When most music fans first met Lorde, she was a spunky teenager that skirted the line between the rock and pop worlds. She seemed completely unafraid to be many things at once, almost like a human representation of the musical tastes of her generation. But even as mature as her first big hit “Royals” sounded in 2013, enough so that it could be comfortably covered by Bruce Springsteen, part of Lorde’s appeal was that she was this young, fresh voice — a magnificent seedling that many were positive would grow into even more vibrant verdure. But exactly what form that would take was anyone’s guess.
But that’s the thing that Lorde is putting on display on her current Melodrama tour, which stopped by Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday night — that she doesn’t have to settle into a single lane. She can be a towering redwood in one moment and she can be a vibrant orchid the next. Her on-stage presence is to exude confidence, dancing like she was alone in her bedroom and challenging her audience to do the same. But in the next breath, Lorde can sit on her stage and bare a little bit of her soul for thousands of people, giving off the intimate impression that you’re old friends catching up. Lorde wants to be both of these things and sees no reason why they can’t exist in the same space, and the connective tissue between them is the life that can be drawn from being in her presence. All you have to do is breathe it in.
When Lorde launched her long-awaited arena run on March 1, many were talking about empty seats rather than the inspired performance. But if tours are going to be judged on how well they sell in Milwaukee or other smaller markets, then that would be a hard metric for many to succeed. In LA, at least, filling seats didn’t appear to be a problem.
And where the reasons for any potential ticket sale struggles aren’t difficult to hypothesize — a healthy festival schedule in 2017, nearly a year between the album release and the tour, the lack of legit hits on the record — that storyline felt like a footnote at the actual show. In fact, the Los Angeles love for Lorde was so ardent, even arriving before 8 PM, when opener Run The Jewels were scheduled to begin, found the outside of Staples Center calm and quiet. It wasn’t that fans didn’t turn out, it was that most arrived early and had already filled the arena for the opener’s set, going against the arrive-late and leave-early philosophy typically held by Angelenos.
Who were these that treated the Lorde concert with such reverence? Scanning the crowd, it appeared that anyone could be a Lorde fan. There were groups of women dressed for a big night out, couples prepared to scream along together, casual hipsters that came by themselves, and, the best, parents with their young children in tow, so enthusiastic it was hard to tell if the kids brought their parents or the other way around. The choice of opening act played into that, with Run The Jewels serving as the kind of entertainment that could appeal to everyone, so confident that their distinctive hip-hop could stand out even if you weren’t the least bit familiar. They got enough Lorde fans to provide the responses to their calls, with Killer Mike wise to pay tribute to Women’s History Month and discuss suicide prevention. Lorde’s also bringing along Mitski for some dates on this tour and previously saw Majical Cloudz open her last major tour, demonstrating a certain level of faith that she has in her audience. And the crowd held up their share of the bargain.
But even though Lorde’s music appeals to a wide audience, something was established during her 90-minute set that doesn’t come across as much on listening to Melodrama. Where her grown-up fans can love Lorde for her wise-beyond-her-years lyrics, for her ear for a melody, and for her ambition to push pop music into brave new territories, it’s hard to top what Lorde means to her younger fans. Teens and even those younger watched the New Zealander perform with wide-eyes, hardly blinking so as not to miss a second of the action. One young woman near me recorded literally the entire set on her phone, never one panning to catch some of the evening’s atmosphere. She was there for Lorde and Lorde alone, and wanted every moment of the show in her lasting possession.
Elsewhere moms hugged daughters while dancing their hearts out, fathers took selfies with the kids as they sang along to “Royals,” and by the end of the show, every young person that I could see was jumping with their arms in the air, each little representations of the star that performed on stage. This wasn’t just about fans simply watching a musician. This was about someone taking their role as an artist and entertainer so seriously, that they became an inspiration.
When Lorde would address the audience, it felt like she had this in mind. While performing in the same arena that holds a banner commemorating Taylor Swift’s record-breaking run of sold-out shows, Lorde presented a more realistic version of an outsider. When she referred to herself as a “weird girl,” it’s as a form of empowerment, owning her own eccentricities while embracing whatever it is that makes a person an individual. There’s long been that expression applied to The Velvet Underground or The Ramones or Joy Division, where they say that everyone that was in the room at one of their early shows went out and started a band. Well, not everyone that was at Lorde’s concert at Staples Center is going to go home and start making a record. But they might go home and live a life more confidently, more creatively, and without fear. And that’s probably a bigger deal.
One of my favorite Lorde lines is on “Ribs,” when she flips an earlier statement, “It drives you crazy, getting old,” into a brutally direct observation: “It feels so scary, getting old.” It is a line written by a teenager, and now sung by a young adult, with Lorde’s wisdom able to be both relatable as an artifact, and proof that there is light at the end of the tunnel. A day later, those words are still on my mind. Being young is indeed scary, and not just for reasons like heartbreak and teen angst. Kids are seeing their schools turn into places of violence and have to fear explosions at their pop shows. It’s not hard to understand that Lorde and the generation that’s following her deserves better than it is getting, and still they’re the ones surpassing our expectations on a daily basis. On the same day that countless teens left their classes to protest gun violence around the country, thousands in Los Angeles showed up to the concert to announce “We’re on each other’s team” and to ask “What the fuck are perfect places?” It felt like the grace and insight of Lorde had spread like ivy to every corner of the arena. More than ever, the music and spirit of Lorde felt vital.