Lorde’s ‘Green Light’ Sated Juliana Hatfield’s Undying Sweet Tooth

‘Lorde is young enough to be my daughter and I am old enough to be her mother, but I want to learn what she knows.’

I am one of the eight or nine people on earth who never paid any attention to Lorde until now. I might’ve encountered little bits of “Royals” in passing while flipping through the radio dial, but the song never grabbed me, so I never stopped to listen to the whole thing; what I heard sounded kind of cold, empty, sparse. I loved what the song seemed to be saying, but I didn’t like the production. So her new single, “Green Light,” is my first proper introduction to Lorde and, regardless of how the current Lorde compares to the original Lorde, I am really pleased to finally meet her.

At first, her voice is earthy, low and a little dry around the edges — kind of animal but in total control. She teases the words out with a gorgeous, confident ease. She doesn’t oversell it. She doesn’t have to; it’s immediately clear that she knows as well as anyone how to do this smart catchy pop song thing to perfection, starting with a stark verse and gradually adding rhythm and tension and then hanging back again to let the chorus ride the wave the song has caught.

“I’m waiting for it…that green light…I want it”: it’s what everyone who is listening to the song is thinking. We’re all waiting for the chorus to break and crash like that wave, drenching us with pleasure — warm where “Royals” was cool (IMHO) — and universal truth.

I want to sink my teeth into the sound of that rich, strong, honest voice.

I always want music to be a tangible thing that I can wrap my actual arms around (I have hugged my boom box before), but it isn’t. I want what I can’t have. I want to sink my teeth into the sound of that rich, strong, honest voice. I want to drink and drink and gulp it down; that is the magic of a well-built and -performed and -recorded pop song. You get filled up, and sometimes you overflow with cleansing tears and cathartic shouting-along — if only temporarily — until the song is over, and then you play it again. It’s like a drug or a sugar rush. “Green Light” is ear candy.

I’m a sugar addict. Since childhood, I couldn’t get enough. My best friend (also an addict) and I would walk the half mile from school to Barney’s gas station and go inside where the cash register and the bins of penny candy were and we’d fill up each of our little brown paper bags with Mary Janes and root beer barrels and Bit-O-Honeys and Atomic Fireballs (we called them hotballs), etc., and we’d pay and then leave, excited, jonesing so hard, and we’d go find some place to sit down and gorge until we were sated and our brain chemistry was sufficiently altered, buzzing, feeling huge relief and a little guilt for enjoying something so much.

Lorde is young enough to be my daughter and I am old enough to be her mother, but I want to learn what she knows.

I’ve listened to “Green Light” a bunch of times and I still want more of it. I’m strung out on the melody, the chorus hook, the piano figures, the feelings all of it makes me feel.

Lorde is young enough to be my daughter and I am old enough to be her mother, but I want to learn what she knows. I want her to teach me how to sing, how to sing like what I am singing is important, how to believe that what I am saying matters, that my feelings matter. Because inside part of me is still the shy, insecure girl with the small voice who thinks she takes up too much space, filled with doubt about everything.

There is no doubt in Lorde’s voice. Lorde, with her big eyes spaced far apart like an alien creature with a higher intelligence, knows exactly what she is doing. A lot has been made of her musical precociousness and her general maturity and reserve and restraint. “Royals” was in fact too restrained for me. But going back and listening to it now, I can see that this is a person who came on the scene at sixteen fully formed as an artist. It’s kind of miraculous.

In “Green Light” she is stuck in between the past and the future. She has been knocked off track by heartbreak. There is an awareness and an acceptance that this state is temporary; she is ready but not sure how to move forward, but so certain that she will eventually move forward that this purgatorial zone seems totally OK, and even exciting, celebratory.

In the video for “Green Light,” Lorde’s body is moving — she makes it move — down the street, in front of the mirror, in and out of and on top of the car, bending, twisting, flailing away, forward, upward like a drunk sing-along chorus, her body loosening up in the way that she knows her busted, stalled engine of a heart soon will again.

How did Lorde get so smart? How does she, at twenty, know that “this too shall pass”? (That could be the song’s subtitle.) Aren’t twenty-year-olds supposed to believe that they are literally. dying. of heartbreak? Lorde’s not wallowing in her hurt and anger. She’s looking at it, assessing the damage, getting it on the record. These are the first steps. Her strong mind is willing her heart to heal. Trusting and believing in the natural, fateful order of things. Waiting for the green light.

Juliana Hatfield is a singer, songwriter and guitar player. She began her music career in the late 1980s in Boston with the Blake Babies. Since then she has released approximately fifteen solo albums and been involved with numerous other groups including the Lemonheads, Some Girls (with Freda Love Smith) and MInor Alps (with Matthew Caws from Nada Surf). Her latest project is a collaboration with Paul Westerberg called the I Don’t Cares. Their debut album, Wild Stab, came out in early 2016. Hatfield’s new album, Pussycat, will be released on April 28, 2017.

(Photo credit: Brad Walsh)