Lorde’s Use Of Color And Lights To Tell A Story

A self-defined “freak for how words look and sound,” Lorde tells of her relation to song writing through that of her talent for short stories. During her 2013 feature with VEVO Lift, Lorde spoke of her various attempts at writing a story, “bending” and twisting it into a song. Ahead of her time in lyricism, Lorde’s ability to pen a story remains a key component of her art. That along with her use of color schemes and delicate lighting, to carry her audience along. This is seen in music videos like: “Royals,” “Yellow Flicker Beat,” “Team,” “Tennis Court,” and, “Green Light.” If lyricism acts as the map, the directions on the map are her colors.

Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, also known as Lorde, first dipped her feet into music with the release of her debut EP, “The Love Club,” on March 8, 2013. The EP featured such songs as “Bravado,” “Biting Down,” and what would come to be known as her lead single, “Royals.” The 2013 number one pop single grew quickly, almost overnight, to irrefutable fame and admiration. The New York Times calling the song, “a class-conscious critique of pop-culture materialism,” with Billboard heralding its “attention-grabbing phrases.” But it was its simplistic music-video – a distant aesthetic from the materialistically filled hip- hop videos the song critiqued – utilizing the subtlety of colors, that drove the message of “Royals” home.

Directed by Joel Kefali, the central message of “Royals,” is its relatability to the average person. Especially the average person hailing from Lorde’s own home in New Zealand. Lorde positions the viewer as an onlooker into the mundane life she viewed daily. The colors seen in the video represented this as tan, beige, green, and blue, were the central tones used. The couches being of a light brown with tan curtains, and beige walls. The colors seen outside of the home equally represent the mundane life. The lead character in the video wearing denim shorts, laying on his couch topless. The video shows the relaxed lifestyle most live, in comparison to that of the popping bottles and flashy cars Lorde critiques in the song. In this way, Lorde sticks to neutral tones to highlight the neutrality of the lifestyle she sings about. The mundane and everyday life she came to remind the music industry, the world lives. In her music-video for “Tennis court,” the use of lighting becomes even more illuminating as the lights are used to represent that of presence and dominance, in the growth of Lorde.

“Tennis Court,” equally directed by Joel Kefali, is a song about a familiar place while entering a world of unfamiliarity. The world of the music industry juxtaposed with the world Lorde knows all too well. In an interview with VH1, Lorde described the single as “kind of a symbol of nostalgia.” She goes on to say, “The rest of the song is about like all the changes in my life at the moment…and the juxtaposition of that with where I grew up.” With “Tennis Court” being about looking to her past as she braces for her future, what better way to showcase her dominance and presence going forward than with the reoccurring shyness, coupled with emotive presence, of a spotlight. The music video thus acts as a marker for Lorde as she carries the viewer through her awareness of dominance and power in the new found space she is placed in within the music industry. The music video shows this as the spotlight is shone on her – ever so often – when she whispers the words, “Yeah.” The whispers get bolder and sharper as the spotlight grows from a yellow, black tint, where viewers are selectively shown the features on her domineering face she allows us to see. Towards the end of the video, as the whispers turn to screams, her dominance gets bolder as the spotlight changes to a bright white light. Despite her earlier question, “How can I fuck with the fun again, when I’m known?,” Lorde had shed that worry. She was here to put her own spin on things in a fresh new light of her own. Lorde had told the audience one thing; she called the shots. A title as a leader she carried with her into the music video for “Team.”

Released on December 3, 2013, “Team” is a music video of the no-named world where teens lived in harmony and sweat, placing Lorde as their ruler. Directed by Young Replicant, in this world there were initiations and tests, but whether you passed or failed the main goal was that you tried. You wanted to be a part of the team and that was all that mattered. Either with a limp or acne, you were accepted into the dystopian world curated by the queen herself. The world can be distinguished from that of the world full of tests through the blue mist and royalty like clothing. The color blue having distinct symbolizations as well. According to the Color Wheel Pro, the color blue “is often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven.” In the mystified land where Lorde led, the color blue best represented what her lyrics and visuals carry the viewer through. As she hailed from “cities you’ll never see on screen,” she sang of the bond this created for those in similar situations. The team formed is one attracted to that of trust, loyalty, drinking water from a shared bottle, in opposition to that of the materialism filled world that lay beyond that of Lorde and her team. The ruler was present in the video, allowing her soft vocals to do the talking. Everyone around her, appeared to listen. A sophistication she carries on to her next music video.

With “Yellow Flicker Beat,” Lorde invites viewers to experience the alienation that occurs when fighting a war. Created for movie franchise, “The Hunger Games,” YFB carries its viewers through multiple locations where we see Lorde take refuge. As she sings and dances her way to what would be victory. Lorde occupies an interesting persona in this video, one similar to its inspiration, Katniss Everdeen. In YFB, Lorde is both the leader, as she references the caretaker scene from “The Shining,” and is the silent and lonely walker through the night.

“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.” – Lorde on creating “Yellow Flicker Beat.”

Dressed in the different looks worn during her tour at the time, Lorde dawned her own uniform similar to Everdeen. The video is dimly lit and made in a “haunting” manner. At any moment, viewers can expect a quick change of pace as the alienation makes room for courage. The fighter begins to dance through her war zones. The music video opened with Lorde seated, hunched over on a bed in what looks like a road side motel. Lorde begins her newest tale in the single as the camera pans around the small room – only a bed, broken television set, and an unlit lamp seen – the warrior moves through the dark space without a permanent place to call home. “Yellow Flicker Beat” beams as a song about renewal in the face of war. Lorde strips “Yellow Flicker Beat” of its colors, focusing rather on its emotive expression through dim lights that place her at the center. The viewer watches as the story unfolds; Lorde dancing her way through the boxes she is placed in – seen with the beige strips she moves through. She weaves through the etches of war as Everdeen would, until the end where Lorde is seated cross legged and draped in white, at a bus stop awaiting her next move. She is no longer dancing and the lights have reached their peak as a ghostly white takes shape over her. The yellow more so transcendent in white. The next audience’s would see of Lorde, she would be teaming up with Disclosure for “Magnets,” before her release of “Green Light.”

Lorde has situated herself on a trajectory as a story teller using lighting, narrative, and color schemes. Whether neutral or dimly lit, Lorde is able to carry the audience from point a to point b. This story telling through the use of imagery, visuals, and themes, finally reached a peaking point with her March 2, 2017, release of “Green Light,” directed by Grant Singer. A song quite simply about heartbreak where a passionate love affair comes to an end. The green light she sings of, and can be seen dazzling through the streets in search of, is that moment where she had moved on. Lorde places herself in the lights of red, possibly symbolizing lust as she grinds and whines on top of a luxurious car she has spent her career singing against, a skin-tight pink dress revealing her party and girly side as she allows herself to go out and dance and have fun and run around drunkingly. A switch from that of “Yellow Flicker Beat” as she sat and grooved in pant suits. Lorde is feeling what other women have felt. She has been scorned and is ready to dance the night away. The blue lights of the club, nearly shielding all facial expressions from her, allowing her to freely move and scream to the song overheard. The viewer watches as Lorde moves through these phases in these colors and lights, never quite making it into the green light, even as she watched it flash before her at the end.

Born from a poet, Lorde has spent her life surrounded by the craftsmanship of a storyteller. As she incorporates that of intricate lyricism, unique directing styles, color schemes, and the use of lighting, Lorde is able to carry the viewer through her visuals, illuminating the story she penned for them all along.

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