Pure Heroine by Lorde // 10 Year Anniversary Album Review

Ten years ago, Lorde released her record-breaking debut album and changed the course of pop music forever at only 16 years old. No one was making music like this before Pure Heroine, it truly was the antithesis of so much that was popular at the time. This was such a revolutionary album and pushed pop music forward in a way like no other. She paved the way for so many artists and the legacy she solidified for herself with this album alone is so remarkable and inspiring. The echoes of Pure Heroine are present in every single alternative pop album released in the past decade. It is such a timeless album and feels just as relevant today as it was ten years ago. For her to be so young and to have had the foresight to create an album like this makes her such a visionary in my eyes. 

Pure Heroine consists of ten songs, a truly flawless track list. It is concise and devoid of any filler. The curation of her music is something she has always excelled at with her albums, being able to cut it down to the perfect track run is something that has carried through on all three of her album releases so far. Pure Heroine is so smartly written, sharing a sharp insight into her life as a typical teenager. Pure Heroine as a whole is about all of the emotions and fears that every teenager experiences, but perhaps doesn't know how to put into words for themselves. It isn't really about romantic relationships either, at least not overtly, it is purely just written about her and her point of view. She has always been the central figure throughout all of her work thus far. I have always connected so much to her perspective and observations of the world. I have always seen a piece of myself in the portrait she paints through her music in a way like no other. 

Lorde was signed to Universal when she was 13 years old and soon after started working with New Zealand producer and writer Joel Little on The Love Club EP and Pure Heroine. There are so many layers to the production, while still somehow maintaining a level of simplicity to each song. It has kind of a gothic, electropop sound, with her voice at the forefront of every track. In late 2012, she released The Love Club EP to SoundCloud for free. She hit right at the perfect time to take advantage of the early streaming era. In June of 2013, the EP was released digitally worldwide, and one of the five songs from it quickly became a massive success. "Royals" went on to become the highest-selling song of 2013 and was certified diamond in 2018 for selling more than 10 million copies. She also won Song of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance at the 2014 Grammy Awards, making her the youngest artist in history to win those awards. 

The title "Royals" was inspired by a 1976 photo of Kansas City Royals baseball player George Brett with the team's name "Royals" on his shirt. "It was just that word. It's really cool," she said in a VH1 interview in 2013. "Obviously I've had this fascination with aristocracy my whole life," she continues, "Like, the kings and queens of 500 years ago...they're like rock stars. If there was a TMZ 500 years ago, it would be about like Henry VIII and Marie Antoinette and all those people." Pure Heroine features a lot of regal imagery throughout, and her stage name is undoubtedly inspired by this fascination too. 

"Royals" was also inspired by hip-hop artists, specifically Kanye West and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne collaborative album. It takes the common themes and motifs of flaunting luxury, opulence, and consumerism often present in hip-hop music, and uses this song to critique the culture of unattainability in the music industry. "I definitely wrote 'Royals' with a lightness in mind," she said in an interview with VEVO. "I was definitely poking fun at a lot of things that people take to be normal. I was listening to a lot of hip-hop and I kind of started to realize that to be cool in hip-hop, you have to have that sort of car and drink that sort of vodka and have that sort of watch, and I was like, 'I've literally never seen one of those watches in my entire life.'" On "Royals" she sings, "But every song's like, gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin' in the bathroom, bloodstains, ball gowns, trashin' the hotel room, we don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams, but everybody's like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece, jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash, we don't care, we aren't caught up in your love affair". That lifestyle is so disconnected from the reality that most of us will ever live, yet it is still heavily pushed through so much popular music. "Royals" points that out in such a poignant way, while still being able to cleverly poke fun at it. In Interview Magazine she talked more about the inspiration behind this song, "...I started listening to a lot of rap, like Nicki Minaj and Drake, as well as pop singers like Lana Del Rey. They all sing about such opulence, stuff that just didn’t relate to me - or anyone that I knew..." That is something that has always set her apart from her contemporaries, those who often try to portray themselves with a flawless, polished pop star image. An unattainable, larger than life persona like that can often feel disconnected from the audience in a way. In my opinion, Lorde has always been very relatable - not in a contrived or manufactured way that only gives the illusion of authenticity, but in a real, genuine way. 

"Don't you think that it's boring how people talk, making smart with their words again, well I'm bored," she sings in the opening lines of the first song, "Tennis Court". After the breakout success of "Royals", she went on to release a string of great singles in support of Pure Heroine and this is one of my favorites. This song captures her thoughts and feelings at such a unique moment in time when she got her first taste of success and was about to leave New Zealand for the first time, "Pretty soon I'll be getting on my first plane, I'll see the veins of my city like they do in space", she sings. Along with the excitement of all that is to come for her, there is also an aura of hesitancy about getting too attached to this newfound success, money and attention because it is likely to only be temporary. "Getting pumped up on the little bright things I bought, but I know they'll never own me", she sings before the first chorus. Before the second chorus she sings, "Everything's cool when we're all in line for the throne, but I know it's not forever". 

"Tennis Court" also sets the tone for the rest of the album with the lyric; "It's a new art form, showin' people how little we care". I view that as the thesis of the record in so many ways, although there is a level of irony to that lyric because she makes it very evident throughout the album that she does actually care a lot about all of this. It's more so about pretending to not care so much that the performance of it actually becomes an art form in itself.

Other than the extremely popular singles from this album, I didn't really dive into the rest of Pure Heroine until about four years later in 2017, around the time she released her sophomore album, MelodramaI always believe that you will find music at the time you need it most and that's how I feel with this album. It was right before I turned eighteen years old, about to start college, and I still can't even really put the feeling into words, but her music impacted me so much during that time. It came at such a crucial and formative time for me, songs like "Ribs", "400 Lux", "A World Alone" and "Bravado" literally changed my life and shaped so much of the way I perceive the world around me. Before I discovered Lorde, I never really felt like I was able to truly relate to a lot of the music I was listening to in a deep way. Or if I did feel like I related to music, all of those feelings were magnified when I found Pure Heroine and Melodrama. At this exact time in my life, I also discovered Bleachers, who are now one of my favorite bands ever and I associate my connection to their music so closely to my connection to Lorde's music. She was singing about the things I was experiencing in real-time, and I continue to relate so much to the message of her music. It was a time of a lot of change and this album really put so many of those complex emotions into words. So much of Pure Heroine is about a young girl trying to make sense of the world around her, with messages I deeply connected with back then and still to this day. This album also inspired so much of my own writing journey, "Bravado" is a song that especially changed everything for me in that regard. It was originally released on The Love Club EP and later featured on the deluxe edition of Pure Heroine. The song is about being a quiet, reserved person, but somehow finding the confidence within yourself to not let that hold you back anymore. "I was frightened of every little thing that I thought was out to get me down, to trip me up and laugh at me, but I learned not to want the quiet of a room with no-one around to find me out, I want the applause, the approval," she sings. That is one of my favorite verses ever written. Again, I never heard a song like this before and it is just written in such a powerful way that continues to move me every time I hear it.

So many of those complex feelings are also represented on the fourth track "Ribs". The feelings this song evokes in me is like no other, it honestly is one of the greatest songs ever written in my opinion. She captures the feelings of adolescence in a way like no other has before. As I mentioned in the beginning, she was only 16 years old when this song came out - to have had this level of deep insight and sage wisdom at that age to write a song like "Ribs" is so remarkable. The song is a bittersweet lament about growing up and becoming an adult, but also not wanting to leave youth behind. The song was inspired by a crazy house party she, her sister, and their friend threw when her parents were gone. It is what she later referred to as "the kind of party people write books about," at one of her shows. It is filled with so much nostalgia and gives a sense of yearning for the past and fear of the future. "This dream isn't feeling sweet, we're reeling through the midnight streets and I've never felt more alone, it feels so scary, getting old", she sings in the chorus with almost a sense of urgency. 

She has talked about the emotions that have inspired this song many times over the years, I found a quote from her at one of her shows from around 2014 talking about it in detail that I felt captured this song so perfectly. She said "...there’s something scary about doing something that is in a different world than the one you know. My whole life I've been doing the things that kids do, you know, fucking around and not having any responsibility. It's scared me to think of having one foot in that adult world because who says that we can go back? Like, can you be a kid and still do adult things? Do you have to leave that world behind? And this is the thought that keeps me up at night, all the time." On her third album, Solar Power, she had an incredible song called "Secrets From A Girl (Whose Seen It All)" that references all of the emotions and fears she was experiencing at this time in her life in a new perspective. She says she wrote it for the girl she was when she wrote "Ribs" at fifteen years old. In an interview with Spotify Lorde said, "I was listening to 'Ribs' and thinking about who I was at that time in my life. I was so apprehensive about what was to come. I took the two chords from that song and reversed them. This is future me talking back and saying... 'it's going to be okay'". I love that it is kind of a message to that fifteen-year-old girl she was, as well as to everyone currently going through the same emotions assuring that everything will work out the way it's supposed to.

One of my favorite musical moments is the final refrain when she sings, "You're the only friend I need, sharing beds like little kids, and laughing till our ribs get tough, but that will never be enough" and her repetition of the final line in the outro. It is such a powerful and deeply moving song, and always takes me back to the time I got to hear it live on her 2018 Melodrama Tour. It was such a unifying moment to be there with her and thousands of other people jumping and singing those words so loudly. 

She has always excelled as a songwriter in being so specific in her music, her lyrics are so visual and really takes the listener to the time and place she is writing about in such an immersive way. "Ribs" very much feels that way, listening to it feels like you are transported to that house party with "Lover's Spit" left on repeat all night. The second track, "400 Lux" is also very much like that too and goes in tandem with my love of "Ribs". It's another one of my favorites from her discography that really captures the beauty of just a simple moment driving home and observations of her surroundings as the sun is rising . It is such a beautifully simple song, and the production turns it into such a slow burner. It is so incredible in every way. "I love these roads where the houses don't change, where we can talk like there's something to say," is one of my favorite lyrics from this song. I also love, "You drape your wrists over the steering wheel, pulses can drive from here, we might be hollow but we're brave". There's just no one else like Lorde as an artist, no one else could ever write a song like that, she's the best. 

The setting of this album is so different when comparing it to Melodramawhich captured the energy of New York City in such a special way, kind of making the city a character in itself throughout the record. Pure Heroine depicts the setting of where she grew up on the other side of the world in the suburbs of Aukland, New Zealand. "400 Lux" feels like it is an ode to the familiarity of her hometown, as does the sixth track, "Team". "We live in cities you'll never see on-screen, not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things, livin' in ruins of a palace within my dreams and you know, we're on each other's team," she sings in the chorus. It also feels very connected to the themes of "Royals", as it also critiques the divide between the glamourous lifestyle depicted in popular music through the regal imagery in her lyrics. It is also her kind of rebelling against the standard of what is expected of her, or someone like her. "I'm kind of over gettin' told to throw my hands up in the air, so there," she sings. In an interview with Billboard, she talked about the way "Team" is her take on modern music and the way it doesn't often relate to her, "...No one comes to New Zealand, no one knows anything about New Zealand, and here I am, trying to grow up and become a person. I’ve been countering that with going to New York and seeing this place that’s in every movie and every TV show. Part of me wanted to go back to writing for me and for my friends, and write something that I felt related to us a little bit."

"Buzzcut Season" is another highlight of the album for me, it is so full of depth and meaning that still gives me chills when I hear it. In this song, Lorde is recalling specific happy memories of past summers, which she contrasts with the world outside of the bubble she lives in, only to be observed through a screen. "Explosions on TV, and all the girls with heads inside a dream, so now we live beside the pool where everything is good", she sings. She is so observant and hyper-aware of the complicated world around her, but isn't necessarily letting those discoveries jade her. "The men up on the news, they try to tell us all that we will lose, but it's so easy in this blue, where everything is good," she sings. This revelation kind of signals a loss of innocence as a teenager to start to become aware of the darker aspects of the world around us. Especially looking at it through the lens of the digital age, where we have constant access to read about the horrors of the world as they're happening. At only 16 years old, to have been able to so vividly articulate these complications is so remarkable. This entire album beginning to end is filled with moments where I am just floored by that aspect of her artistry. 

Toward the end of the album, Lorde once again opens up about her adjustment to her new life in the public eye on "Still Sane" in a similar way as in the opening track "Tennis Court". Everything is all still so new and exciting to her at this point, but she still is "not in the swing of things yet". In this song, Lorde also grapples with the tragic fate that many pop stars before her suffered as she sings, "I won't be her, tripping over onstage," and later ensures, "...promise I can stay good". It is such an introspective song, written almost as if it is a diary entry about the way she has been handling all of the changes in her life. One of my favorite lyrics from Pure Heroine is from this song, "Only bad people live to see their likeness set in stone" and wonders, "What does that make me?" 

Pure Heroine ends with one of my favorite songs ever, "A World Alone". "All the double-edged people in schemes, they make a mess, then go home and get clean, you're my best friend and we're dancing in a world alone," she sings in the chorus. This song is her moment of realization that none of the outside noise really matters anyway - other's perception of you doesn't define you and doesn't change who you are. The lyric, "Maybe the Internet raised us, or maybe people are jerks," is so simply worded, yet holds so much weight for the effect social media has had on our generation. She was one of the first to really be able to capture that in her lyricism.

In the outro of the song, she repeats the phrase "the people are talking" over and over as the sounds of people talking at a party get louder. On "Tennis Court" the album opens with the lines, "Don't you think that it's boring how people talk?" - to which she finishes the album on "A World Alone" with the answer to that in the final lines, "let 'em talk". That is one of my favorite lyrical connections ever, it is so perfect. Throughout so much of this album she is trying to make sense of the many changes in her life, not only as she is about to enter adulthood, but also as she enters the music industry as well. It reminds me of the message of the closing song of Melodrama called "Perfect Places", where she asks herself after spending so much time searching, "what the fuck are perfect places anyway?" "A World Alone" is the perfect way to close this album and gives an answer to all of the questions she is asking herself throughout it.

After Pure Heroine, it took her four years to release her second album, Melodrama, and four more years to release her third, Solar Power. Because of that, her music has always captured really distinct and different stages of her life. Pure Heroine is so singular in that way because the music is so rooted in who she is at that particular moment in time, as a 16-year-old girl trying to make sense of the world around her and wanting to break free of conformity. She was so ahead of her time and with Pure Heroine. She and her collaborator, Joel Little, crafted a new approach to pop music and paved the way for an entire generation of artists to follow. This album also serves as a unique snapshot into who she was right before everything changed for her. Pure Heroine the birth of one of the most influential artists of this generation. She was on the precipice of massive success, soon to reach a level that very few are ever able to achieve. 

David Bowie famously called Lorde "the future of music" shortly before he passed away. Ten years later, now that the future is here, it has been so special to get to hear all of the incredible music she has made in the years since. She has continued to innovate and push the boundaries of what modern pop music could be and should be.

Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below! 

-Melissa ♡

Photo Credit: Lorde, Universal, Republic, Charles Howells, Mario Hugo, Ania Nowak

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