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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 "Hard Feelings/Loveless" by Lorde mean?

What does "Hard Feelings/Loveless" by Lorde mean?

"Hard Feelings/Loveless" Lyrics Meaning

I really, really like the sound of "Hard Feelings/Loveless," and before we go any further, you should know that this song is two songs stuck together. There's an understated musical transition between the two, but they really are two different songs or two different stages in the action of the story being told here. In "Hard Feelings," we hear Lorde singing softly and reasonably, almost begging for the emotional turmoil of a breakup to treat her gently, but then in "Loveless," it all becomes too real, and she lets herself sound bitter and bratty almost, sort of a satire on heartbroken, bitter pop songs about exes. 

Don't forget to listen to my podcast explanation of Melodrama here or on iTunes!

"We’re L.O.V.E.L.E.S.S / Generation"

The story these songs tell is a tragedy surely. Things start out bad, and the get worse, but I think particularly profound is the way that "Loveless" ends on the repetition of the lines "We're L.O.V.E.L.E.S.S. / Generation" and slowly fades out more and more quietly as Lorde sings them over and over again. It's almost as if to say that the result of this story is that she's quickly going on into bitterness and anger over what has happened, but the quieting of the lines also suggest she wants to stop hearing people who complain about these things. She's feeling these feelings, but she's also self-aware enough to know that she can't go on feeling them forever. 

"Hard Feelings"

Verse 1

Please, could you be tender
And I will sit close to you
Let’s give it a minute before we admit that we’re through
Guess this is the winter
Our bodies are young and blue
I’m at Jungle City, it’s late and this song is for you
Cause I remember the rush, when forever was us
Before all of the winds of regret and mistrust
Now we sit in your car and our love is a ghost
Well I guess I should go
Yeah I guess I should go

Verse 1 opens in the midst of a breakup happening. Lorde asks her now ex, "Please, could you be tender?" She wants him to spare her feelings and thus tells him she "will sit close to you" as they "give it a minute before we admit that we're through." The relationship is over, and she doesn't know what that means for her, so she wants to stall for at least a minute. 

She sings, "Guess this is the winter" of their relationship--the time when things die after they have been good and the warning signs of fall have been ignored. It leaves their "bodies . . . young and blue," and now Lorde is "at Jungle City" where "it's late" as she writes this "song . . . for you." Jungle City is a famous recording studio in New York City where Lorde apparently wrote part of this album.

As she sits there, she "remember[s] the rush when forever was us"--when they thought the relationship was solid enough that they'd never break up "[b]efore all the winds of regret and mistrust" came and ruined it for them. 

And now they "sit in your car, and our love is a ghost." What they had once seems to have disappeared or died despite how strong it once was. And now that the breakup is complete, Lorde concludes, "Yeah, I guess I should go" as she prepares to leave him forever.

Chorus

Hard feelings—these are what they call hard feelings of love
When the sweet words and fevers all leave us right here in the cold
Alone with the hard feelings of love
God, I wish I believed ya' when you told me this was my home

The chorus brings us to the title "hard feelings" and concludes that what Lorde is feeling now "are what they call the hard feelings of love." This suggests that she's angry at him--these feelings are the aftermath of feeling treated unfairly--and that she is in emotional pain. These "hard feelings" are "[w]hen the sweet words and fevers all leave us right here in the cold / Alone with the hard feelings of love." The "sweet words" are perhaps them trying to maintain some semblance of dignity or amiability after the breakup, and the "fever" could be the passion they once had for each other or the "anger" that Lorde might have felt after the breakup. 

She finishes the chorus by saying, "God, I wish I believed ya' when you told me this was my home." Her ex could have said this when he dropped her off (if they were driving in his car when he broke up with her), or it could be a metaphor for him telling her that she'd find a new way of life apart from him. Unfortunately for Lorde, it doesn't sound right to her, and she worries that her life has been irreparably upheaved. 

Verse 2

I light all the candles
Cut flowers for all my rooms
I care for myself the way I used to care about you
These days, we kiss and we keep busy
The waves come after midnight
I call from underwater
Why even try to get right?
When you’ve outgrown a lover
The whole world knows but you
It’s time to let go of this endless summer afternoon

As Lorde goes into her house (we surmise from the storyline), she lights "all the candles" and "[c]ut[s] flowers for all my rooms." As a means of coping she, decides to "care for myself the way I used to care about you." Thus, the flowers and candles might be the kinds of things she used to do for her lover. The next line seems to suggest something similar to what we heard in "Liability" when she was dancing with herself to comfort herself; she tells us that in the aftermath of the breakup, "[t]hese days we kiss and keep busy." She is affectionate towards herself as she tries to heal and distract herself from missing him. 

But the "waves" of emotion "come after midnight" (thus the reason for many of the late night parties she attends on this album like in "Sober"). She "call[s] [for help] from underwater" all of her emotions, but it's almost too difficult to keep trying, and she wonders, "Why even try to get right" and heal herself. But looking back, she knows that she was going to be all right because "[t]he whole world knows but you" "[w]hen you've outgrown a lover." She had outgrown him, but she didn't feel that way, and the healing process took longer than she would have liked as she struggled to "let go of this endless summer afternoon" that either she wishes the relationship had been or that this emotional struggle is (depending on whether you read "endless summer afternoon" as a good or a bad thing.) (In "Perfect Places," she decides she doesn't like the summer heat, but most people consider summer afternoons a good thing, so I'm leaving the interpretation of this line to you.)

Verse 3

Three years, loved you every single day, made me weak, it was real for me, yup, real for me
Now I'll fake it every single day 'til I don’t need fantasy, 'til I feel you leave
But I still remember everything, how we’d drift buying groceries, how you’d dance for me
I’ll start letting go of little things 'til I’m so far away from you, far away from you, yeah

In the third verse of the "Hard Feelings" portion of this song, Lorde gives more intimate details about the relationship. She tells us that the relationship went on for "[t]hree years" and that she "loved you every single day," the love of which "made me weak." All of this makes it more difficult when she finds out that it wasn't enough for him, especially when "it was real for" her, and she thought he was as into it as she was. 

As she tries to heal, she tells us that she plans to "fake [being happy] every single day 'til I don't need fantasy [of still having him]" for her to be whole. When she truly "feel[s] you leave," she'll be okay, but until then, she "still remember[s] everything" about their relationship and how she felt. She recalls "how we'd buy groceries, how you'd dance for me"--the good times they'd spend together and how connected they felt. 

She concludes this half of "Hard Feelings/Loveless" by saying that she'll "start letting go of little things 'til I'm so far away from you." She plans to end her emotional attachment to him bit-by-bit, as much as she can until she truly feels independent of him.

"Loveless"

Verse

Bet you wanna rip my heart out
Bet you wanna skip my calls now
Well guess what? I like that
‘Cause I’m gonna mess your life up
Gonna wanna tape my mouth shut
Look out, lovers

It's in "Loveless" that Lorde lets herself feel bitter and angry and expresses some more base and childish emotions that are real and need to be dealt with but that she doesn't seem to wholly embrace. She sings that she bets "you wanna rip my heart out" perhaps because she keeps feeling for him and contacting him or bothering him. The next line shows this is true because she has apparently been calling him, and she thinks he might want to "skip my calls now" as she is still trying to sort things out but he feels confident in his choice.

Lorde indulges her anger and sings, "Well guess what? I like that." She thinks that him being annoyed by her is a good thing for the time being and wants him to feel the pain as much as she is. She threatens to go so far as to "mess your life up" and warns that after she's done singing or talking about him, he's "[g]onna wanna tape my mouth shut." And then as a general warning to other couples who might be in a similar relationship, she sings, "Look out, lovers." 

Chorus

We’re L.O.V.E.L.E.S.S
Generation
L.O.V.E.L.E.S.S
Generation
All fuckin' with our lover’s heads
Generation

The chorus seems to be Lorde giving full vent to her angry feelings even as those same lyrics slowly fade out at the end of the song. She sings that her generation is "loveless" and that everyone is just "fuckin' with our lover's heads." From Lorde's angry perspective, the whole world looks darker and more "loveless."

Deeper Meaning of "Hard Feelings/Loveless": Indulging Bad Thoughts to a Point

Lorde seems to be making a pretty strong point in this song. The first half is clearly the narrative portion of the story. She tells us how she was broken up with and she's been coping--not too well currently--and then "Loveless" is a chance for her to just embrace those dark feelings for a moment. She lets it color her whole persepctive on the world, and it makes everything look darker. 

But it's not for long. As we'll see in later tracks like "Writer in the Dark," Lorde is a mature writer who won't let something like this keep her from becoming a better person. And I think that's the beauty of Melodrama as a whole. Lorde shares her portion of the human experience, but her experience is pretty good, and she has a powerful answer for most questions she raises.

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