For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our podcast.
Sportsalcohol.com has had a complicated relationship to Lorde, to put it nicely. (“Why would a reviewer make the point of saying someone’s not a genius?”/”Well, I just don’t use that word lightly.”) But every pop singer out there, it seems, has a way of breaking through one of our steely exteriors. This year, while Miley managed to charm Jesse, Lorde’s “Green Light” earwormed its way into my cold, rockist heart.
Which is not to say the song is perfect. Far from it. “Green Light” gets the 2017 Whiplash Award for going from one of the year’s worst lyrics to one of the best. “She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar,” stops me cold every time, and in a bad way. There’s no nice way of putting it: It’s just dumb. It’s petty. It’s something a sixth-grader would say. And the line sticks out abrasively; the beginning of the verse rhymes, and it seems like “liar” should rhyme with something for consistency, and it…just doesn’t. I don’t want to be the AABB-poetry-police, but I would’ve cut Lorde some slack if she forced that line in there to rhyme with something, but actually there’s no stylistic reason for it to exist. The next time she does a verse, it’s just two lines, not four, and they (mostly) rhyme.
But if you can get past the beach grievances, you are rewarded. “Those great whites they have big teeth, and they’ll bite you,” is actually a very clever way of talking about the dangers of little white lies. It’s the best shark lyric since “When they say great white sharks, they mean the kind with big, black cars,” in the Hold Steady’s “Banging Camp.”
I know a song is not just the sum of its lyrics, but, in the beginning, you don’t have much else besides a quiet piano buffering those words. But after the sharks are released, the song builds to a can’t-help-but-dance moment where I finally see Lorde living up to her reputation. It can’t slow down for a chorus, just a refrain: “I’m waiting for it. That green light. I want it.” (Genius.com says specifically that’s not a Gatsby reference, but, whether Lorde knows it or not, it is.) It’s meant to be shouted. You can jump up and point your finger at the singer when you hear it. Or you can just groove to it in your own little world, like the (tragically too beautiful for this world) Twitter feed @armiedancingto once illustrated.
I listen to “Green Light” with my 2-year-old. The call-and-response chorus is repetitive enough that she can sing it, too. We both jump up and down like Armie Hammer. Then she falls onto a pillow we keep on the floor and sticks her legs up in the air, and I grab them and spin her around like a break dancer. There are very few songs that bring us both the same kind of joy. I guess creating something like that does take a certain kind of genius.