she conceptualises as a gladiator ring of entertainers fighting to the death in ‘Glory and Gore’ and the unextraordinary suburban landscapes she anonymously blended into  just a few months prior. ‘Ribs’ aches with childlike yearning “I want it back, I want it back” she pleads- but it’s caught up in electronic pulsing beats and sucked into the escalating chaos, powerless to slow it down. Much has been said about the opening line “Don’t you think that is boring how people talk?” contradicting the last “Let them talk” – does it mean she is a little less afraid of getting older now? She has already let slip that she wants to live outside the small scope of her own world- and she chooses to step into the limelight, finding her own peace of mind within the glare.

RF_3006_Lorde@Arena_Krists_Luhaers-14 by Krists Luhaers is licensed under CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons