Traffic Jams: Lorde – ‘Te Ao Mārama / Solar Power’

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Lorde – Te Ao Mārama / Solar Power (Lyric Video)

Nearly a decade ago, Lorde surprised even jaded prog rock fans like me with some of the most thoughtful pop music in years. Lorde’s Pure Heroine was like an antidote to the saccharin and homogenous pop music of the early 2010s. How was Lorde, the phenom, going to top her debut album and early work?

Lorde’s follow-up album, Melodrama (2017) was by all accounts excellent, but sophomore albums are a tough nut to crack. The follow-up to that follow-up was Solar Power (2021), and was a fine entry into the artist’s discography. Funny enough, it wasn’t until Lorde released an EP full of songs from her latest album sung in Māori, called Te Ao Mārama, that I would really perk up at the sound of her music again.

Lorde caught a bit of trouble for the release; the New Zealand native and singer-songwriter is not Māori, who are the group indigenous to the island. While she’s not of Māori descent, her EP did not strike me as a callous way to appropriate a culture or language. It seemed more like an attempt to honor New Zealand’s mother tongue. And if the young artist and Māori people have New Zealand as a mother in common, I feel it’s at least a somewhat respectful approach. Here’s part of what Lorde had to say about it, from Pitchfork:

I’m not Māori, but all New Zealanders grow up with elements of this worldview. Te ao Māori and tikanga Māori are a big part of why people who aren’t from here intuit our country to be kind of ‘magical,’ I think. I know I’m someone who represents New Zealand globally in a way, and in making an album about where I’m from, it was important to me to be able to say: this makes us who we are down here…

And the EP is very well done, particularly because it’s not a 1:1 translation. As any lover of language knows, translation is a rough outline: a black and white sketch ascribing meaning, which is incomplete without interpretation. Many of the song’s lyrics changed from their original English, once being retold in te reo Māori. Because that’s exactly what good translation is — a retelling.

But the song “Solar Power” doesn’t lose any energy in the retelling. It’s just as catchy as before! The language is, indeed, beautiful and the guitar almost sounds like a car at idle, rhythmically strumming as the engine gets to up to operating temperature. Once there, the car and/or track are free to rev high and the pent-up momentum explodes, propelling the song forward. Have a listen!

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