Music University of Iowa Writing Certificate

Making Sense of Heartbreak at Lorde’s ‘Melodrama’ World Tour

Lorde's 'Melodrama' World Tour inspires people to dance away heartbreak.

By Rhiana Chickering

In unison, crowds jump and throw their arms in the air — a hypnotic reaction to Lorde’s “Perfect Places” sounding from a portable speaker. Everyone becomes lost in the music and leaves their clusters of cliques and comes together in front of the Staples Center’s entrance across from Microsoft Square in Los Angeles. This community of outlandish dancers are all here for the same reason: Lorde’s MelodramaWorld Tour. I immediately felt like I was with friends I’ve known for years — friends who sung every heartbreak song with the utmost emotion until the scars on our hearts were mended.

Anticipation runs over me as the doors open. Fans line up at merchandise stands and dash straight towards the arena. Preteens stand in rows with their friends, squealing in eagerness, while those in their 20’s and older mingle with everyone and anyone, discussing Lorde’s music and her opening acts, Tove Styrke and Run The Jewels. Being in the midst of this chaos of eager fans flooding into the arena is like attempting to get outside during a fire drill — large crowds of people scurry to the same destination but only so many can fit through the corridors.

Once the lights dim, the audience elicits screams and whistles. Styrke appears in lime green pants and shoes paired with a white t-shirt alongside her bandmates: a guitarist and a drummer. I laugh because the arena is so dark that I can can only see Styrke’s lime green legs dance wildly across stage as she sings along with her electro-pop music. Even when her backdrop fades from deep blue to fuchsia and fog rises from the stage, Styrke’s lime green pants continue to glow brighter than anything in the arena.

Even still, the crowd joins Styrke in singing “Say My Name,” as a voice synthesizer accompanies Styrke’s vocals and the guitarist finger picks notes on her guitar strings, prompting an electric melody. Styrke’s songs are sonically cohesive — song structures are similarly tied together within the same electro-pop genre — but still, her songs include a variety of melodies in pitches. “Say My Name,” incorporates R&B rap technique when she raps with the instrumental finger picking of the guitar. “Changed My Mind” includes electro-pop sounds that remind people of summer as it mimics a xylophone with a top-down-in-the-convertible melody, as Styrke sings along. Both songs make audiences sway with their heads nodding and arms in the air. I would dance along with wildly to all of these electric beats, but with no emotional connection. The lyrics are synchronized throughout Styrke’s discography, hiding any ounce of vulnerability she could muster.

Quite fitting, Styrke sings a cover of Lorde’s “Liability” — a cover Styrke released in a demo CD to Sony Music’s RCA Records in December of 2017. Styrke’s vocals evoke a beautiful range of pitch. However, Styrke’s accompanying synthetic voice do not mesh with the vulnerable lyrics of “Liability.” Lorde’s original version of liability is complete with a piano and her raw, natural voice, as she sings every lyric with her voice occasionally cracking through held back tears as if she is reliving the moment all over again. Fascinatingly, though, in Styrke’s cover, the bass guitar and synthetic music combine to create a sound resembling a heartbeat, compensating for the lack of vulnerability in her voice. The floors of the arena vibrate and each person in the audience experiences the poignant heartbeat themselves. Flashbacks rummage through my mind — flashbacks where I am leaning against a wall in my apartment after I break up with a boyfriend. All I can hear is the beat of my heart as a tear slides along my cheek and down the nape of my neck.

Styrke thanks the crowd and runs back stage, and the arena gradually lights up. Once Styrke’s backdrop featuring her name repeated four times is reeled down, the only items shown on stage are a fist, as if a person is going to give someone a fist-bump, and another hand, with the thumb pointed upward and the index and middle fingers pointed at the fist. Crowds continue to trickle in, as Lorde’s set time approaches.

Once again, the arena dims, and a DJ with a turn table and large production sets with several light bulbs on each side of him rises up from beneath the stage.

“Los Angeles, are you ready to ‘Run The Jewel’s?,’ “ shouts the DJ.

Light bulbs flicker like the paparazzi’s camera flashes on a red carpet as Jaime Melline, an American rapper with the stage name “El-P,” walks out on one side of the stage, and Mike Render, “Killer Mike,” walks out on the other side. The camera flashes make me feel tense, as I fold my arms around my body like I am trying to stay warm. Melline and Render rap a cover of “We are the Champions,” and beats reverberate the arena. I cringe because it sounds like two drunk men at a bar’s karaoke night. A slur of curse words are infused into the their next rap, while audiences clap to the beats. I cringe again because they start to remind me of all of the guys who tried to impress me by trying to have a personality they believed was “cool.”

“You should think of us as your drunk cousins who wandered into a family reunion — you can’t say you don’t know them, but you don’t approve of their actions,” says Melline after the explicit rap ends. This was so far the most fitting and accurate statement the two performers made all night.

The lights on stage are blinding as they shift from color to color, and the raps are hurried and still highly explicit. Yet, the rappers’ kind deposition compensates for the plethora of curse words shown during their first impression.

“We would like to say ‘Happy Women’s History Month’ because women are worth their weight. They are the smarter half of the species,” says Render. “Thank you for being the incredible people you are.”

Render and Melline end their set with a song depicting a crucial message about depression and feeling alone.

“We need you to understand that we give a damn about you,” says Melline. “If you are depressed, there is always someone to call.”

For the first time, tonight, tears form in my eyes. I used to feel as though my peers continuously used me as their punching bag without ever considering that I could be broken. They would torment me and isolate me because, unlike them, I cared more about writing and academics than I did about the next party. Their torture was their way of making themselves feel more powerful and more secure.

As the crowd cheers and claps in agreement, the explicit and wild first impression turns into an impression of hope and understanding for the future before the DJ and lights sink back into their initial place below the stage. I feel a spark in the pit of my stomach as hope descends over me

By this time, the Staples Center is overflowed with people singing the latest Lorde songs stuck in their mind, talking loudly to their friends the more drunk they become, and glancing at the stage while they fidget in antsy demeanors of impatience. I sit with a group of people who dance wildly — the way I only dance in my living room when no one is watching.

At last, lights gradually dim to make the arena dark enough to hinder people from even seeing their own hands. LED lights line the stage, as the music from “Sober” blasts through the arena. Lorde’s New Zealand accent and raw, unsynthesized voice cuts through the instrumental beats, and lights directly above the stage reveal Lorde positioned in front of a microphone stand with both hands on the microphone. She is dressed in a glimmering, cubic zirconia black crop top paired with a jacket and pants, both with translucent material on the arms and legs and blue sewn-on designs including small stars and firework-like designs.

Among the screaming crowds, Lorde jumps and runs about the stage, dancing as if no one is watching. Before speaking with the audience, Lorde begins singing “Homemade Dynamite.”  People dance around me, but I just sway, embarrassed about my potentially reckless dance moves.

As Lorde dances wildly, professional dancers with choreographed work dance with more direction behind her as if she knows she is not dancing particularly well.

Lorde’s voice is impeccable, reminiscent to the vocals on her album even throughout all of her dancing. The audience can hear her breath as a result of the dancing, but the concert would not be as exciting without it.

“Los Angeles, hello, and welcome to the Melodrama World Tour,” shouts Lorde into the microphone in her New Zealand accent. “Thanks so much for coming to night. It means so much to this little kid from New Zealand. This is the ‘dancing show’ tonight, so I hope you brought your dancing shoes, my friends!”

I smile, and I think how if a “little kid from New Zealand,” can become one of the world’s largest pop stars, I can to make something of myself if I continue to work hard. Maybe I will turn my heartbreaks into works of art.

All throughout Lorde’s next songs from her debut album, Pure Heroine, the video screen lights up with a video designed like broken glass, with thin, black rectangle slits dividing the video into multiple pieces.

Pure Heroine illustrated the romanticized emotions of Lorde as a teenager, which are depicted through videos of Lorde placing red lipstick on her lips and an effortless drive through a city. For instance, during “400 Lux,” the video displays Lorde stretching her head out a car window while driving underneath skyscrapers as if life consists of graceful moments without any consequences. I remember this feeling — the preteen feeling where the future isn’t as urgent and relationships are not serious enough to end in tragedy.

Also behind Lorde, a LED-lit glass box holds a group of dancers whose choreography is more profound than that of Lorde’s — and the audience’s for that matter.

Lorde transitions into her most recent album, Melodrama, by performing “The Louvre,” an anthem for when one is infatuated and romanticized by the idea of a new love. The backdrop paints imagery of the excitement and anticipation of a fresh relationship. Flowers bloom, waves rush to shore, and a cheetah runs in a vast grass-covered area. I want to return to my pre-teen disregard for how people attempted to define me or make fun of me, so I finally let go of all the worries about what people will think of me in this moment. Exhilaration fills my body, and I begin to wave my arms wildly. I hope that someday I will again feel the moment of enchantment depicted in “The Louvre.”

The pop star enters the glass box to change into a skirt and place a crop top with more coverage over the one she is currently wearing. The crowd jokingly whistles as she changes into her new wardrobe and steps out wearing a black floor-length skirt and matching crop top.

“This next one is about a very special moment. It’s a sad moment,” says Lorde. “It’s about sitting in a room after [ending] a relationship. You ended it — you’re done, but you’re still sitting in that room because you know when you walk out, it will be real. It’s hard, but that’s the moment.”

On that note, Lorde begins to sing “Hard Feelings.” A tear slithers down my face, as she sings lyrics narrating my most recent heartbreak. I wipe the tear away and sing with the Lorde and the audience. Flashbacks transport me to a time when I try to make myself feel whole by lighting candles — a way to treat myself with love, something  he never gave me.

The instrumental solo begins to play, and I stop singing and dancing, and I take a moment to just stand and breath. This instrumental solo has always captivated me, but not because of its melody. It sounds like someone is moving furniture across wooden or tile floors. It sounds like the moments when I would come back to my dorm room my freshman year of college, crying because of the way my boyfriend treated me around his friends — as if he was god’s gift to women and he could replace me with a different girl any second. To persuade my mind to focus on something other than him, I would rearrange my dorm room, moving the furniture across the tile floor.

When Lorde begins to sing the lyrics, “I’ll start letting go of little things ’til I’m so far away from you…,” the glass box outlined in LED lights begins to lift off the stage and tilts as a dancer moves around inside. We continue to sing along, holding onto every lyric and turning the emotive song into our own.

Lorde shifts away from the melancholy tone of “Hard Feelings” by speaking with the audience with curiosity.

“A lot has happened since we last saw each other. How have you been? Are you dating anyone? Got any crushes?” inquires Lorde. “I wish I could catch up with all of you one-on-one.”

She is now the type of friend I can relate to and speak with during some of the toughest heartaches.

Lorde tells us about her experience writing one of her songs in a private room at Conway Recording Studios in Los Angeles. While sitting at a piano, she began to sing what she calls, “weird shit.”

“I got to sing things like ‘I bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark,’ “ Lorde says, “[I believe] it is a big step to say you don’t have to explain yourself — the dreamer, the over-reactor, the teller of stories.”

We cheer in agreement.

“I feel that you see me through all the weird [dancing and outfits,” assures Lorde, “to know that you see me means so much.”

A melody sounds out from the piano, and Lorde begins singing, “Writer in the Dark.” The crowd and I slowly wave our phones back and forth in the air while crooning along with Lorde’s vocals to support her through the heartbreak she sings about on stage like we are her closest group of friends. I sing along, and I hope to myself that my ex-loves rue the day they kissed me in the dark.

Lorde performs her next ballad, “Liability” — her voice raspy like she was trying not to cry and a piano with a slow rhythm. The emotive pop song sparks tears from me and other audience members who can relate to a situation where someone once loved them, but changed his mind. Our raw voices sing “Liability” with such emotion, and they reiterate the communal support we gave each other throughout the concert.

Suddenly, as Lorde sings “Sober II (Melodrama),” the video screen shows Lorde falling into the ocean, representing a return to innocence as cruel reality collides with romanticism.  “All the glamour and the trauma and the…melodrama/All the gun fights and the lime lights,” elicit a roller-coaster of emotions as a relationship begins with infatuation and ends in tragedy.

For the remainder of the concert, Lorde dresses in ballet-pink pants and crop top with ruffled long-sleeves and legs made from translucent material  — perfect for her beginner-level ballet moves during the next three upbeat pop tunes: “Supercut,” “Royals,” “Perfect Places,” and “Green Light.” I even find myself dancing the pirouettes I learned in my ballet class.

“Perfect Places” elicits a sense of togetherness among the crowd. We sing about all our “heroes fading” and the dramatic political headlines in the newspapers, wishing there were such things as “perfect places.”

Lorde’s backdrop consists of smoke rising from the stage. One the video screen fire and fireworks break through the broken glass.

“Let’s [dance] around for all the joy, pain, and jealousy,” instructs Lorde, “I want to see all that pain in your feet!”

Enraged as though we are reliving moments of anger and jealousy all over again, we sing “Green Light,” and we mimic her passionate and rapid jumping. We chant along with her until the end of the song and throw our hands towards the green and silver star-shaped confetti falling from the ceiling, as if we were reaching for something more — a world with less hatred and more dancing.

Lorde rushes off stage, and a sound machine is brought out for an encore. The crowd looks on in wonderment, as Lorde returns to stage and presses a few buttons to form a familiar melodies to all Lorde fans — melodies for “Loveless” and “Precious Metals.”

Lorde appropriately sings “Team” — her final encore of the night — revealing to the audience that we are all on each other’s side. She then steps into the pit in front of the stage to be closer to her fans for the first time this evening.

Lorde’s Melodrama World Tour, or as she calls it, “The North American Dance,” places every emotion experienced with love and heartbreak into mesmerizing words and music. We dance through all the pain and catastrophes shattered love has triggered while we hang onto every lyric. Leaving Lorde’s Melodrama World Tour cleaned me of my heartbreaks. I no longer see myself as an ex-love’s liability. I’m an unconquerable romantic.

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