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My name's Clifford Stumme, and I explain the deeper meanings of popular songs. Let's have a conversation about what you think about the songs and go deeper together. Feel free to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Liability" by Lorde mean?

What does "Liability" by Lorde mean?

"Liability" Lyrics Meaning

Lorde just released her newest song from Melodrama. And when I say "just," I mean "just." "Liability" is less than hour old, but it's already easy to hear how good it is. Interestingly, it's a different style than anything from Pure Heroine. The song sounds more singer-songwriter than any of the dark, synthy pop on Pure Heroine, but the lyrics are still angsty and sad. It's the same Lorde even if she sounds a little different in "Liability." 

Lyrics Meaning: Losing in Love Because of Yourself

"Liability" is about guys dumping Lorde because they think she's a "liability." Is she a liability? We don't know because that's not the important part of the song. What is important is how she deals with the pain, and that's what "Liability" is really about. It's about finding yourself after someone else doesn't want you anymore and restructuring your own vision of yourself.

Verse 1

Baby really hurt me
Crying in the taxi
He don't wanna know me
Says he made the big mistake of dancing in my storm
Says it was poison
So I guess I'll go home
Into the arms of the girl that I love
The only love I haven't screwed up
She's so hard to please
But she's a forest fire
I do my best to meet her demands
Play at romance; we slow dance
In the living room but all that a stranger would see
Is one girl swaying alone
Stroking her cheek

The first verse of "Liability" start off simply enough. The lyrics of the song tell us that she's "[c]rying in a taxi" because "[h]e don't wanna know me." She's just been dumped by a guy who "[s]ays he made the big mistake of dancing in my storm." It's interesting that she uses the word "storm" here; it's as if Lorde's referring to her own wild personality and desire to be anything but normal. This is conjecture, of course, but it follows nicely from some of the personal discovery and anti-establishment themes of Pure Heroine. Her life is a storm, and this guy couldn't handle it. 

When that's over, and she's decided, "I guess I'll go home," she finds herself in "the arms of the girl that I love." Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions, she's not a lesbian necessarily. At the end of the verse, she sings that "all that a stranger would see / Is one girl swaying alone / Stroking her cheek." Lorde has a strong relationship with herself, and it's the "only love I haven't screwed up"--she's still okay with who she is.

But she realizes that she is "hard to please." She describes herself as "a forest fire" who Lorde does her "best to meet [the] demands" of. What are these demands? Well, they "[p]lay at romance," so perhaps those demands are that she find love, but I tend to think that she's trying to get the most out of life. So she sticks to herself and begins to "slow dance" contemplatively while thinking about herself and who she is. 

Chorus

They say, "You're a little much for me
You're a liability
You're a little much for me"
So they pull back, make other plans
I understand, I'm a liability
Get you wild, make you leave
I'm a little much for
E-a-na-na-na-e, everyone

And now in these lyrics we get to hear the perspectives of the guys in her relationships. She tells us that she's perhaps too wild for them and that they're worried that Lorde would embarrass them or bring some sort of inconvenience to them. After they tell her this, "they pull back" and "make other plans." Lorde then explains how her relationships progress: she gets people "wild" until they realize that they don't want that much "wild" in their relationships, and they "leave." She concludes that she's "a little much for / everyone." 

Verse 2

The truth is I am a toy
That people enjoy
'Til all of the tricks don't work anymore
And then they are bored of me
I know that it's exciting
Running through the night, but
Every perfect summer's
Eating me alive until you're gone
Better on my own

The lyrics of the second verse are probably the saddest of "Liability." Lorde tells us that everyone enjoys her as a "toy," but once they feel she doesn't have anything to offer them anymore, they become "bored of" her. Lorde sees this abandonment coming and even though she enjoys the relationship in the moment, she realizes that she'll be on her own again soon. She sings, "I know that it's exciting / Running through the night . . ." and then that "[e]very perfect summer's / Eating me alive until you're gone." They have a good time together, but even the good times remind her of the loneliness that may come next. She concludes that she's "[b]etter on [her] own."

Outro

They're gonna watch me
Disappear into the sun
You're all gonna watch me
Disappear into the sun

These last lyrics of "Liability" are bittersweet because disappearing "into the sun" can have different meanings. Perhaps she's coming into her glory, and everyone will be watching her become who they didn't realize she could be. Perhaps she's being burnt up by her loneliness. I tend to think the answer is a combination of the two and that while she'd prefer being loved by someone, she's willing to accept her destiny, even if it is a lonely one.

Deeper Meaning of the Lyrics of "Liability" by Lorde

I'm split on my opinion of the lyrics of "Liability." Part of me really loves the honest look into an emotional place for Lorde, but part of me wonders if she's pandering to a young audience that wants to be themselves and never change or grow. Lorde told us on Facebook that she was "enshrining" her "teenage glory" in Pure Heroine, but I get nervous when people spend too much time living in the past and encouraging others to do the same.

I like that Lorde's comfortable with herself, but I hope that she's not so comfortable with herself that she precludes changing for the good of others. I know this is a touchy topic because there are so many strong emotions about people being able to be themselves, but I believe that we should be able to be ourselves to the extent that we don't hurt others, and I believe that some things in life are better when we put others first before our own self-expression. Are Lorde's relationships breaking apart because she isn't considering the needs of her romantic interests? We don't know, and perhaps that's none of our business, but it's a question for younger audiences to ask before treating "Liability" as relationship advice rather than as self-reflective art.

I also wonder if she is over-indulging in pity when she claims that she's a toy for the enjoyment of others? I don't have a problem with her feeling like this--and it would be awkward if I did since I don't know her situation--but I hope her younger audience members will not take this as encouragement to feel the same when it's not accurate in their own lives. I often worry that artists pander to the emotions of the teenage demographics that power the pop music industry, and I'd much rather hear music that pushed young listeners to growth rather than affirmed and stagnated them where they are. 

Of course, you may be thinking that I'm over-thinking "Liability," and you may be right. At the bottom line, it's a simple, sad, beautiful song about heartbreak, emotion, and finding one's self, and I hope that you enjoy listening to it and think deeply about it while you listen. Thanks for reading and don't forget to let me know what you think of it below!

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