Solar Power’s New Kind of Bright

Rachel Syens

Lorde’s latest album, Solar Power, brings listeners along on her journey of self-discovery in a world that has significantly changed. It feels like the first post-COVID album, one that poses the question: who are we, when our world has been so drastically altered?

Lorde sets the scene in the first song on her album, “The Path”: “‘Cause we’re all broken and sad / where are the dreams that we had?” But she continues: “Let’s just hope the sun will show us the path.”

The third studio album from Lorde, Solar Power is a departure from her previous discography. She entered the musical world with black lipstick and darker, louder, and edgier songs. Solar Power, produced by Jack Antonoff, carries a similar tone to Taylor Swift’s isolation albums, folklore and evermore, on which he also had a hand. Like Swift, Lorde shows a softer, rawer side on Solar Power. This isn’t an album of pop ballads and bops, but of quiet introspection

Thematically, Solar Power isn’t so different—the album sees Lorde grappling with many of the same issues addressed on her previous albums, but with new insight. Lorde often writes about the expectations of society, especially placed on young women. Her very first single, “Royals,” referenced “gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin' in the bathroom / Bloodstains, ball gowns, trashin' the hotel room.” On Solar Power, Lorde sings about the expectations of wellness, an industry that has grown to a market value of $4.75 trillion. On Solar Power’s “Mood Ring,” Lorde croons: “Ladies, begin your sun salutations / Transcendental in your meditations (Love and light) / You can burn sage and I'll cleanse the crystals.”

Though today’s world is marked by wellness culture, Lorde reflects on how expectations have always been part of our society. In “Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen it All),” Lorde sings, “Everybody wants the best for you / But you gotta want it for yourself, my love.” This is where we hear a shift, thematically and musically. The second half of the album feels slower, softer, more reliant on Lorde’s voice rather than the backing music. The catchy melodies pick up again with “Mood Ring” and “Oceanic Feeling.” These last two songs on the album create a full-circle journey, marking change and emotional hardships, alongside the recognition that both of those can and do cause changes to our identities. In “Oceanic Feeling,” Lorde sings: “Now the cherry-black lipstick's gathering dust in a drawer / I don't need her anymore / 'Cause I got this power.” It can be truly terrifying to recognize that our identities change over time, sometimes quickly and unexpectedly. But once we accept that it’s OK to change, we may just find ourselves.

TC Podcast: Wellness (Nine Perfect Strangers, Lorde's Solar Power)

Lorde’s album resonated personally with me. This has been a year of change for all of us. For me, this year was marked by deep loss. My mom passed away from cancer in February. I heard myself in Lorde’s lyrics on “Stoned at the Nail Salon”: “Spend all the evenings you can with the people who raised you / 'Cause all the times they will change.” When I lost my mom, I also lost myself. For so long, my identity was a daughter to a mother. My identity was a caretaker. My identity for 31 years was wrapped up in my mom. Within a moment, it was gone. I lost interest in many of the activities I’d loved before because they reminded me of her, of our shared identity, of a piece of me I felt I’d lost forever.

Like Lorde, I’ve felt lost. I felt the societal pressures to continue being who I was, before I lost my mom, before COVID began, before my world fell apart. But in the wake of traumatic experiences, there is also something of a clean slate. As we reenter an altered world, we can do so on our own terms. So I went back to the very beginning of my identity, the very center of identity for all Chrisitans: our identity in Christ. We are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood . . . the people of God.” Placing my identity in Christ means finding my worth not in material things, but in Christ himself. In Christ’s eyes, I am always worthy. In Christ’s eyes, I am my full, complete, and true self. I lost so much of my earthly identity when I lost my mom. I felt the compulsion to fix the brokenness in myself with material things. But I can’t. So instead, I turn to Jesus to complete me.

It comforts me to remember that many of Christ’s followers were also broken people, people grappling with doubt, anger, and sadness, just as I am. In A Year of Biblical Womanhood, theologian and author Rachel Held Evans wrote: “What I love about the ministry of Jesus is that he identified the poor as blessed and the rich as needy . . . and then he went and ministered to them both.” Jesus was there for each and every person, promising them a new and better identity, an identity connected to mery, grace, and love.

When Lorde sings, “I’m like a prettier Jesus” on “Solar Power,” she’s not claiming to be a savior. (In fact, on “The Path” she’s explicit about this: “Now if you're looking for a savior, well that's not me.”) Lorde is clearly and intentionally being provocative with the reference to Christ, but her invitation to broken, grief-stricken, hopeless people to something brighter is an echo of the invitation of the gospel. In the chorus of “Solar Power,” Lorde croons: “Forget all of the tears that you’ve cried / It’s over . . . / It’s a new state of mind.” Jesus will wipe away our tears and invites us to place our worth, our identity, and our life in him.

The journey isn’t always easy. Maybe we’re flying Strange Airlines to Sadness, as Robyn describes in the spoken-word outro to “Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen it All).” “You can stay as long as you need to get familiar with the feeling,” she tells us. Sadness is the place where I currently reside. Solar Power, with the heartbreaking harmonies of “Fallen Fruit” and the slow, contemplative nature of “Big Star,” has a familiar, almost comforting melancholy. This isn’t a summer album for blasting in the car, windows wide open, on a sunny day. It’s a weighty album that reminds us to make room for change. When we emerge from hardships, trauma, and loss, it will be into “a new kind of bright,” even better than the one Lorde references on the title track. It won’t be the same as it was before, and that’s OK. Because as a Christian, with my identity in Christ, my constant has always been, and will always be, Jesus.

Topics: Music