An illustration of Lorde from the Solar Power music video. (Illustration by Katelyn McManis, Columbia College Chicago)
Lorde's newest single dropped on June 10, and fans are bewildered. (Illustration by Katelyn McManis, Columbia College Chicago)

Lorde’s ‘Solar Power’ Is Leaving a Trail of Ambiguity in Its Wake

After taking a multi-year break, the singer’s singular foray back into the public eye has left fans both intrigued and confused.

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An illustration of Lorde from the Solar Power music video. (Illustration by Katelyn McManis, Columbia College Chicago)

After taking a multi-year break, the singer’s singular foray back into the public eye has left fans both intrigued and confused.

After a nearly four-year hiatus, 24-year-old singer Lorde released her single “Solar Power”: a Bohemian anthem rife with breezy vocals and gentle percussion. Alongside the drop of the single, Lorde put out a music video featuring her frolicking on a sandy beach in a two-piece lemon-colored outfit. In the week following the song’s release, the music video garnered over 12 million views on YouTube.

The notoriously reclusive singer has confirmed that an album of the same name is in the works but has yet to provide the public with a release date. While describing her upcoming record, Lorde wrote, “The album is a celebration of the natural world, an attempt at immortalizing the deep, transcendent feelings I have when I’m outdoors … In times of heartache, grief, deep love, or confusion, I look to the natural world for answers. I’ve learnt to breathe out, and tune in. This is what came through.”

Lyrically, “Solar Power” is a light, upbeat serenade celebrating the virtues of disconnecting from the digital world and embracing the joy and freedom of summer. Featuring backup vocals by indie rock stars Phoebe Bridgers and Clairo, the song ditches Lorde’s signature esotericism in favor of a simpler lyrical refrain: “Lead the boys and girls onto the beaches / Come one, come all, I’ll tell you my secrets / I’m kind of like a prettier Jesus.” It is a stark contrast to tracks from her critically acclaimed sophomore album, “Melodrama,” which features lines such as “we’ll end up painted on the road, red and chrome / All the broken glass sparkling.”

If her new single is any indication, it’s reasonable to assume that “Solar Power” will be a total tonal deviation from Lorde’s previous work. “Melodrama” is a maximalist dance-pop album detailing the tragedy and chaos of a breakup. It relies heavily on synth and layered vocals, culminating in an intimate foray into her evolving grief. The single, however, is joyful in nature; in comparison to the hip-hop influences of her first album, “Pure Heroine,” or the electropop foundation of “Melodrama,” “Solar Power” is based on acoustic performance techniques.

Responses from fans have been a mixed bag. Some laud Lorde for such an ambitious sonic detour while others have taken a more skeptical approach, criticizing “Solar Power” for its lyrical simplicity and spartan instrumentation and vocals. The track’s vapidity is apparent; however, the singer’s underlying rationale for releasing it remains unclear.

In the wake of global tragedy, releasing an album (presumably) composed of easy-breezy bops seems insultingly tone-deaf. Artists such as Taylor Swift have found immense success writing for the times, not in spite of them. Swift’s Grammy Award-winning album, “Folklore,” was released during the height of the pandemic and featured some of the most tear-jerking songs of her career. If we take her success as a blueprint, Lorde has ripped it to shreds and scattered the pieces into the waves.

Nevertheless, Lorde has already established herself as a formidable artist characterized by intention and devotion to craft. What seems like an ill-advised tactical move may be a stroke of genius. Fans are left wondering if this seemingly innocuous hit belies an album encompassing darker themes. Alas, the musings of content-starved followers may be rooted in wishful thinking.

The “Solar Power” music video does contain some interesting Easter eggs if you’re looking for them. As Lorde strolls along the beach, we see a host of people in plain clothing performing chaotic dance numbers that are reminiscent of demonic possession. At one point they stand in a line behind her — completely still — staring blankly as she dances on the beach. The aesthetic of the music video is akin to that of 2019’s folk horror film “Midsommar,” leading many to believe that the upcoming album will be a “cult” hit of a different nature.

In one shot, as Lorde prances about we see her avoiding a pile of trash strewn across the sand. It’s a significant detail, as the rest of the beach is pristine — if you blink, you’ll miss it. This could allude to Lorde’s penchant for environmental activism: The singer recently visited Antarctica in order to better understand the effects of climate change. She also just released a photo book with an accompanying essay detailing her travels titled “Going South.” It sold out in a matter of 10 minutes. She later donated all of the proceeds to fund a postgraduate student in their study of climate change science.

It’s feasible, and quite tempting, to wallow in Lorde’s enigmatic intent for eternity. However, pragmatically speaking, it doesn’t really matter what “Solar Power” entails; the singer-songwriter’s name alone is enough to sell millions of copies whether it’s any good or not. Not to mention Lorde has used the most basic principle of economics to her advantage. Her relative solitude and widely spaced-out album releases create an exceptional demand for new content, extraordinary or otherwise. Simply put, she keeps her supply low, drives up demand and yields a gargantuan profit.

Notwithstanding, her most ardent fans hold out hope that “Solar Power” will live up to the legacies left behind by its predecessors. In one of her most popular tracks to date, “Liability,” Lorde sang, “They’re gonna watch me disappear into the sun / You’re all gonna watch me disappear into the sun.” Her cheeky new album cover seems to illustrate her reappearance into the limelight. Despite the seeming transparency of her new hit, she leaves her admirers and detractors with more questions than answers.

Only time will tell what truths will reveal themselves in the light of the sun.

Writer Profile

Darby Williams

University of Michigan
Drama and Social Theory and Practice

Darby Williams is a writer and actor majoring in drama and social theory and practice at the University of Michigan. She works as an actor at Neverland Entertainment and writes for the arts section of The Michigan Daily.

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