The teenage fan standing next to me at the Pepsi Center last night was close to crying. Even as her eyes welled, she certainly was crying out.
“Shake that devil off!” she belted. “You make better music when you shake that devil off!”
She was jumping up and down. Then she stopped for a moment, turned to me and said, “We’re about to get the real.”
If you were to overhear her without any context, you’d probably think we were at an evangelical church service or something. But, no. Monday night’s Pepsi Center extravaganza was the fourth stop on the North American leg of Lorde’s Melodrama tour. The New Zealand pop star, who is 21 years old, nearly packed the arena on March 5, with a sizable portion of those fans being younger than her.
Their fervor for Lorde was palpable; this was an Event with a capital E, the anticipation extending to carefully coordinated outfits that largely defied the practical option of winter gear, considering that outside, below freezing winds were gusting at over twenty miles per hour. Many were also looking to supplement their wardrobes with certifiable Lorde swag, as lines for the pop star’s merchandise table went 100 people deep.
There’s nothing particularly novel about pop-star fandom. But what’s interesting about Lorde is that her show was not the kind of face-melting, sensory overload we’ve come to expect from other titans of Top 40 like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake or Lady Gaga. There were no flames or dancing sharks, left or right, (although there was confetti at the end of “Green Light”). And while Lorde was accompanied by six very talented dancers, their costumes were understated and their choreographed moves often slow and wave-like.
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Someone behind me joked, “This is like interpretive dance,” and a few around me laughed in agreement.
Rather, there’s a downright earnestness — even geeky nature — about Lorde and her fans.
The young woman shouting “Shake the devil off!” was reacting to a monologue that Lorde gave about coming to terms with insecurity; in a somewhat awkward explanation, Lorde waxed poetic about being criticized for “being a writer” (or, as she pronounced it, a “wri-ta”) and her decision not to shy away from writing about people close to her and the intimate feelings they shared. She then launched into the song “Writer in the Dark.”
You could tell the pop star was trying, even too hard, to shower love on her fans. You get the sense that at 21, Lorde is still in disbelief that she has become such a looming icon that can fill arenas so far from her home. She’s still very much learning how to fill those shoes.
Without anything specific to say about Denver, she kept repeating the same lines: “I love you, Den-va,” “You’re so beautiful, Den-va,” “Den-va, I just can’t believe how beautiful you are.”
Her overuse of the city name was similar to when you hear a radio interview and the guest keeps using the host’s name to appear familiar — only it comes off as forced. (In fact, I was reminded of Lorde’s September appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast, which also feels forced but is interesting nonetheless, particularly thanks to Lorde’s discussion of synesthesia).
Here’s the thing, though: Lorde’s awkwardness and earnestness felt appropriate, even necessary to set the right mood. After all, isn’t being awkward and striving to define yourself half of what being a teenager is about?
It was inspiring to see so many Gen Z audience members geeking out, hugging each other, belting lyrics and dancing away as Lorde ran through their favorites from 2013’s Pure Heroine and last year’s Melodrama. During some of those songs, dancers were suspended in a glass box roughly the size and shape of a shipping container above the stage. And a particularly haunting highlight was a stripped-down cover of Frank Ocean’s “Solo,” which Lorde had debuted only a few days before, at her first North American show in Milwaukee.
The youthful energy of the room was inspiring for older audience members (who included baseball-cap wearing bros who clearly came to the show just to see an opening set by hardcore hip-hop duo Run the Jewels — excellent in their own right, but an odd pairing for a Lorde tour). I think all of us who had the privilege of attending a big, flashy concert when we were young and first discovering music — and ourselves — can remember having that same level of excitement. The struggle is maintaining that mindset; indeed, why does that youthful romanticism disappear?
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Lorde was not political, at least overtly, but it’s relevant that her North American shows are taking place as high-schoolers in Parkland, Florida, and beyond have surprised a jaded and de-romanticized nation by taking charge of the conversation around gun control. Those teenagers, too, have shaken older generations with their earnestness and loss of innocence.
Like the millennials before them, Generation Z is often accused by those who don’t understand them for being self-absorbed, shallow and obsessed with gadgets like smartphones.
Between these clichés, recent events have proved otherwise, suggesting that they actually see our failings more clearly than we see theirs. Lorde, with her over-earnest demeanor, is an apt role model for those navigating the confusing, transitory stage into adulthood during these tempestuous times. Her fans clearly get that.
Now, if they can just hold on to that excitement and yearning for a better world, and not get worn down, we’ll all be better off for it and the future can be much brighter.