Listen Along!: Liability – Lorde
On December 4th, 2016, in my post about the Hamilton Mixtape, I wrote, “Calling someone ‘extra’ is no longer an insult.” While I’ve learned to embrace that thinking recently, the little voice telling me to hold back is still present. Anyone who has ever danced too wildly, said too much, or cared too earnestly knows how difficult it can be to shake that feeling. “Liability” by Lorde is the ballad for us.
Before “Liability,” I had never really understood the power of ballads. I’ve always thought “Someone Like You” is a little creepy. Adele, the dude’s moved on. Give it a rest. Stop showing up to married men’s homes “out of the blue, uninvited.” It’s weird. The “nobody wanna see us together” trope (credits to Akon) present in Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” doesn’t resonate with me. “My Heart Will Go On,” like most ballads, is just too gushy. Finally, I’ve always wanted to be in an “I Will Always Love You” scenario: I’m what you want, but not what you need – sounds delightfully dramatic, but unrealistic. Yes, ballads are beautiful, but I couldn’t connect to the meanings.
Then, Lorde sang, “He don’t wanna know me. Says he made the big mistake of dancing in my storm. Says it was poison,” and all the dots connected. I finally understood why “Someone Like You” and “Bleeding Love” stayed in the hearts and vocal chords of so many people for so long. Ballads connect to core fears and desires. For some, those fears involve loving someone who doesn’t love them back. Others desire a love of which nobody approves. I fear that people will pull back after realizing dancing in my storm was a mistake. By pegging herself as a liability, Lorde exemplifies this fear.
Lorde speaks of herself not only as a liability to others, but also as a liability to herself. While speaking of herself in 3rd person, she admits she’s “so hard to please,” and that meeting her demands is draining. As a perfectionist, Lorde is constantly criticizing her interactions with herself and others. However, she is more forgiving of herself than she feels others are. To them, she is a “toy that people enjoy ‘til all of the tricks don’t work anymore,” but to herself, she’s “a forest fire” (in a good way). She masterfully narrates the outgoing perfectionists’ struggle of staying interesting while not seeming ‘extra.’ To us, alone time is not relaxing. Instead, it is a strategizing session for bettering ourselves.
“Liability” would be a very good ballad coming from anyone, but it is especially intriguing coming from Lorde. Lorde, who debuted in 2013 with Pure Heroine, has never been one for obviously stating how she feels. In Pure Heroine, Lorde’s voice hides behind synths, drums, and dance beats. Almost every emotion is stated in the plural, as if her community is feeling along with her. And that is when there is any emotion at all. She makes it clear from the first line of the album that she is bored of people: “Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk.” With the exception of “400 Lux,” most of the album’s emotional lines either express boredom (“I’m kinda over getting told to throw my hands up in the air”) or apathy (“They’re studying business. I study the floor”). When she’s not annoyed, she’s with a few people she can bear (“I live in a hologram with you” and “We’re dancing in this world alone”). In “Liability,” Lorde breaks through the handicaps of apathy and dance beats to express true feelings. By replacing lines like, “We’re dancing in this world alone,” with “One girl, dancing alone, stroking her cheek,” she shows that she is alone and learning to deal with that.
The more introspective lyrics may be a result of Lorde maturing, or they just might be a new experiment. It’s hard to say. The new music style is no mystery, though. For her upcoming album, Melodrama, Lorde teamed up with pop genius, Jack Antonoff. Antonoff, of Bleachers and fun., has made a career out of collaborating with pop stars such as Sara Bareilles and Taylor Swift. His distinctive heavy drums and quick piano riffs are more evident in Lorde’s other new single, “Green Light,” but “Liability” is clearly more Antonoff than Lorde. Mix Antonoff’s knack for pop piano with Lorde’s painfully sincere voice, and a powerful ballad was bound to happen.
Before I finish, here’s a fun game. Listen to some of Antonoff’s most popular songs in a row (below). I find it fascinating how he manages to infuse his style into each song while maintaining the collaborator’s style as well. “Brave” is cute and uplifting, like Bareilles. “We Are Young” enhances all of Nate Ruess’ grandeur. “Green Light” includes the line, “Did it frighten you how we kissed when we danced on the light up floor?” which is sung in a way that only Lorde can muster. Start with Bleachers to hear Jack Antonoff is his most pure form:
- Bleachers – I Wanna Get Better
- Fun. – We Are Young
- Sara Bareilles – Brave
- Taylor Swift – Out of the Woods
- Lorde – Green Light
In “Liability,” Lorde expresses her true feelings and fears. In doing so, she increased my appreciation for all ballads. For that, she is my Sunday’s Best.
Frank Ocean (Chanel): Because on March 10th, the day after Lorde released “Liability,” Frank Ocean released this song, making this the most difficult choice for Sunday’s Best I’ve had to make yet. *This song is unavailable on Youtube, but can be found on Spotify
Kyle ft. Lil Yachty (iSpy): For being adorable.
The Avalanches (Because I’m Me): This one’s almost a year old, but I just found this group, and needed to mention them.