NEW YORK — "It's a really weird day to announce a tour."
It's the week before Lorde unveils her second album, Melodrama (out Friday), and she just revealed that she'll be playing a string of headlining shows internationally this fall. But the news is quickly eclipsed by former FBI director James Comey's Senate hearing, which sends Twitter users into overdrive churning out hot takes and memes (some referencing the Kiwi singer).
"Everyone's tweeting me like, 'Are there tapes?' (A play on Comey's memorable "Lordy" remark.) I love it."
Lorde, 20 (real name: Ella Yelich-O'Connor), is in the homestretch of an exhaustive press tour for her forthcoming Melodrama, which began back in March with the release of unorthodox first single Green Light, a bombastic heartbreak anthem inspired by her split from photographer James Lowe, her boyfriend of nearly three years. Although the song did not become the inescapable radio hit that many had anticipated (and hoped for) — peaking at No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart — it boldly ushered in an even more emotionally candid era for the pop star.
"When you start making work when you're a teenager, you wanna play it cool a lot of the time," Yelich-O'Connor says, wearing a champagne-pink dress on a recent afternoon at New York's Bowery Hotel. "A really important part of this record was throwing my cool away. Green Light is so uncool — you're just screaming about how you can't get over somebody! Very specifically with that song, we really transcended this place of, 'I don’t even care about you,' which is super important."
Her 2013 debut album, Pure Heroine, was a modern pop anomaly: unique in its sparse production, smoky vocals and evocative lyrics, but also its staggering success for a then-16-year-old unknown. Selling more than 3 million copies worldwide, the album earned Lorde (a nod to her fascination with monarchies) two Grammy Awards for song of the year and pop solo performance, both for imperious breakthrough hit Royals. But after more than a year of touring the globe in support of Heroine, Lorde decided to largely withdraw from the public eye in late 2014, buying a house in New Zealand where she'd host parties with her hometown friends, and shying away from current music in favor of classic songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon.
Her biggest fear for Album No. 2 was that it "wouldn't be very good," Yelich-O'Connor says. "You don't know if you have another record in you when you’ve written a record that’s done quite well. That’s everyone’s fear on a second album, just people not really caring how you’ve changed. I think that’s why I took as long as I did, because I really wanted it to be a strong record independent of what I had done before."
After some false starts, she started writing Melodrama early last year in New York, where she'd spend a few weeks at a time holed up with Bleachers frontman Jack Antonoff at his piano, before he'd tell her to go back to New Zealand for a month and refuel. Her hazy, heightened nights out at home are what ultimately informed the new music, which explores that awkward, but often thrilling transition between being a teenager and twentysomething.
"Especially with young women, people are just like, 'Oh, God, she’s so over the top about this! She’s so dramatic!' " Yelich-O'Connor says. "I felt like taking that and making it an empowering thing. Like, 'Yeah, I'm (expletive) dramatic. Watch me make this crazy piece of art about it.' All the distinctively feminine things like reading a text, like, 'Ugh, he used a (period)! Does he hate me?' I really reveled in this energy of being a young woman and being insane and celebrating it."
Tracks like Sober and Homemade Dynamite capture those giddy, yet confusing first stages of falling in love, while vulnerable cuts such as Liability and Writer in the Dark are about making peace with being alone. Songwriting allowed her to express "things that were difficult to say or talk to someone I was scared to," Yelich-O'Connor says. "I don’t overthink it. I just write it and deal with (people's reactions) later. Like, 'Ah, yeah. Might be weird when this person hears it.' " (As for whether she's heard from her ex about any of the new songs, she politely declines to answer.)
Beyond the music itself, which she painstakingly co-produced, Melodrama is undeniably the product of her very specific vision, from its sumptuous album cover (painted by artist Sam McKinniss) to her captivating live show (portions of which are performed inside a light-up glass box with backup dancers). When it came to making decisions about the album's content and roll-out, "I was definitely just as assertive as last time, if not more," Yelich-O'Connor says. "I feel like I'm the work’s mom. I have to be like, 'Hey, come on, this is what is best for it.' "
Gratefully, "no one ever told me it had to sound a certain way or be a certain thing," she continues. "And good, because it definitely wouldn’t have worked. I'm the kind of artist that'd be like, 'Oh, you want that? I'm going to go away and give you what you definitely don’t want.' I'd just be a brat about it."
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