The Spinoff Music weighs in on the only song that matters, Lorde’s ‘Green Light’.
Lorde’s ‘Green Light’ is perhaps the perfect pop song. It’s the kind of track you can sing along to after the first listen, and – like the reflection of the traffic light on the wet road – it signals ‘go’, forcing you to dance along. The most obvious reference is the green light from The Great Gatsby: that unattainable brightness we are always grasping at but can never quite reach. An imagined future so reliant on the dreams of our past, and an inability to let those dreams go.
But whereas Gatsby hoped for the green light, Lorde desires it. Her wanting is never passive. ‘Green Light’ is reminiscent of Robyn’s ‘Dancing On My Own’ and feels like Lorde asserting her place in the pop genre. The green Lorde sings of is not the natural New Zealand forest green Kiwi artists so often capitalise on – it’s the glowstick green of a preteen New Year’s Eve, the neon hue of the public bathroom where you rush your makeup before catching the train into town. Directed by Grant Singer, the video shows Lorde dancing on her own in city streets and back seats. Singing of a love she has to leave, and all the rumours surrounding it, ‘Green Light’ is pop excellence, and a faultless first single from her forthcoming album Melodrama.
An anthem for bitter and scorned young women the world over who don’t have time to be dealing with other people’s bullshit! YES! The ‘Green Light’ is a Gatsby reference, eh? Waiting for the green light, wanting that one person? Or are there other green lights of significance? It’s the pursuit of the green light that often feels like it only ever leads to dead ends and bad decisions, but as Lorde alludes to, it also creates some perfect, but fleeting moments (more often than not, taking place on a flashing dance floor or under neon lights). On the first few listens the opening lines feel a little stunted, but by the tenth listen, I realise I’m wrong. They do work, and damn well at that. The bridge and hook come in out of nowhere. Then there’s the cheerleader-esque backup vocals. Amazing! I want to go as far as to say they make the song. Have we had (tolerable) cheerleaders since Gwen’s iconic ‘Hollaback Girl’? I don’t think so. And the music video! What do you do when you’ve been messed around, need to let some frustration out, and find some kind of release? You go out and you get some fresh air and you dance. I can’t stop watching the opening shot. The pretty blue skyline, Lorde’s glowing skin and the coral lipstick. It’s transfixing.
Break ups! Big teeth! I often wonder how much influence a video has if it’s your first way of hearing a song. I love an upbeat song about being sad or angry (see also: Robyn’s ‘Dancing On My Own’), so a part of me is looking forward to my next break up so I can dance wildly in a grotty bathroom to this. The piano jumps in and saves you like a freaking baptism. Also, sonically ‘Green Light’ goes all the way in each direction – it’s actually a psychedelic soundscape with a pop song on top of it. To quote a Lorde stan on YouTube: “2017 saved.”
I’m a sucker for a handbag house piano riff, but producer Jack Antonoff and his decamped high-school-musical sense of dramatic shifts has always seemed to, well, lack the anton – give me a Billie Ray Martin or a Gala or even the mid-90s contractually obliged Motiv-8 mix. I’d have to hear it out (or hear an extended 12″ mix), but ‘Green Light’ doesn’t quite gel – the M83-reminiscent payoff is fantastic, but the setup’s a little awkward. The vocal shapeshifting on display is making me hope the new Aldous Harding has an attempt at a club banger on it, eh.
This is Lorde’s best song. So far. Sonically deep, lyrically compelling and formally on point. It plays with lift and expectation, withholding and delivering in not-immediately predictable ways. And there’s no way about a fifth of New Zealand isn’t singing “I’m waiting for it / That green light / I can’t let go” to themselves all day. If there’s a nit to pick, it’s that in utilising a popular and prolific producer, there are a few stylistic tics that have been used prominently in pop songs over the last couple of years (the synth textures, the drum fills), which get ever-so-slightly in the way of ‘Green Light’ being the ‘new sound’ hinted at in the song’s pre-chorus. Though maybe that’s to come. On Twitter, Lorde has described the album (now confirmed as Melodrama) as a narrative of the last two years of her life, with ‘Green Light’ as something of a rebirth, the start of something new. So as much as I love this song (and look forward to dancing to it in the darkest of rooms), I’m just as excited to hear what that is. That newness. I’m waiting for it. I want it.
Top five bits in ‘Green Light’:
5: the perfect little violin flourish in the second pre-chorus, or is it a vocal? the one that goes ah-ahhh-ah.
4: “OH THEY BITE YOU”
3: the bit about kissing
2: the gigantic guitar at the end, which is maybe a synth. the one that goes “boooow-boooow”
1: the ten Lordes shouting together on that chorus. It’s gotta be the most Lordes we’ve heard at once. ‘Royals’ had seven Lordes max.
Neither Ella Yelich-O’Connor nor Jack Antonoff have ever concealed their love of Robyn, and on their first public collaboration (assumedly of many), it’s the Swedish pop demigoddess whose influence looms largest. While it’s most obviously indebted both in content and delivery to the aforementioned’s heartbreak anthem ‘Dancing On My Own’, there’s a level of ambition here that elevates the work well above tribute status – from its moody opening piano to the bouncier clipped keys of the pre-chorus to the gleefully maximalist multitracked-Lordes-as-gospel-choir chorus, it’s like a big-room house anthem built on 2 hours’ sleep and 15 coffees. It’s a shocking quasi-repudiation of the stark, cool minimalism cultivated on Pure Heroine, but as she sings in the euphoric pre-chorus (honestly We Need To Talk About That Pre-Chorus), she’s on new sounds now. Staying still would’ve been easy and probably good enough, but we should’ve known that Lorde wouldn’t take that option.
Much has been made of the distance between Lorde’s debut LP Pure Heroine and its follow up, a complaint which often missed the fact that pre-fame she had also worked in a relatively unhurried manner (signing to a development deal with Universal in 2009, it was 2012 before The Love Club EP appeared) as she honed her writing and her sound before debuting to the world. Lorde herself has hinted that she has been attempting to create something adult for her sophomore effort, distancing herself from the work of her teens, which conjured up images of a possible self-conscious stab at maturity from the 20-year old, a perception that new single ‘Green Light’ completely blows out of the water. The track starts in a similar manner to the minimalistic, ennui-laced artpop she has previously been best known for, but quickly morphs into an upbeat anthem which sounds more like Robyn than Lana Del Rey – replete with a massive keyboard hook, a driving beat, and a chorus as catchy as anything she’s done. At first this seems at odds with an artist who sang “I’m kind of over being told to throw my hands in the air”, but while outwardly presenting an all new version of the singer lyrically the song is of a piece with her previous work, and is a fascinating window into what her second album might look like, while being a sure fire hit in its own right.
I want to know who gave Lorde access to the Sky Sport production music library – pretty sure I’ve heard ‘House Piano 2’ over some hastily cut together montages of rugby sevens before. That’s not to say I don’t absolutely love the keys, probably could have cranked them up a bit more if anything. Good tune, my only concern is that if I ever hear it in a dancefloor setting I’m gonna unthinkingly start doing air-piano and end up looking like a pure idiot.
The Spinoff’s music content is brought to you by our friends at Spark. Listen to all the music you love on Spotify Premium, it’s free on all Spark’s Pay Monthly Mobile plans. Sign up and start listening today.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.