About two-thirds of the way into the three-minute “Homemade Dynamite” from New Zealand pop star Lorde’s second album, Melodrama, there’s a moment that captures both (a) what makes the 20-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor such a unique and special artist and (b) why chart pop seems like an odd field for this particular young visionary to have stumbled into.
I’d easily nominate Melodrama as the best pop album of the year so far, perhaps the best we’re likely to get. It’s also a better album than her first, 2013’s Pure Heroine. But in what will surely be the long arc of Lorde’s career, I’m guessing it will be an outlier, and this flash in “Homemade Dynamite” can stand for my reasons.
It’s part of a set of songs (intersecting with another cycle about personal heartbreak) that portray starry-eyed but risky young partying—this one raises the hazard of winding up “painted on the road/ red and chrome/ all the broken glass sparkling.” The central metaphor, sung in a kind of Bee Gees disco coo, is “blowin’ shit up with homemade d-d-d-dynamite.” After one of the later choruses, the backing synths and beats drop out, and Lorde sings a delicate, falling, a cappella cadence, “Now you know/ it’s really/ gonna blow”—and adds a little “pkusshh” explosion effect with just her mouth.
It’s a dry sound, without much reverb. It’s funny and even menacing in its cool understatement. It undercuts the song’s overall romantic celebration of sensual, pharmacological peer bonding with a tiny, ironic, realistic gesture. It’s what someone arriving late and sober to the party might observe if the music accidentally shut off—objectively, just some kids…