In 2013, Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine hit stores and slow-burned into ubiquity. Its popularity was both justified and timely; Lorde’s witchy, smooth vocals arrived on the market right as luxe pop was starting to take off, when it still felt fresh and exciting (Lana del Rey’s Born to Die had come out in 2012 and Tove Lo’s sad-stoner-girl jam “Habits” would come in 2014). Her lyrics were a bombshell rejection of capitalistic excess—a sort of defiant resignation to outsider status in the seemingly unattainable worlds of superstardom and unfathomable wealth. Ironic, then, that the lyrics in her latest single, “Green Light,” the first from planned album Melodrama, sound an awful lot like those of a typical pop superstar.
The song starts out promisingly enough: Lorde’s signature slow, lush vocals lead us through a sultry verse and into a refrain that quickly picks up the tempo and raises the pitch to a vengeful, heartbroken staccato. Up to this point, the song feels well-executed, mostly due to Lorde’s gorgeous vocals and the anticipation-building, rather than jarring, pace change. However, it takes a dramatic dip in quality once the chorus starts. The lyrics become notably cliché (“But honey I’ll be seeing you wherever I go / But honey I’ll be seeing you down every road”), and then backup singers, over a dance-y, newly introduced piano, deliver the titular line: “I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it.”
I have never heard backup vocals this annoying on a pop track; it’s shocking to me that these grating screeches made it past a single level of post-production. Lorde may expertly pull off the vocal equivalent of a classy (but slinky) velvet evening gown, but you can picture these backup vocals as having been sonically shoved into a several-sizes-too-small, highlighter-yellow nylon skirt.
The song goes downhill from here. The backup vocals continue incessantly throughout the suddenly high-tempo track, and the handful of underwhelming lyrics we hear in the first verse fail to develop into anything interesting. In fact, Lorde somehow manages to make them even less compelling when she revises the original “those great whites, they have big teeth / hope they bite you” to the weaker “all those rumors, they have big teeth,” in the second refrain. Other than that, we only get two new lines in the rest of the song, which would be fine if the chorus and first verse said anything of substance. Instead, “Green Light”’s lyrics fall flat, leaving listeners confused about where the Lorde who challenges the music industry, instead of just singing for it, has gone.
“Green Light” does have a catchy melody and a danceable beat at times—there’s just not an awful lot to distinguish it from other contemporary pop (other than the backup vocals). That’s a shame, especially from Lorde. If the single is any indication of how Lorde’s Melodrama will play out, the album might have the same incredible vocals that helped earn the singer her star power, but will lose the lyrical sharpness that earned her her fans.