When it comes to pop artists that defined the 2010s, New Zealand artist Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor, or Lorde, is quickly mentioned for her significant contributions. One of the Kiwi’s most memorable qualities is her ability to keep maturing with each album: “Pure Heroine” encapsulates the uncertainty and anxieties of being a teenager faced with growing up, and “Melodrama” takes those anxieties away by partying away one’s young adulthood. The two albums have since remained timeless because of their production, lyricism and ability to form a relationship with the listener. It is obvious that the anticipation for O’Connor’s third album was exceptionally high, especially after most critics dubbed “Melodrama” pop perfection.
Getting the Green Light To Reemerge
Although many artists diversify their discography by doing something different with each album, many people hoped the third album would have the same atmosphere and tone as the previous two. The fans of the New Zealand singer would go on to wait for four years before finally hearing from her on any social media. Following a four-year hiatus from creating music, Lorde emerged from the reclusiveness of the New Zealand sea like Aphrodite and graced the world with her third studio album, “Solar Power.” If “Melodrama” was the night of adventure and parties, “Solar Power” was the next day, recovering by the water and soaking up the sun.
Listeners found themselves trading the roar of a lion for the tranquility of cicadas on this wise, calming and comforting album. Rather than substance-filled ecstasy, O’Connor used her platform to communicate messages about coping with aging, growing up and even climate change. During the initial week of the release, fans found themselves underwhelmed, but as time has gone by, Lorde’s third project has aged just as well as her last two albums. With a tour on the horizon for the singer, the album’s quality may yet be acknowledged.
A New Kind of Bright
When Lorde dropped the first breadcrumbs guiding her fans to the announcement of “Solar Power,” many were shocked, to say the least. The first single, also the title track, was released two months and 10 days before the album; fans were quick to notice a drastic difference between the second and third albums. The stripped-back introduction features a guitar strumming and leads into a raw set of vocals from O’Connor. It was an obvious contrast to her last album, making fans quick to turn their noses up at the single for being so different.
The next single that was released was “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” a ballad about escaping into one’s mind, confronting humanity and embracing family when times are hardest. The third single, “Mood Ring,” had the best reception preceding the album; it featured a chorus of vocals from O’Connor accentuated by a soft beat. “Mood Ring” was also one of O’Connor’s attempts to poke fun at the exploitation of wellness culture according to an interview on Genius’ YouTube channel. The song is the most similar to previous works from Lorde, and fans hoped that the rest of the album would sound the same. “Solar Power,” the album, finally released on Aug. 20, 2021, after a four-year drought of no music from O’Connor.
Hold No Grudge in Growing
If there is anything the rollout of “Solar Power” has shown fans, it is the general expectation for artists, especially female artists, to grow and develop within the comfort zone of the fans. When artists venture beyond this zone, it takes a bit longer for fans to adjust, as seen with Lorde. Pitchfork reviewed “Solar Power,” claiming the “holistic beauty and revelations about the natural world are often lost in the drab music,” and referred to the steps O’Connor took to detox herself from social media as “acting dumb to be happy.”
Dartmouth was more generous when reciting the alleged sins of “Solar Power,” noting that the shift in tone was “a double-edged sword” for Lorde. Dartmouth wrote that the record sometimes sounded “unfinished” due to the relaxed instrumentals and calming production. The two articles’ different approaches to critiquing O’Connor’s album made one thing certain: There was a clear divide when “Solar Power” dropped.
The Path to Acceptance
The main critique buzzing among fans of Lorde was the tonal and sonic deviation from her last two albums. Maturity and growth, however, are nothing new when it comes to artists. O’Connor herself actually references her past in her lyrics, singing about growing up and leaving both the triumphs and lows behind. Fans noticed that the album’s concluding track, “Oceanic Feeling,” contains the lyric, “Now the cherry-black lipstick’s gathering dust in a drawer / I don’t need her anymore / ’cause I got this power,” referring to the grittiness of the “Pure Heroine” era of O’Connor’s life. The meta-reference woven into the tail end of the album’s tapestry acknowledges the significance of O’Connor’s first album, along with the bittersweet feeling of leaving it behind in exchange for a peaceful future.
Another song, “Dominoes,” addresses the singer’s raging party past as she sings, “It’s strange to see you smoking marijuana / You used to do the most cocaine / of anyone I’d ever met.” The quirky, stripped-back song is a cheeky reference to her inner circle’s evolution alongside her as time has gone by. “Solar Power” offers a hand emerging from its gentle sound, delicate lyrics for her fans as they continue to grow up alongside her, even if it was not what they expected.
The criticism has long since tapered off in favor of acknowledging the positivity the album brought to a tired world amid the 2020 pandemic. New Musical Express, or NME, recently awarded O’Connor the award for “best song in the world” for the lead single “Solar Power”; this award is fitting, considering NME previously described the song with a more muted, “quiet but supremely confident.”
Can You Reach Me? This Summer, Actually.
Despite the album’s mixed reviews upon its initial release, O’Connor announced through her famous bulletin email list that she planned to tour “Solar Power” in the spring and summer of 2022. Ecstatic that the singer chose smaller venues to better connect with fans, thousands jumped to purchase tickets. Because tickets were sold pre-release for the album, some suspected that the hits from previous albums would get the sun-kissed treatment that the songs on the current one received. But as seen from the singer’s performance on “Good Morning America,” she does not plan on turning the intrusive beats from “Green Light” and “Perfect Places” into gentle pulses of light.
Though fans may have had an issue with the mood and theme of “Solar Power,” the multi-continental tour has sold out in a day and looks to be the start of the singer’s most ambitious journey yet.