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"The Return of Lorde" was a interview story by the New York Times. It is one of the most significant interviews of the Melodrama era, as in it much was revealed about the album, including "Perfect Places" and "Sober".

Photoshoot

Lorde was photographed by Jack Davison for the article.

Dialogue

Lorde, the New Zealand-born pop star, came into the fire-lit lounge of her downtown Manhattan hotel a few minutes past 11, apologizing for the lateness of the hour — funny story, she said. She’d been commuting daily to a Greenwich Village recording studio, plugging away at new music, but today U2, who had reserved the space, arrived and commandeered it. Lorde found a smaller studio available farther uptown, and though the move was inconvenient, she saw the humor in being inadvertently evicted by Bono — it was just one more marker of how strange her life has been since she became famous, four years ago, at 16. “I actually saw the Edge in the gym here,” she said with a grin. “I thought about saying something, but I decided, Nahhh.”

A late-winter blizzard was forecast to blow into town that night, and Lorde was dressed for the cold in pointy black boots and a voluminous Chloé overcoat whose wool folds hung around her like a midnight-colored cloud. Her hair fell to the collar in waves, and the overall effect, in the light of the fireplace, was of an extremely chic witch ready for a night of haunting. She’d sent me a message earlier on, hinting at some unspecified adventure: “Will txt you when i get out of the studio. i want to take you somewhere.” Now, boots clacking, she led me around the corner and into an elevator, where she fished a stubby key from her pocket. “We’re going out a secret way,” she said, turning a lock on the wall.
Lorde owns a house in Auckland, where she grew up, but for the better part of the last year she has been living at different hotels around New York, trying to finish her second album, “Melodrama.” She began writing it about three years ago, first in her childhood home and later at a villa she bought on what she described as the other, fancier side of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbor. Lorde has a neurological condition known as sound-to-color synesthesia — when she hears certain notes and sounds, corresponding colors appear — and she describes making music in intensely visual terms. “From the moment I start something, I can see the finished song, even if it’s far-off and foggy,” she said. Her goal is to correct the colors and sharpen the contours until the precise configuration of chords, rhythms, emotions and textures she has been glimpsing all along snaps into focus. “It’s about getting the actual thing to sound like what I’ve been seeing.”

The elevator opened onto a barren nether-floor, where Lorde took a narrow staircase down to a service exit. This hotel often hosted celebrities, she explained — “You might see Meryl Streep; you might even see a Jonas Brother” — who, in turn, drew photographers. She’d gotten this key from management so that she could come and go without worrying about cameras.
The album that made Lorde a celebrity, “Pure Heroine,” came out in 2013. It was a marvel of understatement — unhurried electronic beats, pared-down harmonies, empty spaces. Her lyrics brought an unlikely incandescence to avowedly mundane snapshots of suburban teendom. “Pure Heroine” sold more than one million copies in five months, making Lorde the first female artist with a million-selling debut album since Adele and establishing her as a wunderkind pop auteur. Kanye West introduced himself as a fan; Taylor Swift became a buddy; David Bowie clasped Lorde’s hands in his and proclaimed that listening to her music “felt like listening to tomorrow.” The question nagging her here in New York, as she worked to meet the new album’s June release date, was what the day after tomorrow sounded like.

We pushed through the service exit, walked along empty streets and boarded an uptown 1 train. While making “Melodrama,” Lorde took lots of subway rides, auditioning rough mixes of songs on cheap earbuds, which helped give her a sense of how the music would sound in daily life. As we rumbled northward, her face was in full fluorescent light, and I wondered if people ever bothered her during these rides. “Nobody recognizes me,” she said. When Lorde does spot someone spotting her, she went on, her move is to smile, place a finger to her lips and mouth a conspiratorial shh. Her thinking is that this gesture, warm and direct in its appeal, will pre-empt any further encounter — “and it usually does.”

Our destination was a diner near Columbus Circle called the Flame, which sat beneath a Qi Gong parlor and whose brick facade was nondescript in the extreme. We took a booth and ordered a midnight breakfast of eggs and zucchini sticks. Lorde discovered the Flame by chance one night in 2013, during her first trip to America, lured by nothing more tantalizing than the neon sign reading OPEN 24 HOURS.

Over subsequent visits, she developed a deep attachment to the place; its unchanging vinyl upholstery, grid-patterned pendant shades and Italian omelets helped to make an increasingly untethered existence feel more rooted. She pointed out a potted houseplant atop a glass vitrine stacked with colorful cakes. “Some low-key genius did the decorating,” she said. “There’s something beautiful in every corner.” Adding to the charm was that “mostly old people eat here. There’s no one famous. No one cares about me.”

Part of the reason Lorde likes traveling unnoticed in New York is that she enjoys paying close attention to strangers’ conversations. “I’ll overhear a phrase and roll it around in my mind for hours,” she said. Sometimes it isn’t a phrase that ensnares her but a tableau. At one point during our meal, she broke off midsentence and drew my gaze to an older couple one table over. The man, who had a plastic ballpoint pen clipped to his belt, was holding up a takeout box. His companion was slowly filling it with uneaten French fries from her plate, one tiny fork-nudge at a time. Neither spoke, but there were soft, birdlike squeaks as the china rubbed against the plastic foam. Lorde looked back at me and put a hand to her heart.

The Flame played an important part in the making of “Melodrama,” she said: “I spent about four months here last year with my laptop out and my headphones on, listening to demos, looking at lists of what I needed to get done and writing songs. People must have thought I was an aspiring poet or something.” She sat for hours at a time, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes in the dead of night. All the while, overhead speakers piped in Top 40 radio, which, she said, “can be distracting when you’re trying to write pop music. So I wore these enormous headphones to block it out.”
But sometimes she removed the headphones and let the songs wash over her. She has been fascinated by pop music, relating to it in both intuitive and analytical ways, since early adolescence, when, she has said, she would play tracks by Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado on repeat, trying to figure out their magic. Her taste broadened to include more idiosyncratic sounds, and today she will talk with fervor about Katy Perry one moment, Kate Bush the next. She discusses pop in the language of a zealot and describes “Melodrama” as an act of zealotry. “I have such reverence for the form,” she said. “A lot of musicians think they can do pop, and the ones who don’t succeed are the ones who don’t have the reverence — who think it’s just a dumb version of other music. You need to be awe-struck.”

She brought up “Teenage Dream,” the smash Katy Perry single from 2010, which creates a poignant swirl of lust and nostalgia in under four minutes. “There’s this sadness about it, where you feel young listening to it, but you feel impermanence at the same time,” Lorde said. “When I put that song on, I’m as moved as I am by anything by David Bowie, by Fleetwood Mac, by Neil Young. It lets you feel something you didn’t know you needed to feel.” She regarded me closely. “There’s something holy about it.”

Lorde has a sly facility with pop craft that often exhibits itself in curveballs. She likes self-reflexive lyrics, off-kilter rhyme schemes and other irregularities just pronounced enough to draw attention to her songs’ animating mechanics without breaking their spells. Even the rhythm of her career has been unpredictable. Today pop stars risk becoming mere “content producers,” hoping we’ll swipe over to their magnum opuses amid the competing distractions on our phones. Most A-list artists respond by working tirelessly to make sure we don’t forget them, with floods of albums, songs, cameos and headlines that will, ideally, confer upon them an aura of omnipresence, if not permanence. Some others — Adele, Frank Ocean — have made a case for scarcity, though, maintaining ghostlike profiles before delivering triumphant returns that feel all the more momentous for the yearslong hiatuses that preceded them.

Lorde was now staring down a four-year hiatus of her own. In the wake of her first album, she’d found much to enjoy about fame: filling in for Kurt Cobain alongside Nirvana’s surviving members at the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony; befriending artists like the writer Miranda July and the Swedish pop-music mastermind Max Martin; inspiring a multiepisode “South Park” parody; and overseeing a “Hunger Games” soundtrack. But she also wondered if it was possible to return to some approximation of her previous life, so after she finished touring for “Pure Heroine,” she pulled back from public view. Among other things, this meant a lot of hanging out with old friends in Auckland “who couldn’t care less about my music career,” she said, and a trip by helicopter to a rental house on a remote island called Waiheke, in New Zealand, where she wrote songs without distraction, and where her only visitor was a wild dog she found lying on her bed one day. (She’d left the front door open.)

There were the false starts, fruitless detours and stretches of inactivity as she tried to plot her way forward: “I had to sort of write my way out of the last album,” she said. Things got more complicated in 2015, when she and her longtime boyfriend, an Auckland-based photographer named James Lowe, broke up. Amid this unhappy circumstance, another path presented itself for her songwriting. “After your heart is broken, music enters you on a new level,” Lorde said. “You suddenly find yourself crying when ‘Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart’ ” — an aching Alicia Keys track — “comes on.” (Lorde declined to specify the reasons for the split.)
She decided that the new album would grapple with emotions and insights stemming from the breakup. For the first time in her adult life, she was single. What was it like to be on a dance floor, to desire someone else on it and to act on this desire? How did it feel to wake up the next morning? She emphasized that “Melodrama” wasn’t a “breakup album.” Instead, she said, “it’s a record about being alone. The good parts and the bad parts.”

As Lorde worked on “Melodrama” at home in New Zealand, she papered over a wall with notes for songs, like a sleuth tacking up scraps of evidence, trying to tease out their connections and fill in their blanks. This allowed her to “skim the whole album,” she said, and “to make sure I was touching all the bases I wanted to touch: ‘Oh, I haven’t said this, so let me find a good place to do it.’ ” She soon devised color codings for each song, with different hues denoting different themes. “A song about partying would get a certain color,” she explained, “but it might be a sad song, and that got its own color, too.” As she studied the wall, patterns and imbalances emerged: not enough red here; too much yellow there. On her kitchen table she arranged yet more paper, editing and shuffling lyrics around. When friends visited, she hid the table beneath a patchwork of hastily arranged bath towels and instructed them to steer clear.

Pop music has always been a result of teamwork, but in recent years hypercollaborative approaches have become prevalent, with stars bringing legions of contributors to bear on single songs. One writer might provide a vocal melody for a prechorus; another might supply one redolent turn of phrase for the second verse. Lorde’s process is strikingly solitary by contrast. She does not play an instrument, which means she must eventually enlist the help of collaborators, but even then she amasses personnel slowly and sparingly.

“Pure Heroine” was the work of just two writers: Lorde and a musician named Joel Little, whose most prominent job till then was as the frontman for a New Zealand pop-punk group. She initially reunited with him for “Melodrama” but came to believe that she needed a new conspirator to truly move beyond “Pure Heroine.” In early 2014 she met Jack Antonoff, who plays guitar with the band fun. and makes music on his own under the name Bleachers. They had a mutual friend in Taylor Swift, who hired Antonoff while making her last album, “1989.” “We were at a Grammy party, and Jack got me a can of pineapple juice,” she recalled. Antonoff struck her as appealingly eccentric, and after a few exploratory sessions, she took him on as her main co-writer.

Antonoff likes toggling between the intimate and the outsize, which suits the cathartic mode Lorde wanted to explore on “Melodrama.” They spent months working in the cozy recording space Antonoff built at the Brooklyn apartment he shares with his girlfriend, Lena Dunham. Occasionally they decamped to high-end studios in Hollywood and Manhattan to get a feel for the music when it was cranked up to 11. In March 2016, Lorde began writing a new track called “Sober,” whose pointed juxtaposition of pleasure (“My hips have missed your hips”) and foreboding (“What will we do when we’re sober?”) convinced her once and for all that she was onto something good. She decided that “Melodrama” would tell the story of a single house party. This conceit, impressionistic rather than schematic, would allow her to organize a variety of moods into a tense but cohesive whole. “With a party, there’s that moment where a great song comes on and you’re ecstatic,” she explained, “and then there’s that moment later on where you’re alone in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, you don’t think you look good, and you start feeling horrible.”
By this time, fans were demanding new music from Lorde with mounting impatience on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. In no mood to rush things, she tried to tune these voices out — but it was reassuring, all the same, to know that they still cared about her.

In March of this year, Lorde finally released the first single from “Melodrama,” called “Green Light.” The opening couplets follow a jarring AABC pattern, but the most striking feature is a dramatic key change, arriving just before the chorus, that feels like a small sun rising — out of place but grand. Two nights before our trip to the Flame, Lorde performed “Green Light” on “Saturday Night Live,” and when she broke into a suite of winningly uninhibited dance moves, her sequined top shuddered and sparkled like a disco ball. Later she sang a piano ballad called “Liability,” about how being an artist in the public eye can make you radioactive to those close to you. She delivered this song almost motionless on a piano bench, wearing an antique-lace-accented ensemble and floppy matching headpiece. (She wanted to look like a moth.) In a month she was scheduled to perform at the Coachella festival in California, and in between the 11th-hour “Melodrama” studio sessions in New York, she was in frequent communication with a production designer, figuring out what that show, and a subsequent tour, would look like.

Taking quite so much time on “Melodrama” was never Lorde’s master plan. (In July 2014, a member of her camp spoke hopefully to me of an “early 2015” release date.) But follow-ups are hard to make and can be especially vexing when they follow smash debuts. For three full days before “Green Light” came out, she said: “I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t want to be out in the world. It was so intense to arrive at this moment of, This is it.” And, she added, “whatever it is, it’s about to be out of my control.”

Lorde, whose real name is Ella Yelich-O’Connor, was born in 1996, the second of four children; her father, Vic O’Connor, is a civil engineer. Her mother, Sonja Yelich, is an award-winning poet whose work has been anthologized multiple times in the “Best New Zealand Poems” series. Ella was a bookish kid. She led her middle-school team to a second-place finish in the 2009 Kids’ Lit Quiz World Finals, a global competition. Shortly afterward, she sat for a morning-show interview on Radio NZ, estimating that she’d read “a bit more than 1,000 books” in her lifetime. She wrote her own fiction too, enamored of Raymond Carver and Kurt Vonnegut. When I asked her to characterize this work, she said only, “It wasn’t very good.” Sonja Yelich told me that when Ella was 14, she proofread Yelich’s 40,000-word master’s thesis: “People said, ‘You’re crazy to entrust this massive undertaking to your child.’ ” (Yelich has routinely accompanied Ella on her travels and is as much confidante as chaperone. You can see her dancing beside Taylor Swift in a 2014 awards-show cutaway as her daughter performs.)

Ella joined student musicals and began performing acoustic Amy Winehouse and Kings of Leon covers around Auckland with a friend named Louis, who played guitar while she sang. In August 2009, Louis’s father emailed a recording of the pair performing Duffy’s “Warwick Avenue” to Scott Maclachlan, an A.&R. executive at Universal New Zealand. Maclachlan wasn’t looking for a guitarist, but Ella’s voice intrigued him. He signed her to a development deal and worked, until a couple of years ago, as her manager. He told me that, early on, he “had very traditional A.&R. ideas of finding songs, finding a producer and putting them all together” — but Ella, whose sense of self was too strong to submit to others’ writing, chafed. “After a couple years,” Maclachlan went on, “we got to a point where it was, like, well, write something yourself. So she did. It was a little clunky, arrangement-wise, but the lyrics were really good. And if that’s working, everything else is fixable.” Ella’s precocity helps to explain the wave of Lorde Age Truthers that arose after “Pure Heroine,” with people speculating, tongue only partly in cheek, that she must be a grown woman. In 2014, The Hairpin obtained a birth certificate confirming that Lorde was, as she claimed, a teenager.
Maclachlan finally found her a partner in Little. “Joel’s a pop writer,” Lorde said, “but he also likes electronic music and hip-hop, so working with him helped me kind of conform to those structures, to learn the rules before I could step outside them.” As things progressed, she assumed the name Lord, tacking on an E as a feminizing détournement. She’d long been interested in “aristocracy,” she told me, “and the Ivy Leagues and final clubs and old-money families and the concept of old money — I just find it all fascinating.”

Her songs reflected her generation not only in their lyrics but also in their shrugging relationship to genre. Formerly ironclad distinctions among musical styles have significantly melted away. Even mash-ups — those early-aughts song splices that epitomized a dawning spirit of digital-age musical cross-pollination — sound dated now in their stuntish aesthetic of collision. In 2011 I asked Frank Ocean, then 24, about his genre-skipping approach to source material on “Nostalgia, Ultra,” his R.&B. mixtape that includes samples of Coldplay and “Hotel California.” He said he was confused by the question: The concept of border-crossing made little sense to him because he didn’t see the borders I was alluding to in the first place.

Given Lorde’s own disregard for borders, it’s fitting that her formative social-media platform was Tumblr. She found her earliest audience there, posting dozens and dozens of found images whose only connection was that they spoke, in aggregate, to her peculiar intelligence, wry sense of humor and damaged sense of glamour. There were pictures of baroque architecture, bruised and bloody-nosed models, Britney Spears shaving her head, Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction,” an SR-71 Blackbird spy plane — all presented without comment or explanation. Occasionally she interspersed diaristic text between these images or hosted impromptu Q. and A. sessions, pointing her growing fan base to SoundCloud, where she uploaded songs free. It was a style of self-promotion that felt less like craven hustling and more like sharing secrets.

Tumblr encourages an atemporal, polyglot relationship to culture: historically and idiomatically disparate references are shorn of their original context and fed into a single, transfixing stream. This has its analogue in Lorde’s music, illustrated nowhere better than her breakout single, “Royals,” a chart-topping hit (it spent nine weeks at No. 1 in 2013) about chart-topping hits, in which she unfurls a singsong critique of pop excess while copping nonetheless to its dream-sculpting allure. It drew some criticism for its mocking litany of signifiers common to rap music — “Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.” Lorde later acknowledged that she’d written “Royals” from a naïve perspective, telling an interviewer that “I didn’t know then what I know now.” Still, the single enjoyed healthy rotation not only on alternative radio but on hip-hop stations too.

Lorde frequently figures herself into her lyrics as a passenger, riding in a car that someone else is steering. This motif owes something to the fact that she has never learned to drive, but it also speaks to her comfort as an observer, watching events unfold from off to one side and narrating them from a semidetached point of view. She told me that she made “Pure Heroine” in a quasi-“anthropological” mind-set, scrutinizing adolescent rituals even as she lived them firsthand. In 2014 Lorde recalled that, while writing the album, she strove “to make sense of every weird thing that happens at a party with 15-year-olds” and, to this end, forswore alcohol, not out of “discipline as much as just wanting not to miss anything.”
On the new album, that tendency toward cool detachment collapses again and again into a rush of outsize emotions. When I reminded her of the teetotaling behind “Pure Heroine,” she laughed. With “Melodrama,” she said, “I went to the party and got drunk.”

When we finished breakfast at the Flame, around 2 a.m., the blizzard’s first flurries were falling. We took the 1 back downtown and made plans for me to visit Lorde and Antonoff in the studio the following day as they tackled several incomplete songs. I heard nothing further until 5 that afternoon, when I was out trudging through the snow and she texted from the studio to disinvite me. “Today is totally not going to work i’m so sorry. Been really hectic over here and some tears lol.”

The next day things had righted themselves, and Lorde invited me over. The studio sat 10 stories above a block crammed with art galleries. I asked what had happened. “It got grim,” she said. “Jack and I know each other so well by this point, we can communicate almost telepathically. But some days one of us will say something, and the other’s like, What do you mean by that?!” When it came to making pop music, she said, “it’s a mess until the moment it’s clean.”

The studio was small, with three Herman Miller swivel chairs wedged between the mixing board and the opposite wall. “It would be nice if there were a couch,” Lorde said. When she sang “Liability” on “Saturday Night Live,” with Antonoff accompanying her, they decorated the piano with talismans they’d kept close at hand while writing the song: a copy of Lorrie Moore’s short-story collection “Self-Help”; a framed picture of the Swedish pop savant Robyn. This studio, by contrast, was bare of any personal touches, unless you counted the synthesizers Antonoff had loaded onto a wall rack. Whereas Lorde and Joel Little tended to build “Pure Heroine” from the drumbeats up — a common method among hip-hop producers — she and Antonoff took a more classicist approach to “Melodrama,” writing on piano. “I’d go to Jack and say, ‘I have a chunk of melody in mind and I want to try a tight, syncopated falsetto, maybe like a Prince thing,’ ” she said. “Then we’d sit at the piano straight away and figure it out.” As a result, she said, “you could play the whole album acoustically if you wanted — it’s like ‘Blue.’ ”

Lorde’s bugbear at the moment was a song called “Perfect Places,” about going to parties and hooking up, in which she pierces an atmosphere of hedonism with stabs of melancholy — a recurring technique across the album. “It’s lived a million lives,” Lorde said of the composition. “We’ve tried it at different tempos, used different voicings, took it half time, made it weird and druggy, but that didn’t work. A big problem is that there’s so much to the song. The other day I had a breakthrough: What if we delete the entire prechorus? Just take it out, and I never have to hear it again in my life? We did, and now the whole thing follows a much simpler trajectory.” Lorde frowned. “But we still haven’t cracked the code.”
She and Antonoff had an idea in mind for the hook: What if a mass of multitracked Lordes came in, belting out the words together beneath the main vocal like a choir of clones? She approached a microphone beside the mixing board to try it out. “Can you do some shouty, bratty ones?” Antonoff asked. “In the room it’ll sound crazy, but in the mix it’ll sound like a bunch of kids.”

As Lorde sang, she put her whole body into it, twitching her legs and throwing her arms as if she were the only person in the room. She delivered one take, then another, precisely modulating her performance as she went. She stepped back several feet from the microphone in order to yell; got in close to murmur. “These are fun-drunk vocals,” she said. “I should try them sadder.”

The hook featured an emphatic confession: “Now I can’t stand to be alone.” Lorde said that for a while these eight syllables were “Now I don’t know which way to go,” but those words felt wishy-washy, and she knew they wouldn’t stick. While Lorde argues that writing great pop lyrics tends to mean “pushing past clichés to a more specific truth,” there are nonetheless times when nothing will capture that specific truth better than the familiar phrase: “‘I can’t stand to be alone,”’ she said. “That’s why I go out.”

Antonoff played back several of Lorde’s takes, layering them atop each other. “Euchhh,” she said.

“We’ll get it there,” he assured her, then asked, “Is there a harmony for the second half that’s quiet, but makes it feel fuller?” Within seconds Lorde had devised one. “Do it weird and Kate Bushy,” Antonoff proposed. “More ah, less aw.”
No one’s feedback mattered to Lorde as much as Antonoff’s. When Max Martin heard “Green Light” shortly before its release, she told me, “he had a very specific opinion, which had to do with the melodic math — shortening a part.” Martin is probably the greatest pop craftsman alive. Since his late-’90s breakthrough he has written or co-written career-defining singles for Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and the Weeknd. Lorde sought an audience with him a few years ago at his Los Angeles studio, and they stayed in touch. Martin described “Green Light” as a case of “incorrect songwriting,” Lorde said, clarifying that this “wasn’t an insult, just a statement of fact,” and one, furthermore, that she agreed with: “It’s a strange piece of music.” (The press-averse Martin declined to comment.) On top of the left-field key change, “the drums don’t show up on the chorus until halfway through, which creates this other, bizarre part.” But she and Antonoff decided they’d made the song they set out to make, and while “Green Light” hasn’t neared the success of “Royals,” it was validating to her that the song has performed well with its oblong dimensions intact — rising into the Billboard Top 20 in its second week and receiving more than 40 million views on YouTube. When it comes to “melodic math,” Lorde said, “I have a strong awareness of the rules — 60 percent of the time I follow them; 40 percent, I don’t.”

She moved on to an untitled ballad with something of a soft-rock vibe. It had a slow-burning section, built around piano chords, for which Lorde had yet to find a lyric or melody. “I was thinking ‘hard feelings’ could work here,” she told Antonoff, explaining to me that “I have these phrases banging around that we try to find homes for.” She approached the microphone again. “Try sliding it, like Sinead,” Antonoff suggested. “Oh, my babe I got haaard feeeliiings,” Lorde sang, delivering the first five words in a spiky staccato before bleeding the last two together and elongating their vowels. “It’s very adult contemporary, but it’s sick,” Antonoff declared. Unconvinced, she tried a clipped, breathy phrasing instead: “Hard. Fee. Lings.”

They listened to the playback. “See, I think -lings is hooky,” Lorde said. Antonoff nodded. He said the song put him pleasantly in mind of Don Henley’s 1989 hit, “The Heart of the Matter,” in which he grapples with news that a past lover has met someone new, then laments other bygone relationships. “I love that genre of breakup song, where it’s the calm after a big fight,” Antonoff said.

It was a deeply uncool reference, but Lorde nodded enthusiastically. “This song is the moment of calm before you start raging,” she replied. “I remember this being so jarring while it was happening, like: Oh, this is that moment in the breakup. Until now the two of you were concentric circles, but the instant you get out of this car, you are only going to get farther apart from each other.”

They continued to discuss their love of the Henley song, reciting lyrics back and forth. “First he goes, ‘My thoughts seem to scatter,’ ” Lorde said, “then later it becomes ‘My friends seem to scatter.’ ” She shook her head appreciatively. “Devastating.”

Lorde ended the session in good spirits: Things were moving in the right direction. She said goodbye to Antonoff and reserved a table for dinner at the Waverly Inn. Like the Flame, this West Village restaurant had become one of Lorde’s favored New York haunts, but it was a universe apart. “There’s a truffle mac-and-cheese,” she said as we entered. There were no septuagenarians in sight packing up surplus French fries, but the “Saturday Night Live” personality Colin Jost was one table over, and as we waited for our menus, Lorde pointed across the room: “I saw Ruth Bader Ginsburg at that table one night.”

There can be a feeling of hypocrisy, verging on betrayal, when artists who first introduced themselves as outsiders go on to enjoy success and, with it, consummately insiderish pleasures. Lorde has been a careful steward of her own image from the start. In 2012, as she prepared to post her first EP, “The Love Club,” as a free download, label executives encouraged her to pose for press photographs. She rejected this idea, inspired by artists like the Weeknd and Burial, who came up outside the major-label system and began celebrated careers online under cloaks of anonymity. Before we left the studio, she debated out loud the wisdom of taking me to such a fancy restaurant, wondering how it would come off in print. “Well, I have money now,” she finally declared, “and I don’t spend it on watches or something. I spend it on food.”

I was staying a short walk from Lorde’s hotel, so after we ate I hitched a ride in her chauffeured S.U.V. Every corner was piled high with blackening snow. “I’ve never seen New York like this,” she said as we pulled away from the curb, tires crunching. After a few blocks Lorde took out her phone and explained that she was eager to listen to one of the songs she’d worked on that day. Could we not talk for a bit? “Give me three minutes, I’m sorry,” she said. “I like to play things when I’m moving.”

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