Lorde, who took pop music by storm with her debut album, is now proving herself as an arena headliner with a North American tour of her sophomore album “Melodrama.”
You know you’ve arrived when David Bowie tells you that your music feels “like listening to tomorrow.” But that’s life for Lorde, who, out of nowhere as a 16-year-old kid from New Zealand, took pop music by storm with a triple-platinum album hailed for challenging pop conventions. No pressure, right?
Fans can forgive her for taking four years to reemerge with a stellar sophomore record, “Melodrama,” which earned a Grammy nomination for album of the year. On the heels of another smash, the real-life Ella Yelich-O’Connor spent the rest of 2017 working the festival circuit, including a headlining slot at Bumbershoot. Now at 21, she’s off to prove herself as an arena headliner over a North American run that hit KeyArena with an intimate and exuberant show on Friday.
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As a welcomed curveball, Lorde — whose fan base stretches from screaming teens to salt-and-pepper indie buffs — tapped hip-hop dynamos Run the Jewels as her main supporting act. After Swedish synth-pop singer Tove Styrke performed while half the crowd was still in Lorde’s merch line, the arena filled as Run the Jewels pounded their way on stage. Equal parts party and political, the odd couple team of rap vets Killer Mike and El-P, whose endearing bromance and creative synergy has propelled them beyond the rap-nerd hero worship they garnered individually and into the mainstream consciousness, traded rapid-fire verses for a post-Ferguson America over screw-loose beats for 40 minutes. Run the Jewels likely walked away with a few new fans.
In a pop-star rarity, Lorde took the stage 20 minutes earlier than expected, lurking in the shadows behind her backup dancers during the slinking “Sober.” On stage, Lorde’s every bit as composed as she was rocking a protest dress at the Grammys after she wasn’t offered a solo performance — an invitation extended to each of her male counterparts up for album of the year. Only occasionally did she join the nimble troupe’s choreographed routines, instead dancing around the stage as carefree and relatable as a teenager in front of a bedroom mirror.
Still, Lorde’s set got off to a lukewarm start. Unlike many of her Top 40 peers, the power of her singular breathy voice lies more in her moody delivery and crafty lyricism than an overpowering vocal range. The nuance that marks her records was at times lost in early numbers, including “Tennis Court,” the second single off her 2013 debut, “Pure Heroine.”
But through sultry suburban nostalgia (“400 Lux”) and tension-building slow jams (“The Louvre”), the still-ascending star quickly found her footing. A spellbinding run of lonely ballads — including a crowd-silencing cover of Frank Ocean’s “Solo” — burned with the fury of a thousand fire emojis. An uncluttered spin through “Liability,” during which Lorde paused to geek out over an arena full of fans, was the highlight of the night. At least until a ferocious take on “Supercut” found her growling over a cathartic 4/4 beat minutes later.
From there, it was a sprint through her biggest hits, with the crowd matching Lorde word-for-word through her breakout, “Royals.” “Green Light” turned romantic frustrations into a cathartic confetti party, before “Team” served as a soothing coda to a three-song encore.
Since asserting her creative control at a young age — especially notable for a singer groomed for stardom since age 12 — and her poised response to the Grammy snub, Lorde has become a budding feminist voice in a male-dominated industry. (“A lot of people had ideas about how I should come back and what sort of things I should do,” she explained, introducing “Writer in the Dark.”) Her minimal wardrobe changes and stage production stand in defiance of pop-machine gimmickry, keeping the focus on her earnest, take-me-as-I-am songs that resonate with Snapchatting teens and the aging hipsteratti alike.
If Bowie was right, the future of pop music is looking brighter and brighter.