How I feel about Lorde’s “Green Light”

(Note: This post falls into the “Late to the Party” category, since I formed my opinion a week ago but only now was able to edit through my notes. As of this writing, I have yet to listen to Lorde’s new single, “Liability,” which released Thursday. For the sake of reviewing this song independently, I’ll be waiting until after this is published.)

The TL:DR is, Green Light made me feel disappointed.

But it’s complicated.

Retrospective

I remember the first time I heard “Royals,” in my sophomore year of college, through my roommate’s YouTube feed. The video (both New Zealand and US versions) was remarkably low-concept. Though impressive, it felt like something she could have shot with her friends in her bedroom. I think my exact reaction was something close to: “This is the most incredible songwriter of the next generation.”

Though she was already attached with producers at that point and getting attention through the radio, for a long time I thought she was a Youtube sensation along the lines of Justin Bieber. And that was a lot of the appeal of Lorde. She posted ramblings on Tumblr. She hung out with a non-celebrity boyfriend. Her full album, Pure Heroine, was filled with suburban humility and biting commentary on the upper classes.

Her first album absolutely became my go-to for studying, driving, chilling out, Et. Al. It was my happy place. It was bouncy and stylistically crisp, with pleasing vocals. I most loved Lorde’s lyricism, though, which has a unique, grammatical playfulness that has always appealed to me in poets. Even in her stage name, “Lorde,” was hand-designed by her in order to evoke power, yet include a feminine touch at the end.

I don’t know anyone who was prepared for her performance of Royals at the 2014 Grammys, which featured a flickering gothic archangel, black makeup, and feral dance moves that seem to have been inspired by a clawing demonic possession. No one dances the way Lorde does, and no one ever will again. Over the years, I’ve struggled with this image—which makes me so uncomfortable—coming from someone whose music is so inspiring to me. I eventually decided that Lorde’s dancing (which has since become signature in all her video appearances) represents the kind of unbridled emotion only present in artists who dance without care for being judged.

For better or worse, it didn’t stop me from desperately wanting more music. When she was picked to curate the Hunger Games Mockingjay soundtrack, I cheered. Lorde proved to be the perfect match for bringing Katniss’s voice to life. In my opinion, the album’s feature single, “Yellow Flicker Beat” is still her best work to date (with the sole exception of her South Park cameo “I am Lorde, Ya Ya Ya,” which parodied her upper lip hair).

Which Brings us to Today

Green light seems so different from the Lorde of years past that the first several times I listened, I didn’t know what to do with it. Lorde herself admits it’s different, and wants her audience to accept it as part of her evolving public image. I think this leads audiences into a great quandary, because the fact is, despite how an artist’s livelihood is tied to their fans, artists can and do change without those fans’ approval.

Most artists with an extended career will eventually produce albums that resonate differently with different people. For example, I am deeply impacted by Coldplay’s sound and lyrical themes pre- “Viva la Vida,” and I think their new music is boring. However, I know people who would argue that technically, the band is currently doing their most daring work (or by some reports, is “done” making music after having hit the ceiling).

In Green Light and in all the promo material for her upcoming record, Lorde presents a decidedly more mature image. She is still intimate, but no longer a bedroom pop prodigy. She’s growing up. And it’s not like we weren’t expecting it to happen. In her announcement for the album, Lorde said she wanted to chronicle the last three and a half years of her life. Her new album appears to be primarily about this journey into adulthood. The night before she turned 20, she wrote:

“All my life I’ve been obsessed with adolescence, drunk on it…Since 13 I’ve spent my life building this giant teenage museum, mausoleum maybe, dutifully wolfishly writing every moment down, and repeating it all back like folklore. And now there isn’t any more of it…Writing Pure Heroine was my way of enshrining our teenage glory, putting it up in lights forever so that part of me never dies, and this record – well, this one is about what comes next. ”

In-Depth Analysis

So Lorde is definitely changing. But the question is: is it progress?

She said she wanted to write music she could dance to—and I guess this delivers. It’s not her catchiest tune. But as soon as I made that conclusion, it got stuck in my head for the next two days. The tag “Hope they bite you” in particular feels like it’s been a part of Lorde’s music for years.

It still feels like a Lorde song in many ways. She is still writing about disillusionment, with her inability to “get my things and just let go.” She mentions how the “Great Whites they have big teeth” —Teeth are a major theme in her earlier work. Structurally, it’s as creative as her old work. But it takes risks in different ways, and in the end, I just don’t like it as much.

My biggest problem with the song is common to other pop anthems, where the chorus sounds like it should have just been a pre-chorus. There is a huge ramp up of emotion at “I hear the sounds in my mind,” and especially when Lorde and the backups shout, “I’M WAITING FOR IT, THAT GREEN LIGHT, I WANT IT” like the pit crew of Speed Racer. But technically, the repeated part is only two lines, and it falls flat. Even if you include the pre chorus as “…I hear the sounds,” it’s just not long or distinctive enough to feel like a chorus. You can dance to it, but it makes it harder to sing.

One thing that stands out from a little research is Lorde’s dedication to the labor of songcrafting. I have to admit I don’t have any complaints on the lyric front. It’s the subtle things that make the song: “I do my makeup in somebody else’s car” followed by the added -s at the end of “We order different drinks at the same bars.” The way she almost says “Honey” without an H for the sake of the aesthetic. Or her use of “ever” in place of “wherever” on the line, “I’ll be seeing you ever I go.”

Probably the most suggestive part of the song is “Sometimes I wake up in a different bedroom,” and I don’t have words to describe how good a line that is. Confessional, sultry, yet just vague enough to totally work.

This is a song that can be interpreted ambiguously. Apparently, it’s about a breakup. But it also paints a pretty good picture of compulsive debauchery and self-medicating through adrenaline. I don’t want to judge Lorde’s moral character, except that she clearly judges herself throughout the song. There is so much packed into the lyrics that by the end, there is little question about the kind of emotion she’s describing, regardless of the specifics you imagine.

It’s a song about recklessness, or at least restlessness. It is filled with reverb and various sounds fading in and out like a passing car in a city. For all the fun and dancing, it leaves you with a sense of emptiness. It starts abruptly, and is over too fast. That could be the point, if the song is intended to imitate a wild night. But because I’m not by any means a music critic, all I have to draw from is how the song made me feel—which is just that. I wanted more.

This is what happens when you fall in love with music, but not with the artist. I know it’s nearly impossible to follow up a great debut. But though Lorde paints herself as having grown up, it’s hard not to feel like she’s lost something.

I’m not giving up hope, though. Lorde says that the upcoming record, Melodrama, has the best lyrics she’s ever written, and she is prouder of it than anything else she’s ever done. I know that feeling. From all accounts, she absolutely poured herself into this upcoming record. Regardless of my own expectations for how it should be done, there is something confidence-inducing about a project when it is clear that the artist was intentional about the choices they made. Their dedication allows you to accept and respect it, because it’s important and true to them. At least Lorde’s confidence makes me want to trust her enough to see where this goes.

10 Cloverfield Lane Review

April 18, 2016, Originally Published in Covenant College’s Newspaper- “The Bagpipe”

 

This article contains no major plot spoilers.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie that many would claim shouldn’t be talked about, out of fear of giving something away and ruining the experience. The disadvantage of that philosophy, though, is that it prevents those considering going to see it from knowing whether they’ll actually like it.

The premise is simple, but intense. We follow Michelle, who gets into a car accident at the beginning of the film. When she wakes up, she is in an underground bunker with two men who tell her the world has ended, and if she leaves, she will be infected by a terrible disease. They have no outside contact. She hears the occasional rumbling of something unknown from the surface. However, she has no way of knowing what, if anything, they are telling her is true.

The film is concerned with themes of abduction and abuse, so it may not be enjoyable for all audiences. But the acting and writing are both pretty good. I can say the film is very different from 2008’s Cloverfield and is in a completely different genre, but fans of the first should enjoy this one as well.

John Goodman has a good, meaty part against type as the mysterious and gruff leader, Howard, and he plays the character with real nuance and subtlety. Throughout the film, Goodman is fascinating and dominates attention, transforming as the story progresses and even working in a bit of his comedy at one point as well. The less familiar leads, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr., are also incredibly interesting to watch. Here’s hoping they get more work in the future.

The film shares many style elements of others that Bad Robot (J.J. Abrams’ company) has made in the past. Out in front is Abrams’ “mystery box,” which refers to a large, mysterious plot element designed to lure in audiences—in this case, the question of what is on the surface. The trailers for this film are obscure, like they were for the original 2008 Cloverfield, and recently, the new Star Wars. As a marketing strategy, it’s brilliant. Most of the film takes place inside the house, and everybody wants to know, “what’s in the box?”

The film feels dangerous, although it didn’t surprise me as much as it could have, to the film’s detriment. With such a killer setup, the movie really shines when you don’t know what’s going on and how everything fits together. At the risk of sounding like a genre snob, I’ll say that fans of other suspense movies may be able to predict the major framework of the plot. But it’s well-crafted. Like I said, it’s a good genre thriller; it’s just nothing game-changing.

Many will enjoy it, but as the plot twisted, I found myself expecting other twists that ended up being unfulfilled, and additionally, the stretches of the movie that came between plot points sometimes lagged for me.

Perhaps this was intentional. Even after all is revealed, this film seems to be more interested in the potential of our human minds for paranoia and our ability to imagine destruction, than actual monsters themselves. This is a refreshing and thought-provoking move. By the end, one feels they have witnessed a significant emotional journey, and I found myself trying to link the major conflicts Michelle faces, including the movie’s shifting power relations, the characters’ backstories, and the total entrapment of the house itself.

The house definitely works as a clear metaphor for the entrapment of a controlling relationship. However, there’s some ambiguity, or maybe even muddling, in what meaningful things the film actually has to say about this topic. To be safe, I’ll leave that to a second viewing and your own interpretation.

Perhaps the film can best be summarized with one of its own images, in which the characters look at a large jigsaw puzzle and one remarks that there are pieces missing.

3.5/5 Stars.

A Few Words on Batman vs. Superman

April 1, 2016, Originally Published in Covenant College’s Newspaper- “The Bagpipe”

It was a surreal experience watching Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and even after leaving the theatre I must say there’s nothing else like it. On the one hand, I have always wanted to see Batman—my favorite superhero, beat up Superman—who I distinctly remember haunting my childhood nightmares, on the big screen.

Yet the film is an enormous contradiction, and what’s more—it seems to know this and gloat in it at every turn.

Step 1: Cast Ben Affleck—much maligned for his performance in Daredevil, to replace Christian Bale—universally praised for his childhood-defining turn as the Dark Knight, in a film to chronicle Batman’s return from retirement.

Step 2: Enter Jesse Eisenberg—cast against type and with a full head of hair as a high-pitched, sniveling and wisecracking Lex Luthor. He sounds like the Joker.

Step 3: Miraculously turn what by all accounts should be a low-brain, blockbuster action romp into a deeply nuanced and well-thought out philosophical treaty on the nature of heroism and godhood.

You can observe many of these steps from the previews, which ran simultaneously with the much-better marketed and prematurely leaked Suicide Squad trailer. But then the early reviews started pouring in. Affleck put on more than 24 pounds of muscle for the role and was so successful with test audiences that the studio not only sent the film back for more Batman footage, but granted him a three-picture deal with Writer/Director/Actor credit. What?

And the critics panned it. So I went in with no expectations. I mean, after all this, what kind of tone was I supposed to have prepared for?

Now, having seen the movie, there are a few things I can say confidently, without need for spoilers, from a fan’s perspective. As promised, much of Batman’s characterization in this film is based closely on the 1986 comic, “The Dark Knight Returns,”  by Frank Miller, and though I don’t care for that particular take on Batman in Miller’s story, I’ll concede that Affleck embodies that version of the character. He more than meets the challenges of the role and defies expectations. If you like the source material, you won’t be disappointed, and casual fans will find that Next Gen Batman is fresh and exciting to watch. Even though he perplexingly uses a semi-automatic gun now.

The acting from the others is good as well, even Eisenberg’s Luthor. While it may be tempting to judge this film going in, an open-minded audience should be pleasantly surprised with the story’s twists and compelling story.

Watching this movie feels like reading a great comic book. It is epic, fun, and even thought-provoking. Though sometimes the ideas did get a little too heavy to keep up with, I left the theatre impressed with the range and subtle delicacy of the many questions the film provokes about the role of religion in society.

Not only does it pave the way for everyone to pass more Batman and Justice League posters for the next ten years, this messy masterpiece of popular culture managed to both entertain and enlighten.

Interstellar Review

November 14, 2014, Originally Published in Covenant College’s Newspaper- “The Bagpipe”

Here’s the bottom line about Interstellar: It is grand science fiction, conceptually brilliant and entertaining. However, because of its flaws, especially in the ending, it lacks the cohesiveness necessary to make it a classic for a wider audience outside its genre.

The first trailer for Interstellar came out a year ago, and built huge expectations for a smart, meaningful space drama with epic spaceship launches and a voiceover about the expansion and scientific triumphs of mankind. A slew of physics research inspired the film, which promised an old fashioned “family” adventure across wormholes, black holes, and time itself.

The good news is that this movie delivers on all of those promises. Every moment of the liftoff, dimensional travel sequences, and exploration of the vast unknown of space is a joy to watch. Never before have planets been rendered so beautiful, and the intricacies of the cosmos have never felt so tangible as in the hands of Christopher Nolan. Everything feels big. The drama is rife with intensity. It was even shot on 70mm film.

This is a high concept piece. The science is rigidly documented, theoretical and fun, while uncertainty abounds. Nolan draws on the model of classic science fiction movies such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 2001: A Space Odyssey to take the audience on an adventure, without ever letting them know where they are going. It is the thrill of discovery that fuels Interstellar, rather than the destination itself. This kind of sci-fi movie has been sorely lacking in recent years.

Interstellar also proves that it can tackle big, thematic ideas maturely. Amidst the desperate race to colonize space before Earth dies are motifs of destiny, humanity, and willpower, as well as more narrow topics, such as family loyalty, the fears of abandonment or wasting your life, and, of course, love.

These themes are carried well largely due to the movie’s praiseworthy acting. Matthew McConaughey is a convincing and exciting lead in every scene throughout the movie–even the hokie bits, and Jessica Chastain, though not billed highest, has a presence that practically steals the second half of the show. Those two keep the movie emotionally relevant. Also notable is a brief but impressive appearance from Matt Damon, which keeps things lively.

On a conceptual level, the movie works. However, there is also a list of things that weren’t great about it.

Unfortunately, Nolan likes words, even when too many of them make for clunky writing. The movie’s beginning, though imaginative, is terribly slow and heavy on exposition. Thematic material tends to be delivered in sequences of memorable lines, rather than character action, and a consequence of this is that some of the movie’s great themes do not converge in a satisfying way. Interstellar can also be too smart for its own good, bordering on pretentious and leaving the audience behind in a wake of scientific technobabble. Perhaps most problematic is the movie’s ending, which is rather misguided all around.  Finally, I should mention that the entire movie is overlaid with an obnoxious Inception-esque blaring sound.

Ultimately though, none of these issues are insufferable. They are confined problems in a script with many awesome, wonderful merits.

As stated earlier, sci-fi is often about the journey, not the destination.

So to conclude, though it’s not his best film, if you like Christopher Nolan, you should see Interstellar. If you like sci-fi, you should definitely see Interstellar, because the movie is excellent. Though maybe not for everyone, Interstellar is a rare treasure of a movie, and a refreshing reminder of why we enjoy classical science fiction. Three and a half out of four stars.