In her latest video, Lorde stands on a misty road, dressed in a red pantsuit. She moves among the wealthy at a cocktail party. She dances alone in a cheap motel room. Haunting background vocals are dark, her facial expressions, pained.
“Yellow Flicker Beat” is featured as the lead single on the upcoming “Hunger Games” film soundtrack. The latest in the blockbuster film series, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” (2014), tells the story of a young woman rebelling against her country’s government in a dystopian world.
The video’s darkness – literally, as many of the shots show Lorde in dimly lit spaces – simply reflects the topics portrayed in the “Hunger Games” film. In a recent interview, on KROQ in Los Angeles, Lorde said:
Basically I wrote the song specifically for the movie, it wasn’t something that I had to draft up previously. I reread the books, and I just wanted to tap into everything that Katniss is feeling in that film and what’s the crazy stuff that goes on. One of the things that happened in the book which to me felt like this crazy turning point was her best friend Peeta tries to kill her, he’s been brainwashed and tries to strangle her. It just felt like something so irreparable and something that the characters couldn’t turn back from. I felt like Katniss was like ‘okay, I’m taking names. I’m coming for blood. You don’t do these types of things to my friends and family and get away with it.’ I just wanted to make something kind of dark and haunting.”
But the themes are a far cry from Lorde’s previous work.
The 17-year-old pop star broke into the U.S. music scene with “Royals,” an upbeat single that stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks. In that video, Lorde is in a suburban home, wearing a white T-shirt. She sings, “We’ll never be royals.”
The song sold more than 5.4 million digital copies in the U.S.
Just one year later, she mingles among the “royals,” who raise glasses of champagne and smile. But should Lorde be worried about how a changed image could affect record sales?
She’s certainly not the first star to transition between iterations of pop, though many established stars have taken more time to change their tones.
Whitney Houston shifted from bubble gum to a darker shade of pop as she grew in fame. “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” her first single on her 1987 album “Whitney,” peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The music video’s splashy colors mixed with an uptempo beat that hooked listeners from the first rolling drum.
A decade later, her “My Love Is Your Love” brought R&B and ballads to Ms. Houston’s repertoire. The album had several hit singles and was well reviewed by critics, but the melodic tone of “When You Believe,” on which she collaborated with Mariah Carey for the “Prince of Egypt” (1998) soundtrack, could not be more distant from the 1987 pop hit.
Maroon 5 took the opposite path. The U.S.-based group initially gained popularity with “Songs About Jane,” released in 2002. Slower alternative rock hits like “She Will Be Loved” and “Sunday Morning” made the Los Angeles-based band’s album go multi-platinum in the U.S. and the U.K.
In 2012, singles from the group’s “Overexposed” album were primarily pop tracks — the group worked with Martin and Ryan Tedder, who recently contributed to Taylor Swift’s latest album, "1989."
By tying her transition to the mammoth “Hunger Games” hit, Lorde likely has little to worry about — the soundtrack to the most recent film, also featuring Lorde, was the seventh best-selling soundtrack album of the year. The third film, which will be released later this month, is projected to earn about $150 million in its opening weekend.
But, as they say in the “Hunger Games” saga – may the odds be ever in her favor.