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What Makes Lorde’s ‘Solar Power’ So Divisive?

“Lorde’s greatest skill is her self-awareness.”—Hanif Abdurraqib

Lorde’s big comeback single “Solar Power” set the internet ablaze when it dropped from out of nowhere in June. Some fans found the song to be a buoyant departure from Lorde’s last album release, 2017’s Melodrama, while others felt the track half-baked. On top of that, listeners questioned the song’s provenance — had Lorde cribbed too closely from ’90s hitmakers like Primal Scream and George Michael?

To hear “Solar Power” clearly and unpack its polarizing sounds, Switched on Pop hosts Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding needed to speak to someone with an unerring ear and a razor-sharp mind: the author, poet, and host of Object of Sound, Hanif Abdurraqib. Hanif knows Lorde’s catalogue like the back of his hand, and he’s got feelings about this latest release. But he also offers a word of caution: Wait for the album before reserving judgment!

Nate Sloan: What was your first reaction when you heard this track?
Hanif Abdurraqib: I didn’t understand why it was so polarizing, I think.

It seems like there’s a line in the sand between people who listened to “Solar Power” and hear this as an extension of Lorde’s artistry and others who hear it as a step backwards.
And that’s just a thing that happens. People enjoy picking teams and picking sides. But I thought it was just … fine. Few things are more puzzling to me in music than when songs or albums or artists that are just fine elicit an intensely polarizing response because I think most songs are fine.

I think there are interesting elements to it. But it’s also fascinating to me that Lorde has continued to find ways to maneuver around the fact that, you know, she’s not really a singer.

How do you mean?
She is definitely not like a singer singer, but she is a very, very skilled deliverer of language. I think she is realigning the way we should consider singers against those who are effectively just speaking. She’s such a melodic speaker and a melodic deliverer of language that even though the vocal flourishes aren’t always there, when they are there, they feel kind of hyperproduced. I think she actually does her best work in the kind of quiet, gravelly sentences.

What do you think “Solar Power” says about her forthcoming album of the same name?
Lorde’s greatest skill is her self-awareness, which means that the more instruments that she can manipulate or find her pockets in, the better her songs are. And for me, I think what didn’t work about her first album [Pure Heroine, released in 2013] was that she just hadn’t figured that out. In Melodrama, she extremely figured it out. “Solar Power” remains in the extended Lorde musical universe, but the reason why the song doesn’t move me to rapturous excitement is because it’s perhaps a slight downgrade on what she showed herself to be capable of.

But also the thing about first singles, at least for me, is I always need to know how it looks on the album. I gotta see how it fits, because that has changed countless first singles for me, where the first single comes out and I’m like, “Ah, I don’t know …” And then I see what surrounds it on the record, and then it makes more sense.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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What Makes Lorde’s ‘Solar Power’ So Divisive?