When Lorde first took off four years ago, she was a total outsider: a precocious 16-year-old from New Zealand peddling brooding, minimalist electro-pop that stood out from the arms race of extravagant pop smashes populating radio at the time. And it was more than just her sound that made her rapid rise feel like a coup — the lyrics of her breakout hit “Royals” critiqued the shallow celebrations and signifiers of many Top 40 hits, simultaneously taking over the format while pushing it to go deeper. It’s for all those reasons and more that the song became a No. 1 hit both in the U.S. and several countries abroad, launching Lorde into the upper echelons of celebrity (she orbited Taylor Swift’s squad, after all) and ushering in a wave of similar alt-pop introverts (like Alessia Cara).
So now that Lorde is an establishment pop star, can she still be as weird and revolutionary as she was back then? Judging by the first single of her upcoming album, Melodrama, the answer is absolutely. “Green Light,” which was co-produced by Lorde, Jack Antonoff, and Frank Dukes (Rihanna, Drake), arrived with some serious hype behind it. On Twitter, Lorde said it would be “different, and kinda unexpected. complex and funny and sad and joyous and it’ll make you DANCE.” That’s a lot of ground to cover in one song, but Lorde was…. actually spot-on. She and her collaborators pull off all of those feelings and sounds without making “Green Light” feel like it was Frankenstein’d together from a pile of lesser tunes. The most ambitious stretch comes during its two pre-choruses: one has tongue-twisting lyrics, eerie background vocals, and bubbling electronic effects that seem poised to erupt in some Weeknd-level horror-pop; the other is a near-180 pivot, packing all the tension and anticipation of the flashiest EDM drop with not much more than a cheery, upbeat piano loop and a kick drum.
And then there’s that chorus. With lyrics like “Honey I’ll come get my things, but I can’t let go,” it’s clear she’s haunted by a difficult break-up. But listening to it feels like the opposite of waiting by the phone and Instagram-stalking your ex—instead, it’s a celebration, It’s the most explosive and epic thing Lorde has done, a sign that she can be just as captivating when she’s aiming for the rafters as she is pursuing something quieter. It also sounds like nothing else on the radio or in your Spotify playlists. As Melodrama approaches, it looks like the coolest person in pop is changing the game from top-down instead of from out of nowhere.