Melodrama
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Violence, intimacy and glory: the contradictory cocktail of Lorde’s Melodrama

You don’t name an album Melodrama for its restraint. 

Violence, and the threat of it, looms large on Lorde’s latest album. Great white sharks with big teeth on “Green Light”. A drink-driving-induced car crash on “Homemade Dynamite”, leaving her and her friends “painted on the road, red and chrome, all the broken glass sparkling”. Gun fights on “Sober II”. “Liability”’s images of storms and poison.

Hovering somewhere between metaphor and warning, scenes of unnervingly specific danger litter Melodrama’s emotional landscape.

Explosions, in particular, are everywhere. The 40 instances of “boom” on “The Louvre” make it the album’s most-used word, but “blow” isn’t too far behind. “Homemade Dynamite” ripples around the refrain “Blowing shit up like homemade d-d-d-dynamite”. Its heavy drums are momentarily suspended when Lorde, almost a cappella, sings the childlike, descending line, “Now you know it’s really gonna blow”, before doing a quiet, funny impression of a detonating bomb.

On “Perfect Places”, Lorde sings “I’ll blow my brains out to the radio” – a moment of silence falls and she makes a foreboding “ch-ch” noise like a gun cocking, before the chorus kicks in.

In “The Louvre”, Lorde deliberately elides the difference between an explosion and her own heartbeat. “Can you hear the violence? Megaphone to my chest” she sings, before announcing her plans to make party music out of her own emotional eruptions: “Broadcast the boom, boom, boom, boom / And make ‘em all dance to it”.

She imagines herself as a flammable commodity in both “Liability” and “Perfect Places” – a fuse waiting to be lit, a loaded gun, an explosive ready to detonate.

If it seems a little histrionic, that is, of course, the entire point. You don’t name an album Melodrama for its restraint. In fact, the title itself lets us know, with a wink, that none of this theatrical catastrophe should be taken too literally – as she sings on “Sober II”, “We told you this was melodrama.”

Lyrically, she repeatedly undercuts the drama of disaster with vignettes of the everyday circumstances with friends and lovers that spark her internal blaze: wandering through supermarkets with a boyfriend, crying in the back of a taxi, clothes piling up on a lover’s bedroom floor, lighting a candle as a self-conscious act of self-care.

“I overthink your punctuation use”, she admits on “The Louvre”, the lyrical incarnation of a relatable Tumblr post. These pinches of salt remind us of the ordinariness of the situations that bring extraordinary emotion, the mundanity of heartbreak. “I’ll start letting go of little things till I’m so far away from you,” is the matter-of-fact close of “Hard Feelings”, and it packs as hard a punch as any of the more violent lines.

“It’s about contrast,” Lorde explained in an interview with NME, between the album’s bigger moments, and those that are “really tiny and intimate”. She can shift gears between the two so suddenly it can be disorienting – Lorde has been clear that this album is about the cocktail of feelings you race through during a single house party: “There’s that moment where a great song comes on and you’re ecstatic, and then there’s that moment later on where you’re alone in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, you don’t think you look good, and you start feeling horrible,” she explained to the New York Times Magazine.

The resulting emotional whiplash feels completely tonally appropriate for the transitional period, from late teens to early adulthood, that her album explores, when an unanswered text can feel catastrophic. “Bet you wanna rip my heart out / Bet you wanna skip my calls now” she sings with a vaguely threatening, babyish sweetness on “Loveless”, as though the two acts were essentially the same thing. “Well guess what? I’d like that.”

There’s a third mode, too, on Melodrama – a joyful, self-reflexive awareness of the glory of youth and its capacity to hold these contrasts side by side. It’s as though knowing, in the instant, what great memories these moments will make for an older self-heightens their appeal . “Green Light” revels in the straightforward feeling of release, “Supercut” memory’s ability to produce a highlight reel, “Writer in the Dark” the songwriter’s “secret power”.

Lorde isn’t afraid to aggrandise adolescence or bask in the glamour of being young (and famous), referring to herself and lovers as “rebel Top Gun pilots” and “king and queen of the weekend”. When she sings “we are young and we’re ashamed” on “Perfect Places”, she doesn’t sound ashamed at all, but proud.

Delight in contradiction propels the album forward. On the horn-spangled “Sober”, Lorde is hyperconscious of the pitfalls of partying as a distraction technique, asking over and over again, “But what will we do when we’re sober?” And yet the song reaches an ecstatic peak regardless, as she self-harmonises on the line “I’m closing my teeth around this liquor-wet lime / Midnight, lose my mind”.

Listening to Melodrama, for me, isn’t unlike the experience of doing a tequila shot: the blazing heat of the liquor, the levelling pinch of salt, the shock of the fresh, sour, green lime. Lorde’s lyrics are at their best when they combine all these threads at once. “Blow all my friendships / To sit in hell with you,” she admits on “The Louvre”, “But we’re the greatest / They’ll hang us in the Louvre / Down the back, but who cares—still the Louvre.”

The car crash in “Homemade Dynamite” ends with the smiling, ironic line, “I guess we’re partying.”

In the liner notes to Melodrama, Lorde’s conception of the album is filled with gulps and gasps. “It’s been two years of breathlessness and hunger” she writes, “a new sound, a new scene; a drink, a drumbeat. I swallowed and wrote and walked and waited. I hope you listen for every breath and broken heartstring […] It’s the greatest honour of my life, whispering these secrets into your ear.”

“Hard Feelings” ends with a sharp intake of breath. We hear Lorde inhale, as though she’s about to say something huge and significant – and the sound cuts out.

As a songwriter, Lorde seems acutely aware of the impossibility of saying everything you want to say, opting for snapshots and silences instead. But she also seems aware of the impossibility of knowing everything you’d like to know. There’s an uncertainty about the future on Melodrama that is both stomach-turning and freeing – just as, in youth, old age and death seem both utterly terrifying and strangely impossible. But whatever the future holds for Lorde, one thing feels certain: Melodrama is the work of an artist who isn’t running out of things to say any time soon.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Warner Bros
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Every single line spoken by actor Harry Styles in the movie Dunkirk, evaluated

Judging the actual speaking and acting the from teen icon.

When it was announced that Harry Styles had been cast in Dunkirk, most people assumed it was a Drew Barrymore in Scream sort of deal. A big name, who would be plastered over the posters, front and centre at promotional interviews, but given a barely-speaking part and probably killed off in the first five minutes. Not so! Not only does he not die early on, Harry has a very significant amount of time on screen in Dunkirk, and even more surprisingly, a lot of that time involves actual speaking and acting from the teen icon. In this action-heavy, dialogue-sparse film, he has more lines than most.

Of course, the most normal human response to this revelation is to list every single time he speaks in the film and evaluate every moment on a line-by-line basis. So here it is. Every single line spoken by actor Harry Styles in the movie Dunkirk, evaluated by a very impartial Harry Styles fan. Let’s go.

Obviously, this contains spoilers for Dunkirk.

“What’s wrong with your friend?”

It’s the first line, but it’s a goody. So nonchalant; so effortless; breezily accompanied by a mouthful of toast and jam. Curious, friendly – but with dangerous edge. A lurking threat. A shiver of accusation. This sets up Alex as a normal, if self-assured, bloke who also wants to be sure you’re not about to get him killed. A very strong debut – the kind of line that, if you didn’t know better, would make you think, “Hm, who’s this charismatic young guy”?

A cheer.

Solid 8/10 cheer, believe this guy has cheered before.

“You can’t leave us! Make some room!”

It’s only been ten minutes, but things have really kicked up a notch. Raspy, panicked, desperate, this line left my heart jumping for my poor sodden son. A triumph, and certainly one of Harry’s best lines.

“Hey!”

Here, Alex yells “Hey!” to get the attention of other soldiers, which turns into louder, repeated cries for their attention. I can find little wrong with this “Hey”, and indeed later “Hey”s, but I would not nominate it for an Oscar. This “Hey” is just fine.

“What’s that way?”

I believe that Alex does not, in fact, know what is that way. (It’s a boat.) 7/10.

“S’grounded!”

Alex has delivered the last three shouts with exactly the same intonation. This is good because normal people do not opt for variance in tone when desperately yelling at each other across the beach. I also appreciate the lack of enunciation here. Great work, Harry.

“’ow long’s that?”

I believe that Alex does not, in fact, know how long it will take for the tide to come in. (It’s about three hours.) 7/10.

“Poke yer head out, see if the water’s come in”

Alex is ramping things up a notch – this is authoritative, even challenging. Excellent pronunciation of “aht”, more great slurring.

“Talkative sod, aren’t ya?”

A big line, important for the growing hints that Alex is mistrustful of the silent soldier in their group. And yet not Harry’s absolute best. A little too much forced vowel for me.

“For fuck’s sake!”

Oh my God, we’re here now boys. It’s begun. The water’s not come in. Forget the high-explosive, Alex has only gone and dropped a bloody F-bomb, and Harry’s performance is actually stressful. What an about-turn. Delivered with spitting fury; the “for”, if there at all, almost inaudible; a dropped box clanging to the ground for extra impact. We know that Harry ad-libbed this (and a later) F-word, and this spontaneous approach is working. A truly superb go at doing some swearing. 10/10.

“Yeah but ’ow long?”

I would describe this delivery as “pained”. A little groan of fear hangs in the back. This is, as they say, the good shit.

“Why’d you leave your boat?”

This whispered anger suits Harry.

Some extreme shushing.

Definitely would shush.

“We have to plug it!”

Alex’s heart doesn’t seem really in plugging the bullet holes in the boat, despite the surface-level urgency of this delivery, probably because he doesn’t want to get shot. Nuance. I like it.

“Somebody needs to get off.”

A mic drop of a line, delivered with determined focus.

“I don’t need a volunteer. I know someone who ough’a get off.”

The way his cadence falls and his voice falters when as he reaches the word volunteer. It’s a sad, resigned, type of fear, the type of fear we expect from Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley. Harry’s dropping clues that Alex doesn’t really want to be shoving anyone off a boat to their deaths. But then Alex steels himself, really packing a punch over that “ough’a”.

“This one. He’s a German spy.”

The momentum is building, Alex’s voice is getting breathier and breathier, panic is fluttering in his voice now. I’m living for each and every second of this, like a proud mother with a camcorder. You’re doing amazing, sweetie.

“He’s a focking Jerry!”

Go on my son! Harry’s voice is so high only dogs can hear him now. The mix of fear and aggression is genuinely convincing here, and more than ever it feels clear that you’re practically watching a group of schoolboys with guns scared out of their minds, desperate to go home, who might shoot each other dead at any second. This is undoubtedly the pinnacle of Harry’s performance.

“Have you noticed he hasn’t said a word? ’Cause I ’ave. Won’t speak English: if he does it’s in an accent’s thicker than sauerkraut sauce.”

This is, objectively, the silliest line in this film and maybe any film, ever, and I love it. Never before have the words “sauerkraut sauce” been uttered as a simile, or as a threat, and here, they are both. Inexplicably, it sort of works through Harry’s high-pitched voice and gritted teeth. My personal highlight of the entire movie.

“Tell me.”

Alex is going full antagonist. Whispered, aggressive, threatening. It is safe to say I am dead and deceased.

“Tell me, ‘Gibson’”.

Ugh, now with an added layer of mockery. I am dead, but also please kill me.

“A frog! A bloody frog! A cowardly, little queue-jumping frog. Who’s Gibson, eh? Some naked, dead Englishman lying out in that sand?”

Brexit Harry Styles is furious, and his accent is going a bit all over the place as a result.

“Maybe he killed him.”

Just-about-believably paranoid.

“How do we know?”

This is too close to the delivery Harry uses in this vine for me to take seriously, I’m deeply sorry about that.

“Well, we know who’s getting off.”

I believe that Alex does, in fact, know who is getting off. (It’s the French guy.) 7/10.

“Better ’im than me.”

I agree!!!!!

“Somebody’s gotta get off, so the rest of us can live.”

Empassioned, persuasive, fervent. When glimpsed in trailers, this moment made me think Alex would be sacrificing himself to save others. Not so! He just really, really wants to live. A stellar line, executed very well.

“Do you wanna volunteer?”

Good emoting. I believe the emotion used here is “disbelief”.

“Then this is the price!”

I believe the emotion used here is “desperation”.

“He’s dead, mate.”

So blunt, delivered with an awkward pity. A stand-out moment thanks to my high quality son Harold.

“We let you all down, didn’t we.”

Dahhn. Harry lets us know this is not even a question in Alex’s mind, its a fact. Poor depressed little Alex.

“That old bloke wouldn’t even look us in the eye.”

The weird thing (irony? joke?) here is that the old bloke is actually blind, not refusing to look them in the eye. Slightly bizarre, but Harry rolls with it with this relaxed approach to the word “bloke”.

“Hey! Where are we!”

Good God I love this rousing line. The bell chiming in the background, the violins stirring. There is something curiously British about this line. Something so, “‘What’s to-day?’ cried Scrooge”. Here, Harry is doing what he did best in the early one direction days - being a normal lad from a normal town whose life was made extraordinary even though he’s just, like, so totally normal.

“What station!”

I take it back, THIS is probably my favourite line of the whole movie. Purely because it sounds exactly like Harry Edward Styles on an average day, going about his business, asking what station he’s at. Alex who?

“Grab me one o’ them papers! Go on!”

Now, this, I love. Newcastle brown in hand, f’s dropped, a “go on” barely lacking a “my son”. Put a flat cap on the lad and hand him a chimney sweeping broom - we are in deliciously caricatured Brit territory.

“I can’t bear it. They’ll be spitting at us in the streets, if they’re not locked up waiting for the invasion.”

How rapidly joy turns to ashes in our mouths. One second so elated, with the nostalgic scent of home quivering in his nostrils, Alex is now feeling extremely sorry for himself (fair enough, to be honest). A fine “sad voice” here.

“I can’t look.”

The “sad voice” continues.

“Wha’??”

Hahahahahaha. Yes.

And with this very confused noise Harry Styles closes his debut film performance, which I would describe as extremely solid. Even if I am fuming that he didn’t get to die, beautifully, and at length. Well done Harold.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.