As per usual, I cried listening to Lorde last week.
It wasn’t even my last work shift before leaving for Berkeley. But it was the first time the drive home felt different; the familiarity of neighborhoods and street signs and foliage suddenly seemed visceral and intense and overwhelming, as if the present was transforming into nostalgia in real time. In about a week, I would leave my hometown to begin my sophomore year at UC Berkeley, and it was as though life had risen from its slumber and rushed into a full sprint.
Late summer laid a hand on my steering wheel, and Lorde’s nebulous voice filled my car. “Got a wishbone drying on the windowsill in my kitchen,” she sang softly, “just in case I wake up and realize I’ve chosen wrong.” Her voice wobbled with regret.
Lorde’s wistful longing spilled from my speaker into my car seats, out of the open windows onto the streets. Her single, “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” hadn’t initially resonated with me, but today as I drove ahead, it made me ache more than ever.
I stopped at a light. My gaze swept over the passersby — their strollers, dogs, bikes. A year ago, I had driven to work on eerily empty, silent streets, returning home to sticky blue light in search of solace. I ironically discovered such consolation in a Lorde album titled Melodrama — a single, long, draining party, flooded in feverish synth and the moon’s violent fluorescence. There, I found a way to peacefully mourn the time lost with friends and family, months of adolescence melting away in the blink of an eye.
As spring shed its skin, normalcy began to filter into life again. Early this summer, my thoughts about finally moving to college revolved around Lorde’s skimpy, sunkissed ode to the sun. “Solar Power” arrived as a sweet, golden omen in June, rippling like a heatwave on the horizon. I felt hope’s warmth on my skin. Change tasted saccharine, and perhaps selfishly, I thought the song spoke of a sanguine prophecy about my life’s next chapter. What had faded into a daydream — going out with friends, moving away from home, campus life — during the pandemic now reemerged, nearly palpable and no longer pixelated.
Lorde released “Stoned at the Nail Salon” a month later, capturing a different type of longing — an oneiric, gauzy tapestry draped over my hometown. What-ifs tumbled from Lorde’s tongue, flitting away like fireflies drawn to the night. With the release of two songs in the span of two months, Lorde had swiftly prompted the transition of hot girl summer into sad girl autumn. “My hot blood’s been burning for so many summers now,” she reflected. “It’s time to cool it down, wherever that leads.”
Wherever that leads. I clicked my left blinker on, interrupting the song’s dreamy magnetism for a moment. That bittersweet afterthought splintered, reshaped and reformed as I steered down the sinuous road.
I turned, the road curving into a long bend like the loop of a question mark. “All the times they will change, it’ll all come around, I don’t know,” Lorde sang, uncertainty creeping into her voice. That was the consequence of change, wasn’t it? The risk of regret, of self-doubt, of feeling lost. Here I was, somehow feeling lost while driving a route I had driven a thousand times.
“Maybe I’m just stoned at the nail salon,” Lorde mused as I glanced in my rearview mirror anxiously. Lorde being stoned at a nail salon was perhaps the antithesis of me being behind the wheel. She was calm, reflective; I was tense, uneasy. But we were both contemplating change, regret, fear.
It might be silly, but the fact that Lorde had emerged from her four-year hiatus just two months before my move made her songs even more personal to me. “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” specifically, seemed to illustrate the pandemic’s unusual suspension of time and space, its interruption of my high school graduation and college move. In its effortless bridging of past and present, the song captured the essence of change.
“I’d ride and I’d ride on the carousel ‘round and ‘round forever if I could,” Lorde lamented, the second syllable of “forever” twisting into a bittersweet lilt. Premature homesickness squeezed my heart purple, and I wondered if I would ever be able to call Berkeley my home.
White lines and dots flashed across the backs of my eyelids in an abstract morse code, fading after a few moments. Every blink felt like a memory dissolving, and the sun dipping below the hills suddenly seemed like a goodbye. I wanted to bottle up sunlight from my hometown, somehow swallow it.
The next song began to play, but Lorde’s words echoed in my mind. Shadows of clouds glided over the hills in the distance. The streets now blurred, and not because I was over the speed limit.
The traffic light flickered into green prisms, and I drove home as the sun sank to its knees.
Contact Taila Lee at [email protected].