Interview: Lorde On How Dialing Out And Turning Inward Helped Her Make Her Second Album, 'Melodrama' After the rush of stardom accompanying her 2013 debut, the singer felt "deeply conspicuous" working in her native New Zealand. To finish her new album, Melodrama, she let herself get lost in New York.
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Lorde On Dialing Out And Turning Inward

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Lorde On Dialing Out And Turning Inward

Lorde On Dialing Out And Turning Inward

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, a star who seemed to come out of nowhere four years ago, a teenaged singer-songwriter from New Zealand who won a place as a leading voice of millennials with this song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROYALS")

LORDE: (Singing) And we'll never be royals, royals. It's not in our blood. That kind of luxe just ain't for us. We crave a different kind of buzz. Let me be your ruler.

MARTIN: This is the artist known as Lorde, born Ella Yelich-O'Connor. She was a 16-year-old high school student when her first album "Pure Heroine" - as in female hero - took off back in 2013, making her the youngest singer to reach the top of the Billboard charts since 1987. The album won critical raves for its fresh take on life and musical genre. The many accolades included two Grammys and praise from stars like David Bowie and Taylor Swift, not to mention it sold a million copies in five months.

That album, though musically sophisticated, spoke to a teenager's experience with touches of angst set off with biting critiques of pop culture, celebrity lifestyle and Hollywood glam. And now, Lorde is back with a second album. It is called "Melodrama."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN LIGHT")

LORDE: (Singing) But I hear sounds in my mind, brand new sounds in my mind.

MARTIN: It's a new chapter with new stories to tell of heartbreak, of coming of age and of living in the spotlight.

LORDE: I've never felt like a spokesperson or a role model or anything like that, really. I think because I know how kind of violently I rejected those figures when I was growing up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN LIGHT")

LORDE: (Singing) I'll come get my things, but I can't let go. I'm waiting for it, that green light, I want it. Oh, I wish I could get my things and just let go.

I just try and represent myself in a way where I'm going to feel like I can live with myself when it's the end of the day and I'm alone in my room. It's just me and my thoughts. Like, I need to know that I'll feel like I represented myself and what I believe in, you know, with dignity, I guess.

MARTIN: With her latest album, Lorde is no longer an outsider but instead has had a taste of the celebrity life she once famously criticized. She's also gone through something just about everyone has experienced - heartbreak.

LORDE: The intimacy of the spaces on this record, I think, it's sort of like a direct response to having my life kind of flipped inside out, I think. Because I think, like, it doesn't matter if you're famous or not, a breakup feels horrific for everybody. And everyone knows that feeling of just feeling like your head is going to explode walking around with all of these - you're like, if people knew this, if they knew what you've done. And I feel like that is - that's universal.

MARTIN: I do find myself wondering if having had such a success with the first album, was the second a struggle? Was it just - was it sort of terrifying to think about, you know?

LORDE: Oh, my goodness, it was so terrifying and so difficult. I don't think I was worried that - about people and whether or not they would like it. But just for me personally, like, making a good record was such an epic novel. Like, it was such a journey to get there. And I remember distinctly thinking that it just wasn't going to happen. It just took so long and took so much from me every day.

And I just, you know, I would - I'd go to sleep thinking about it. And I would dream about it. And I'd wake up the morning thinking about it. It was just - it was - its grip on me was unrelenting. And so it was, I mean, it was very difficult. But maybe for someone who was like a bit more of a chilled-out operator, that would be a bit easier. But I'm - as you know, I'm a bit of a drama, a bit of a melodrama. It's all a bit melodramatic over here, so (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF LORDE SONG, "SOBER II - MELODRAMA")

MARTIN: So let's talk about "Melodrama." Tell me, was there sort of an organizing thought going into it? And tell me about the title track, like why "Melodrama"?

LORDE: Well, that song is interesting. It was - so it's called, you know, "Sober II." It brackets "Melodrama." It's the second part of one of the first songs that we wrote where I really started to understand what the album would be.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOBER II - MELODRAMA")

LORDE: (Singing) We told you this was melodrama. Oh, how fast the evening passes cleaning up the champagne glasses. Our only wish is melodrama.

It's funny, you know, I have synesthesia. And the clearest sort of example of synesthesia really sort of, like, kicking in with this record was with this song. And it just - all of a sudden, the, like, color of the record was so present and vivid. And it was just the craziest - just the sort of rain of violets and blues. And it was so intense. And that sort of came to shape the rest of the record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOBER II - MELODRAMA")

LORDE: (Singing) They'll talk about us, all the lovers, how we kiss and kill each other. Whoa. They'll talk about us and discover how we kissed and killed each other. Whoa.

MARTIN: Synesthesia is where you actually - you hear certain sounds and you see colors associated with it. Is that how it...

LORDE: Yeah. I guess it's just like there's a visual component to sound, whether there is, you know, texture or certain forms or...

MARTIN: Yeah. How you're describing it is very different from what I expected because when I hear melodrama, I think of grays and sadness. But you're describing something very different, you know, very vibrant, very kind of exciting.

LORDE: Well, just intense, I think. The intensity of the color sort of blew me away. But this song is sort of - maps the course of a party. And the first part is very much like the party's in full swing, maybe sort of tipping over to that area where it might be a little too much. And then this is sort of singing from the perspective of the deflated room.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOBER II - MELODRAMA")

LORDE: (Singing) We told you this was melodrama. You wanted something that we offer. We told you this was melodrama. We told you this was melodrama.

MARTIN: Well, thanks so much for visiting with us. And it's been a pleasure to visit with you.

LORDE: Thank you. Oh, my goodness, thanks.

MARTIN: What shall we go out on? And tell us why you - what you love about that song, one of the ones you particularly love.

LORDE: Well, I really love a song called "Writer In The Dark." I love it because I think people won't have heard my voice in this way or heard me write in this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WRITER IN THE DARK")

LORDE: (Singing) Break the news - you're walking out to be a good man for someone else. Sorry I was never good like you.

There's always a song on every record, and I call them portal songs because they - as sort of a little glimpse into what could happen, what that artist could, you know, could go on to do. And I feel like this song, there's something about it. I - it happened very quickly.

A lot of the songs on this record were just so drawn out. And this one was like a couple of days and it was done. And we just - we were scared to mess with it too much, I think. We didn't want to take the essence out of it. So yeah, I really love this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WRITER IN THE DARK")

LORDE: (Singing) Now she's going to play and sing and lock you in her heart. Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark.

MARTIN: That is Lorde. Her new album "Melodrama" is out now. She was kind enough to join us in our NPR bureau in New York City, where she worked on the album for the last couple of years. Lorde, Ella, thank you so much for visiting with us.

LORDE: Thank you, Michel, I appreciate it. It was so nice (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WRITER IN THE DARK")

LORDE: (Singing) But in our darkest hours, I stumbled on a secret power. I'll find a way.

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