Leave it to Lorde to troll Coachella. In the minutes before the pop wunderkind made her long-awaited return to the festival—and her debut on its main stage—the lights went dark, and the tumbling drum intro to Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" echoed from the speaker stacks.
Bush, of course, was something of a sensitive subject at the festival, following a recent profile on festival founder Paul Tollett, in which he says he passed on the chance to book the elusive UK pop great. Though Tollett has since refuted those claims, saying they were taken out of context, it was enough to draw the ire of the music internet and spawn some light gossip among fest attendees.
Back at the main stage Sunday night, the song's first minute saw the din of the crowd shift from excited to hushed to abuzz with confusion as Bush's vocals—which, to many of the crowd's unacquainted ears, could be confused with Lorde—beckoned on.
People came running. Some audibly gasped, thinking, in true Coachella style, Bush herself would be the big surprise of the night. Others thought Lorde was doing a cover. Still others wondered aloud what this even was. Whatever you thought at that the moment, this 20-year-old born Ella Yelich-O'Connor had Coachella eating out of her hand—and she hadn't even stepped on stage yet.
It could've been coincidence, though it's hard to imagine that Lorde—who's cited Bush as an influence—hadn't at least heard about the Bush-Coachella story. And while she had every reason to hit the stage with something to prove, she instead opted to remind us not to take ourselves, or any of this, too seriously: It was an icebreaker, a ribbing, and a tribute in one fell swoop. Consider the gauntlet thrown.
A few weeks out from her long awaited second album, and about four years since the first, Lorde has resurfaced as clever and mysterious as she first emerged—then a preternaturally self-aware 16-year-old from Auckland, New Zealand with an anti-pop pop agenda.
Enter, now, the Lorde of her forthcoming follow-up Melodrama, a poised but still wide-eyed 20-year-old who struts out in billowing silver pants—and girl has definitely been practicing that strut in the mirror—a corset, sheer blouse, and Adidas Superstars. Lorde swiftly owned the same stage that everyone from Gaga to Kendrick crowded with backup dancers and pyrotechnics, stalking it with broad swaths and body rolls, with little more than some artful washes of red lighting for help (later in the set there would also be a cage rigging that lowered a band of kids to jump around to "Royals.")
That isn't to say her deal is sealed. The lo-fi pop ingenue trend that her first LP, Pure Heroine, went on to influence has come and gone, and there's a certain nervousness among fans about whether the new work can keep up with the wildfire that was her debut—or, more interestingly, what that even looks like. The two singles that are out, "Green Light" and "Liability," are charting… fine. The songs themselves, produced by Jack Antonoff and featuring a lot more studio sheen than we've ever heard from Lorde, are… also fine.
Four years is a long time. That's like high school. For Lorde, and many of her fans, it literally was high school. She's no longer an ingenue. She's a woman, writhing around in tight club dresses and penning her first songs about dating, as with the somewhat agitating Icona Pop-ish anthem "Green Light" and its accompanying music video. Which unto itelf is kind of greatl—it's rare an artist, and a woman in particular, lets us in on the thrill and stumbles of those first tastes of agency and self-discovery. That's paralleled in what we've heard from Melodrama so far, too: It's sleeker, sexier, but maybe also a little awkward as they push her distinct, hazy vocals into hyperbole.
"It's about the ups and downs of being a twentysomething," Lorde explained, before debuting another new track from the record, "Homemade Dynamite," which, from what she played, doesn't have much of a stylistic departure from the others. "The nighttime in particular."
Each day that passed at this weekend's fest saw a younger Coachella generation take the reigns: From Radiohead, of the festival's earnest rock beginnings, to Gaga, whose rise in mainstream popularity parallels that of Coachella's, and now down to Lorde, a member of a younger generation that's come up with these events as pop cultural touchstones and rights of passage. It would make sense, then, that Lorde knows exactly how to deliver on stage. And that's where the tracks open up, whether she's introing "Liability" with a take on Kanye's "Runaway" or expanding the live mix on "Green Light" to reveal that this shrill comeback single does in fact slap.
"You know when you come home from a party and you still have all this energy left and you're like 'Fuck it, I'm just gonna put on that song' you were listening to, just on your own in the living room?" Lorde said by way of introing the song. "Let's go the fuck off!"
Melodrama might underwhelm. It will likely have some artistic growing pains, but maybe that's worth sticking by, too. Or maybe it will be tremendous. Either way, we're on Lorde's team.
Andrea Domanick is Noisey's West Coast editor. Follow her on Twitter.
Read all of Noisey's 2017 Coachella coverage here.