At Sunday evening’s MTV Video Music Awards Lorde, suffering from a bout with the flu, drew some ire for performing an interpretive dance, rather than sing. Two nights later, her dance moves returned (as did her voice) during a secret show in the garden of the Houdini Estate in the Hollywood Hills. There, she radiated an evanescent coolness that cast her as a goddess nurturing her following.
Accompanied by a live string section including two violins, a viola, and a cello, Lorde kicked off the iHeartRadio Secret Session, presented by AT&T, with a rendition of “Homemade Dynamite” off her June release “Melodrama.” Dressed in flowy, white satin cinched at the waist and wrists, she let the backing track handle the chorus while singing the verses. She later mentioned that she was “reclaiming her voice” as she was getting over a flu, “the sickest [she’d] ever been.” Snapping her fingers to “Hard Feelings,” a beatific smile lit up her face, as though she knew something the audience didn’t.
What is abundantly clear with Lorde — perhaps more than with other pop artists — is that each song she produces has a distinct experience behind it, and holds a specific personal value. Her writing is an act of therapy and catharsis, which gives it a corresponding strength for her fans. She proved this Tuesday by breaking down the story behind one of the most vulnerable songs on “Melodrama,” “Liability.” She described going on an “angry walk” one day in New Zealand for almost five or six miles and having to call an Uber to get home.
“I started crying … and I was crying because I was feeling this very specific feeling of being too much for somebody,” she explained. “It felt like no one could ever love me for all that I am because I’m a lot; I feel everything so deeply. Ever since I wrote the song, I’ve felt such a suit of armor — there’s a force field between me and that feeling. It’s like writing that song helped me celebrate being too much.”
She described listening to the song “Higher” by Rihanna while in the Uber, and sang a few bars of the track to the opening piano chords of “Liability,” much to the crowd’s delight. She told the audience, “If you listen to my music, there’s probably moments where you feel like you’re a little much. Maybe you’re an intense person. Maybe you walk into a room and you bring a lot with you swirling around. But I want you to know you are not too much. You are perfect.”
Lorde included callbacks to her first record, “Pure Heroine,” with “Buzzcut Season” — its youthful outrage resonated with the audience — and “Ribs.” The opening strains of “Sober II (Melodrama)” elicited excited whispers from fans: “It’s Sober II!” Lorde punched the air in time with the beats, emphasizing the frustration of the track.
The cathartic nature of Lorde’s songs manifests in the supposed “awkwardness” of her live act. Hitting high notes looked difficult, almost as though they were being ripped from her body, and she convulsed often as she sang. Lorde’s live act doesn’t embody effortlessness, but neither do the subjects of her songs. On the stripped down tracks, like “Liability,” during which she sat in a hastily provided chair, and “Writer In the Dark” she shined. Partway through “Writer In the Dark,” she stopped using the mic and allowed the audience — who knew every word to all the “Melodrama” songs — to take the lead.
Besides the occasional whoop, her adorers remained relatively motionless and quiet through the session, lost in rapt attention. But on the two closers (the upbeat “Perfect Places” and “Green Light”) they danced with her, the palms surrounding the stage awash in a green glow. White confetti burst into the air, ending her fans’ pilgrimage with a party.