Riding the carousel with Lorde

Photo of Vivian Stacy

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Few artists have been able to capture the fraught tension of growing up the way Lorde did in six simple words: “It feels so scary getting old.”

The first time I heard these evocative lyrics was from Lorde’s very lips. It was a crisp October evening, halfway into her “Pure Heroine” tour, and I was barely 12 years old. My dad had driven my best friend and me two hours to Berkeley, where he dutifully swayed beside us on the wide cement Greek Theatre steps, the sun sinking into the sky and dazzling everything gold.

The tickets were my 12th birthday present. I suppose my parents chose Lorde for my first concert because they thought her eloquent lyrics would act as a paradigm for my own desire to write. I couldn’t care less who it was. The idea of going to a concert, an activity I thought of as especially adult, filled me with a sensation of grown up self importance.

Seventh grade me was awestruck by Lorde. She was 17, an impossible age. She wore gaucho flared pants and cussed. She seemed wise beyond her years when she said things like “I’m kind of older than I was when I reveled without a care.” 

My best friend and I dizzily jumped to the pulse of her colorful lights, buzzing with euphoria. A bright, young kind of wistfulness settled in my chest as she sang about her longing to return to childhood moments I had not yet experienced.

I fell asleep in the car on the way home, the album playing from my iPod Touch. It was the beginning of a decade-long intimacy I hadn’t previously imagined finding in music. Watching my teenage years begin to slip by like raindrops on a car window, I realized that getting older felt exactly as she’d promised. 

Lorde being just four years older than me meant that her albums’ relevance was always just slightly ahead of my own life experience. While I often didn’t have the worldliness to immediately relate to them, I was correct to assume that soon I’d be burning up the way she described. In accordance with the pattern she’s unwillingly scripted into my life, Solar Power offers a forecast for what my mid-20s will feel like — lonely, placid — even as I dance carelessly through my Melodrama era, 19 and “on fire.”

I’d never had an older sister to carve the path of adolescence out in front of me. As the oldest sibling, I was always the one testing the waters. Lorde smoothed over the churning waves, made the waters blue and enticing. Following her lyrical map, I knew what to expect out of growing up. 

The second time I saw Lorde, I was 15. She’d amassed even greater success since our previous tryst, and the venue’s vastness turned her into a tiny, incandescent blur onstage. As I watched her twirl, brilliant and untouchable, I felt myself slowly unfurl.

I often return to Pure Heroine for its simple, sincere expression of aging’s hollow ache. After all, I’m still “dancing in this world alone,” only I’m not 12 anymore, on my tiptoes to grasp at the white slips of confetti raining from the sky — instead, I’m slowly squeezing out the last drops of my youth.

All the same, the nostalgia comes full circle: Not only was Pure Heroine my first concert, but it was also my first time ever visiting the city of Berkeley. I wonder what I would have done had I known at the time that eight years later I’d be walking this very campus, attending concerts at the Greek Theatre not as a seventh grader afraid of her teenage years, but as a college student afraid to leave them behind. 

I am almost twenty, a fact that sends me careening into a staggering state of panic whenever I remember it. May 3 marked my third time seeing Lorde in concert. As I threw my head back dancing to “Ribs,” I found I could be 12 years old again, or fifteen, or any age at all, carefree and rich with time.

For all these years of treating her lyrics as gospel, Lorde has only ever been wrong about one thing: her recent claim that “all the music you loved at 16 you’ll grow out of.” Sixteen-year-old me was doing exactly what current college me still is: blasting her music in the car, windows down and elbows deep in nostalgia. She was there, steadfast and dependable for the entirety of my teenage years, and now in my final few months of adolescence, I cannot fathom facing adulthood without her.

Through every birthday candle blown out in a wisp of smoke, every broken heart nursed with teenage mawkishness, each burning dream I cultivated with guileless naivety, her musical guidebook held my hand, softening the blow of grief as I abandoned my innocence. “I’d ride and I’d ride on the carousel ’round and ’round forever if I could,” she laments. I’d do just about anything to join her in that eternal rotation.

Contact Vivian Stacy at [email protected].