Four years since Melodrama, Lorde released her long-awaited third studio album last Friday called Solar Power. Compared to the sonic heaviness of her past work, the songs off Solar Power feel floaty and scaled-back. It’s an interesting turn for the 24-year-old’s career but has been met with a mixed reception.
In Pitchfork’s review, critic Anna Gaca claims that Lorde’s new album “tries to be bigger and smaller at the same time, spanning scenes of domestic bliss and apocalyptic flight without the conceptual architecture to unite them.
“It is the first Lorde album that doesn’t try to tug on your sleeve, or stare directly into your eyes. It feels like doing less.”
Stereogum’s James Rettig added: “Solar Power isn’t necessarily a bad hang if you approach it as background music… But for an artist that usually sounds so immediate and vital, it’s hard not to feel like this is a letdown”
The AV Club goes as far as saying that the album’s producer Jack Antonoff, who’s helped produce Taylor Swift’s 1989 and Folklore, Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! and Lorde’s Melodrama, “should be dethroned as the pop producer of choice.”
Elsewhere on Twitter, fans are debating whether Solar Power is even a good album.
solar power was bad pic.twitter.com/QjdjOzx9wA
— berkåk (@AINTBERKE) August 20, 2021
lorde gave me supercut and green light idc if solar power is bad i will never turn my back on her
— nandi (@inejvrse) August 19, 2021
solar power isn't a bad album, it's just disappointing i'm sorry pic.twitter.com/yKBil1MeuF
— dave (@highsahope) August 19, 2021
solar power is getting bad reviews bc dumbasses are comparing it to melodrama when both are completely different projects pic.twitter.com/SSD6iEOvzu
— solar power ! (@melodramhs) August 19, 2021
Solar power ain’t even that bad you guys are just miserable
— T e ø (@parad1esin) August 20, 2021
why is everyone on the tl saying solar power is bad i think it's a perfectly good way to generate energy v environment friendly also
— prth (@paaarth319) August 20, 2021
public reaction is always bad whenever artists make a more chill or upbeat album (solar power) that diverts from their brand especially after being open about mental health. like when the weeknd made starboy and everyone was like “i wish he was off the meds again and depressed”
— don hiram corleone (@riverindale) August 20, 2021
But, here’s the thing: the upbeat energy of Lorde’s new album makes sense when you remember that she’s been living in a country mostly unaffected by COVID-19. The world’s response makes sense when you look at things through this lens, too.
After she finished her Melodrama world tour, Lorde moved back home to Auckland and logged TF off. She gave up social media and traveled to Antarctica to learn more about our impending climate crisis. When COVID-19 first hit the world, Lorde was back in New Zealand, where she’s been for the majority of this pandemic.
So, while Solar Power is a product of someone who has released themselves from the shackles of social media and come to be immersed in nature, it also shows the privilege of living in a country not widely affected by the pandemic.
Lorde’s new album is the first new piece of music released in the last year by an artist who didn’t have to live through the COVID-19 pandemic. Sure, like the rest of the world, New Zealanders have been unable to travel. And sure, New Zealand has had its small share of outbreaks and lockdowns—including one right now.
By in large, however, they’ve survived the last 18 months free from the pandemic’s grasp.
Last year, BENEE dropped her debut EP, Hey u x. It’s an album she partly worked on while in Los Angeles in 2019 and then finished during the brief lockdowns in New Zealand in 2020. In it, she sings about loneliness, depression, and wishes she could go outside and live like a snail—check that song out, it slaps.
When I spoke with her late last year about the album and what she’d been up to since writing it, she admitted that life had been great in New Zealand. The music scene was thriving and she was performing in sold-out non-socially-isolated shows. When it comes to the global impact of this health crisis and the mental fatigue and grief it has given us, New Zealand has, fortunately, experienced very little of what the rest of the world has.
And, to be completely honest, it’s why I think we’re all reacting to Lorde’s new album so critically. We’re all jealous of Lorde and can’t relate to the last 18 months she’d had. It’s hard to fall in love with the sunny, poppy bliss that Lorde clearly intends for us to join in on when we can’t relate to the carefree freedom that is in the background of this album.
I’m not here to comment on whether Solar Power is good or not, but know that any criticisms of it are merely magnified by our unconscious bias against her for living in one of the few countries not affected by the pandemic, while the rest of us are coming from a jaded, locked down and mentally exhausted place.