Windswept Islands and Psychedelic Indie Pop: Soaking In Lorde’s “Solar Power” Like Sunbeams

Written by: Rylee Thomas

Eight summers ago, I was a twelve-year-old girl sitting on the back deck of my house while the stars were out. It was early fall, the sky looked like blue velvet, and I was listening to Lorde’s debut album, Pure Heroine, through my earbuds. 

2013 was the year everybody heard “Royals” on the radio and fell in love. Lorde’s poetic critique of social anxiety, consumer culture, and social status was magical. My adolescent angst thrived on the album’s black satire about preppy, popular teens. 

Pure Heroine made everyone feel understood. It’s why “Yellow Flicker Beat” pumped through movie theater speakers as Katniss Everdeen stormed the Capitol in The Mockingjay, and it’s why critics nominated Pure Heroine for Best Pop Vocal Album at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. People loved Lorde’s angst-driven music. Maybe a little too much. 

After the album’s breakthrough success, Lorde retreated from the spotlight. She traveled between New Zealand and the United States, and, in 2017, wrote Melodrama, another riveting electropop album that captures the heartbreak and solitude of a first breakup. 

Then, last year, after a four-year hiatus, came Solar Power

And it was totally different. 

I’ll be honest. At first, I agreed with the lukewarm critics. Lorde’s new album was smooth, breezy, beachy, and worth a few listens, but it lacked the angsty, resonating caliber of Pure Heroine or Melodrama. I mean, sure, it was fun. Chill. Bowie-esque. Sunshine and dreams, a retreat from social media, a crusade on climate change. 

Cool, I guess? 

I didn’t get it from day one, but it turned out I was the problem. Thankfully, Lorde didn’t give up on her incredible new music, even though I did. Two weeks ago, without warning, she released a music video for track six, “Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen it All).” Now, all I can think is oh my god, how have I spent the past year sleeping on this album? 

Okay. Now that I’ve introduced it to you, we have to break it down. Yes, we are going through ALL the songs, babes. They are that good, and I have to do them justice. I’m reviewing these songs, and I’m grouping them not in order, but by vibe. 

1. Time to Chill Out: The Path, Solar Power, and Mood Ring

“Born in the year of / OxyContin / Raised in the tall grass”

“My cheeks in high color / overripe peaches” 

“Can’t seem to fix my mood / Today, it’s as dark as my roots”

Each of these songs conveys an introduction to a new way of being. This trilogy is about a person who feels lost and disconnected from the modern world; someone who is trying to reorient themselves, to take a break. They bring listeners to a place where people turn to nature and the sun to help them heal. 

(Plus, “The Path” has an awesome, subtle drum beat that kicks in at the second verse.)

2. Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones: California and Big Star

“All that mystery and beauty / gleaned from desert flowers / and gifted children” 

“But every perfect summer’s gotta say goodnight / Now I watch you run through the amber light”

I happened to be listening to this album concurrently with my read of the Taylor Jenkins Reid books, and, quite honestly, it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. 

“California” makes me feel like I’m driving down the coast against the backdrop of an orange sunset. This song gives a glimpse into Lorde’s [read: Evelyn Hugo’s] disillusionment with LA glitz when she compares it to the peace she feels when living a quieter, more authentic life. 

If “California” is Evelyn Hugo, “Big Star” is the might-have-been romance between Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne. There’s something childlike, broken, and regretful in this ode to not measuring up to the person you love. 

If you’re longing for more Taylor Jenkins Reid content, check out Sophie’s blog post from two weeks ago!

3. My Anthem: Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen it All)

“Everybody wants the best for you / But you gotta want it for yourself, my love”

This is Lorde talking to her younger self, and it made me cry. It’s a response to “Ribs,” a much-loved song from Pure Heroine about growing up too fast and being scared of adulthood. “Secrets from a Girl” is about picking yourself back up and looking back on everything you’ve learned. It’s about learning acceptance and self-control. It’s about living for yourself. Really for yourself. 

(This one is my favorite, if you can’t tell.)

4. Dystopia and Environmentalism: Fallen Fruit and Leader of a New Regime

“Psychedelic garlands in our hair / Through the halls of splendor where the apple trees all grew”

“Made it to the island on the last of the outbound planes”

We’ve seen Lorde-meets-dystopian-universe before. “Yellow Flicker Beat” in The Hunger Games was iconic… and now, “Fallen Fruit” and “Leader of a New Regime” tell a story painfully close to our reality. “Fallen Fruit” uses biblical imagery to address the destruction of the environment over an unsettling (dare I say unhinged?) guitar riff. It’s one of the longest songs on the album, while “Leader of a New Regime” is by far the shortest. It asks, “Where do we go from here?” and begs for someone to step up and guide us somewhere better — culturally, politically, environmentally, socially, spiritually. 

5. Twenty-Two, Nothing New: Stoned at the Nail Salon, Dominoes, and The Man with the Axe

“‘Cause all the beautiful girls, they will fade like the roses / ‘Cause all the music you loved at sixteen you’ll grow out of”

“Just another phase you’re rushing on through / Go all New Age, outrunning your blues”

“I thought I was a genius, but now I’m twenty-two / With my fistful of tunes it’s painful to play”

I watched a video where another fan said people would have understood “Stoned at the Nail Salon” better if it were called “Overstimulated in the Grocery Store.” And then I got it. This song, the saddest on the album, is about transience, getting older, and ignoring your anxiety by filling your head with distractions, then being forced to confront it when you’re forced to be alone with your thoughts. 

“Stoned at the Nail Salon” represents the ending of a phase of life, and being unsure about your new path. “The Man with the Axe” is a love song, but in that line about being lost at a crossroads, I can’t help but be reminded of Taylor Swift’s “Nothing New,” another song about age-related anxiety. 

“Dominoes” is a funny song, also about change, but about a relationship ending instead of beginning. It seems like another call and response to Lorde’s close friend, my beloved Taylor Swift. “Mr. Start Again” seems like another iteration of “Mr. Perfectly Fine.” 

6. The End: Oceanic Feeling

“If I have a daughter / Will she have my waist / Or my widow’s peak? / My dreamer’s disposition or my wicked streak?” 

This six-and-a-half-minute song closes the album. It’s about Lorde’s little brother, which is probably why it makes me think about mine. She’s comforting him, looking back on her adolescence, and letting him know everything will be okay. Lorde progresses to reflecting on what her imaginary future daughter might inherit from her, physically and philosophically. In the end, the song is about taking it slowly, and never being done learning and evolving. And that’s really what the whole album is about. Life choices and directions. Waywardness. Sunshine. Stepping into the quiet. Knowing everything is going to turn out okay. 

Closing Thoughts:

In the song “Hold No Grudge,” Lorde reflects “Don’t you think that we both might’ve done some growing up? / I know some shit was said and done / But it’s such a different world now, I can’t hate anymore.” We are the once-starry-eyed, once-angsty preteen girls grown up into early twenty-somethings undergoing quarter-life crises. The Zillennials whose dreams have taken a toll on them, who want to dance through the world even though they’re a little sad most of the time. 

I genuinely believe Lorde fans who don’t like Solar Power don’t like it yet. People who aren’t ready can take their time, because the Solar Power vibes will be waiting with open arms. All lime green, fresh fruit, deep connection to the beach, rose quartz, journaling, roses. 

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