I love Lorde because she participates in the big, outside world, but creates her own small world inside it. This is why her music aches. Why it haunts. Why it feels so right. She is a pop singer whose music and persona contradict how we expect pop to look and sound. She is a teenager who relishes being young but refuses to be patronized. She is a girl who contradicts our conventional ideas about femininity. She sings about being bored with the everyday but also celebrates the beauty of those mundane moments—the driving through tree-streets that are intimate and tight over highways that are fast and long. Listening to her music, you get the feeling that she is participating in these worlds of youth, suburbia, and love, while observing them from afar. She sings about climbing under underpasses and drinking with teens with shiny mouths, then admits that she isn’t one of them. Her songs sneak their way into that private place inside me that worries it won’t ever truly belong to any world. That private place I think most of us have.
“Bravado” is one of my favorite songs. On the nights when the world feels so big that it’s overwhelming, and I want everything to stand still, I get in my car and drive to an old movie theater no one really goes to anymore. The tickets cost four dollars and the popcorn costs two dollars and there’s a minibar in the hallway and stains all over the dingy carpet. I smuggle in fancy licorice from Walgreens and buy a big soda and sit alone in the corner of the theater. Everything stops. I watch shitty movies back to back. The world shrinks. I leave when I feel like I’ve grabbed back on to it. When I’m ready for everything to start moving again. When I’ve found my own bravado, in my own self.
I love Lorde because her lyrics sound like the letters I write but never send. They also sound like the letters I write and then send when I shouldn’t. Like this one. Like the six or seven other letters I sent you, filled with the grotesque, contradictory thoughts I’m tired of trying to hide. I love hearing these thoughts play. I love hearing her voice tell me of teenagers whose heads catch on fire; the feeling matches my own bored evenings, sitting in my friend’s bathroom, letting her cut my hair because I don’t want to feel pretty anymore.
I also love how much Lorde references the body. She gets how odd bodies are, and how nuanced. I like that a song about fear and growing up is called “Ribs.” When I listen to it, I feel the ebb and flow of a chest breathing in and out, of a world growing big and small as a teenager grows vulnerable and fearless.
These songs are all about contradictions. They shrink my world even as they enlarge it. These songs sit at the edge of so many communities, they are the soundtrack to the teenage experience, to the suburbs, Hasidic communities, Southern farms: grotesque, shiny smiles of white teeth, flaming heads, and pulses pushing into steering wheels.
When I read I Love Dick last night to feel less alone, I thought about how glad I am that Lorde is a pop artist. I think connecting with other people, whether it’s over music or food or favorite toilet paper brands, is another way to reclaim our worlds when they feel intimidatingly large. She seems to me to be someone who would never want to be inaccessible.
I wonder how you feel about being 20. I wonder if your world gets large and scary and if it breathes threateningly beneath your ribs. Mine does all the time. The more I write to you, the more I like you, and I begin to get better at excusing you.
I miss you, by the way. I know I don’t know you well enough to say that, but I do. I started missing you when I read that short story you wrote, the one you sent me about falling in love with the cow on the milk carton.
I hope you’ll understand, about me not wanting to quit this loving you and missing you and not wanting to change the CD in my car. I hope you’ll forgive me for writing so many letters. I hope you’ll understand how writing to you shrinks my world too, how knowing you’re out there makes me feel less alone, but also hyper-aware of my own loneliness. I wish you weren’t in another state so that I could see you, but you’re also the last person I’d like to see, and I’m embracing these dualities. I will keep dragging out these grotesque parts of life because they’re as compelling as they are repulsive, and it’s incredibly satisfying to confront them all.
Tova Benjamin is a poet and student in Chicago. She likes biting her nails, crazy girl narratives, and telling great bedtime stories featuring strong, independent princesses.