If you were expecting “Solar Power” to be a climate anthem, you’ll be disappointed. Lorde’s first song in four years, a gently intoxicating track anchored by acoustic guitar and bongo drums, is instead an ode to the summer, and the bright, new state of mind that even the smallest pinch of sunshine can bring.
The track, the release of which coincided with the solar eclipse, is all the things we’ve come to expect from the New Zealand singer – catchy, playful, seemingly both ultra-specific and universal – along with a softer, more carefree attitude than we’ve heard from the artist before. On Pure Heroine, the debut album released when she was just 16, Ella Yelich-O’Connor (to use her real name) sang of a “new art form, showing people how little we care”, but this was a forced carelessness, one in which it was still essential that she “looks alright in the pictures”. On her second record Melodrama, a masterful examination of young womanhood, Lorde lent into just how much she cared, about past relationships, about grief, about working out the kind of person she wanted to be.
Now “Solar Power”, which will also be the title of her third album (its release date is yet to be announced), ushers in a new era of Lorde: one in which she simply looks forward, not worrying about what she’s leaving behind. It’s undeniably uplifting.
Lorde’s lyrics so often verge very close to cringe, but there’s something about her natural charm as a performer, the way she invites us all to gather around her, to join in, that means she never oversteps that mark. On “Solar Power” she is sultry as the song starts, her voice demure and whispered over minimal acoustic guitar, played by Jack Antonoff, who also co-produced and co-wrote the track. In the accompanying video, Lorde sashays around a beach wearing a bright yellow crop-top and skirt. The people in the background wear subdued colours; Lorde, it is clear, is their sunshine. She flirts with the camera, and when she glances back over her shoulder as she sings “I’m kinda like a prettier Jesus” (nodding to a niche fan meme), we know that she knows it’s a ridiculous line – and we surrender to her because she says it anyway.
The sound of Antonoff – who was formative in the writing of Melodrama and who has also worked closely with Taylor Swift and Lana del Rey – is everywhere on “Solar Power”, from the gappy bass at the beginning of the second verse (“Acid green, aquamarine/The girls are dancing in the sand”, sings Lorde, cool and steady), to the segue into the song’s final section, with a short pause before the drums kick in and a resultant harmony that sounds like something St Vincent might play (Antonoff also co-produced her latest record, Daddy’s Home). Phoebe Bridgers and Clairo reportedly sing backing vocals on the track, though their input is not distinct. More enjoyable is the fun Lorde has with other references. The track bears a resemblance to George Michael’s “Freedom! 90”, though it’s silkier. Group shots from the video look like scenes from Mamma Mia!. Best of all, she nods to A Tribe Called Quest, singing “Can I kick it? Yeah, I can”, from a track which itself featured samples of Lou Reed and Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Later, when she spins the line on its head, making it “Can you reach me? No, you can’t”, she audibly laughs, knowing, insisting, that she has the world at her feet.
The success of “Solar Power” lies in its power as a seducer: the track is feather-light, but grows heady when played on repeat. It’s also far more ordinary than the provocative up-the-skirt cover image which on Monday (7 June) evening launched news of the song’s arrival, had led fans to expect. Perhaps the rest of the album will break new ground.