Lorde’s new single Green Light captures how it feels to be lonely in the city

The song explores the end of a relationship, and proves that at its best, pop is an art form.

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After months of build up, Lorde’s new single, “Green Light”, from her upcoming album Melodrama is here. The single and video dropped on the website imwaitingforit.com last night. And it’s weird.

“Green Light” starts slow and sparse, as Lorde sings to the camera about the strangeness of new singledom over simple piano chords: being in “someone else’s car”, ordering “different drinks”. Anger bubbles beneath the surface (She thinks you love the beach / You’re such a damn liar) and as new textures enter these verses, the visuals change to show Lorde dancing under florescent lighting, surrounded by bodies in shadow. Did it frighten you / How we kissed on the light up floor?

This is when things get interesting. We cut to Lorde striding out of the club as the piano experiences an abrupt chord change, the rhythm suddenly different. At the same time, Lorde sings, “But I hear sounds in my mind / Brand new sounds in my mind”. It takes a few listens to get acclimatised to – but on the fourth or fifth listen, it’s utterly delicious.

The chorus is more traditionally satisfying – drums throb and snap as a chorus of high-pitched backing Lordes chant I’m waiting for it! That green light! I want it! while higher in the mix, Lorde’s dominant, deeper voice sings about being unable to let go.

The video shows Lorde alone in New York City. She takes a cab, dances in a packed club, walks the streets with her headphones in, sings to herself in a bathroom mirror. “Loneliness is collective; it is a city”, Olivia Laing writes in The Lonely City, and this video feels inseparable from its location - NYC at night.

The whole song is an exploration of the tensions between those familiar contradictory feelings at the end of a relationship – disappointment paired with cautious excitement, overwhelming new freedoms fighting with a strange sense of claustrophobia, loneliness yet a heightened awareness of the teeming lives around us.

Like a Hopper painting that highlights the contradictions inherent in urban isolation, Lorde finds the beauty in the complexities and inconsistencies of feeling that come at that see-saw moment when the pain of a breakup begins to tilt towards newfound autonomy – when new sounds suddenly and euphorically enter one’s internal landscape.

“My heart broke,” Lorde wrote of the period this new record was recorded during.” I moved out of home and into the city and I made new friends and started to realize that no-one is just good or bad, that everyone is both. I started to discover in a profound, scary, blood-aching way who I was when I was alone, what I did when I did things only for myself.

“I was reckless and graceless and terrifying and tender. I threw sprawling parties and sat in restaurants until the early hours, learning what it’s like to be an adult, even talking like one sometimes, until I caught myself. All I wanted to do was dance. I whispered into ears and let my eyes blaze on high and for the first time I felt this intimate, empire-sized inner power.”

As Jason Lipshutz writes in Billboard, “Green Light is towering because of the tiny details surrounding its euphoric hook, moments and memories carefully stacked upon each other”. Through the specificity of her lyrical detail and evocative, unusual sonic textures, Lorde lets us share in that intimate, empire-sized inner power.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

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