Review: In a Big Room, Lorde Protects the Small Moments

Review: In a Big Room, Lorde Protects the Small Moments

Success has a way of polishing out rough edges, of dulling eccentricities. It is hard work, and it requires a commitment to, and belief in, consistency. On an arena tour, it demands a certain sameness — the version delivered each night should be uniform, whether in Helsinki or Omaha.

Lorde does this of course. The show she brought to the Barclays Center on Wednesday night was structurally not much different from those on the rest of her “Melodrama” world tour.

But it’s the ways Lorde veers from script that are the most intriguing — not wholesale disruptions so much as little ripples that draw attention to the planned-out pageantry without diminishing its value. She performs with a heavy sprinkling of wonder that’s ordinarily ground down by the time someone is popular enough to play a room of this size. She calls attention to the light absurdity of success of this scale while also inhabiting it confidently.

Whether Lorde is, in fact, a reliable pop star is a different matter. “Melodrama,” her second album, which came out last June, was excellent, a brooding collection of songs about dying relationships, simmering resentments and insistent recriminations. The writing was mature and aching, and the arrangements poignantly stark or ecstatic.


“You have to be the vivid dreamer,” Lorde told the crowd, introducing “Writer in the Dark.”

Chad Batka for The New York Times

And yet given her prior success — her 2013 debut album, “Pure Heroine,” went triple platinum, and “Royals” is one of the defining singles of the 2010s — it was received quietly. “Melodrama” has not even been certified gold, and has spawned only one song that cracked the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100.

Which is, perhaps, how it should be: Lorde is a mainstream avant-gardist, more Kate Bush than Katy Perry. She paints largely with shades of gray, blue and purple — she is in no way Technicolor. In truth, the songs on “Melodrama” might have spread further, or been embraced more widely, had a less complicated singer released them. But in pop, there is less correlation than ever before between size of audience and universality of approach. So if this concert felt like a magnified take on a black-box theater performance, that would explain why.

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