Madi McDonald, who is 19, has been a fan of Lorde’s music since she was 10, but before Saturday night she’d never seen the New Zealand “pop iconoclast” live. McDonald and her girlfriend drove all the way from Montana to Seattle’s WaMu Theater to catch her show.
McDonald was especially hoping Lorde would play a song that is not considered one of her hits: “Writer in the Dark,” a track from her 2017 album “Melodrama,” which has been the center of an online controversy in the last few weeks.
At 25, Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor — better known as Lorde — has already been in the music business for almost a decade, having released her first EP on Soundcloud in 2012. (“Couldn’t wait to turn 15,” she sang Saturday night during “Secrets from a Girl.” “Then you blink and it’s been 10 years.”)
If you haven’t paid too much attention to pop in the years since, you probably remember Lorde by her single “Royals,” which was one of the top-selling singles of all time and an anthem for the Gen Z/millennial cusp. That’s certainly how McDonald’s girlfriend Larissa Kettelhut thought of her when the two started dating in December and Kettelhut found out McDonald was a big fan. She made fun of McDonald for listening to Lorde all the time.
“We’re not listening to Lorde right now — we’re going to Walmart,” Kettelhut recalled saying, sitting outside WaMu Theater before the show. “And look at me now.”
Kettelhut fell in love with Lorde’s sophomore album, 2017’s “Melodrama,” which was beloved by critics and fans and has become part of the Sad Girl canon — female artists, especially of the last decade, whose music celebrates angst and the aesthetic that goes with it. When McDonald’s birthday drew near, Kettelhut drained her tax return to surprise her with tickets, and the two made the 9-hour drive.
That’s more than enough time to listen to Lorde’s discography. Her third album, “Solar Power,” released at the end of last summer, traded some of the angst for what one person on Twitter called Lorde’s “happy hippie era”: Beaches, California, getting stoned at a nail salon.
“I was shocked,” McDonald said. “After Melodrama, it was a big change.”
The general effect was more carefree, as if a wintry Lorde who stays in and cancels plans was replaced by a summer Lorde, whose butt blocks out the sun on the album cover as if she’s stepping over you and beckoning you to come run into the waves (the cover, when it was released, showed enough of her rear end that Stephen Colbert couldn’t hold the album up to show the audience when Lorde appeared on “The Late Show”).
This more carefree Lorde was thrown into contrast with her old self when, a few weeks ago, video compilations of Lorde shushing fans during her “Melodrama” tour went viral. In these videos from 2017 and 2018 — many of which show her singing a cappella, particularly “Writer in the Dark,” a bitter post-breakup piano ballad — she shushes the audience, sometimes raises a finger to her lips, sometimes signals the audience to stop, sometimes mimes pushing down with her fingers outspread.
The Internet reacted with a barrage of takes and jokes — so many that Lorde addressed the shushing herself on Instagram and at her Chicago show on April 23. She pointed out that yes, it’s a dramatic move, but she was 19, and touring for an album called “Melodrama.” (“They say, ‘you’re a little much for me,’” she sang on Saturday during her song “Liability.”)
“It’s a song about gaslighting … It’s very justified she would want a moment because no one’s hearing her,” McDonald said. “It’s not my place to tell her what to do during her concert, that I paid for to hear her sing.”
Kettelhut and McDonald are also 19. Lorde has sung many of her fans through teenage angst, heartbreak and now the exploration, celebration and possibility of being 20-something. But at her show on Saturday in Seattle, Lorde was nostalgic about the past.
“I watched you grow up and you watched me grow up,” she said. “My first show at the Showbox — it was so sweaty and crazy.”
Lorde also interspersed her new material with heavy amounts of “Melodrama” and “Pure Heroine,” and as if referencing the many iterations of Lorde the public has seen, she changed into four different outfits throughout the night. (“‘Cause all the music you loved at 16, you’ll grow out of,” she sang during “Stoned at the Nail Salon.”) Most fit with the ‘60s and ‘70s beachy and just slightly culty aesthetic of the show: an orange fuzzy sport coat with nothing but a shimmery bra under, a bright yellow bodycon dress, a blood-red jumpsuit with tasseled long legs. The stage was minimally furnished with a large drum on its side holding a stairway to heaven, the two together creating a sundial.
Lorde did not talk about the drama again, and she didn’t shush anyone. In fact, during her encore, when she came out in a final change to a sheer Harlequin bodysuit, she said, “Seattle, I’m going to need you to sing us out. You know our shared history together,” before singing the final verse of her final song, “Team.”
“I’m kind of older than I was when I reveled without a care,” the stadium sang with her. “So there.”
Lorde didn’t sing “Writer in the Dark,” but Kettelhut and McDonald didn’t mind. She gave them enough solar power for the drive home — which they did all Saturday night after the concert, since they didn’t have enough money for a Seattle hotel room.
“It was amazing,” McDonald said. “We were dancing around like little dorks, but we looked around to our left and to our right and people were dancing like little dorks. The person on stage was dancing like a little dork. It was amazing to be in that environment, where the norm was to completely feel it.”