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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 "Writer in the Dark" by Lorde mean?

What does "Writer in the Dark" by Lorde mean?

"Writer in the Dark" Lyrics Meaning

This has to be one of the deeper and more maturely beautiful songs on Melodrama. In this song, Lorde accentuates the emotion she can command with her voice, and the instrumentation complements her voice and her intended lyrical meaning perfectly. The instruments are largely confined to a plain piano and background strings nearer the end, but they serve as the perfect complement in a beautiful song.

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"Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark"

"Writer in the Dark" isn't just beautiful musically. Lorde has an interesting story to tell here, largely interesting, I think, because she gives herself permission to be petty but doesn't act on it despite herself. 

And I don’t think that song is apologising for it. It’s more like, what did you think was going to happen? I was doing this before I met you and I’ll be doing this after you’re gone… I felt quite empowered.

The song is about an ex-boyfriend who hurt her and who she now warns about the consequences of having been a "jerk" to her. In the song, she wonders what he expected when he decided to date her and let himself be mean to her. She's says he deserves it, but parts of the song show that Lorde seems to be able to move past the need for revenge and improve herself in spite of what he did to her.

Verse 1

Break the news—you're walking out
To be a good man for someone else
Sorry I was never good like you
Stood on my chest and kept me down
Hated hearing my name on the lips of a crowd
Did my best to exist just for you

In the first verse of "Writer in the Dark," Lorde sets up the problem that she has to overcome. Her ex-boyfriend is "[b]reak[ing] the news" that he's "walking out" on her "[t]o be a good man for someone else." The lines feel ironic as if Lorde is bitter because he was never able to be a "good man" for her and doubts his ability to be so for someone else. She sarcastically apologizes: "Sorry I was never good like you" and complains that he "[s]tood on my chest and kept me down." He apparently didn't let her fulfill her potential or help her to be the best person she could be. Particularly he didn't seem to enjoy the fact that she was getting so famous (or perhaps so busy) as evinced by the line "Hated hearing my name on the lips of a crowd." 

For Lorde's part, she didn't like that he wasn't supportive, but she was committed to the relationship and "[d]id my best to exist just for you." She spent time trying to make him her sole priority, but as later stanzas will tell, it didn't work out.

Pre-Chorus

Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark
Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark
Now she's gonna play and sing and lock you in her heart
Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark

We get the eponymous line in the pre-chorus as Lorde guesses that her ex will likely regret dating and hurting a writer with an audience. His "dirty laundry" has the potential to be aired everywhere: "Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark." Plus, because she's very emotionally in tune and delves into her own emotions for inspiration for her lyrics, she warns him, "Now she's gonna play and sing and lock you in her heart." She's going to keep the memory of him close and likely use him as inspiration for songs in the future.

Chorus

I am my mother's child, I'll love you 'til my breathing stops
I'll love you 'til you call the cops on me
But in our darkest hours, I stumbled on a secret power
I'll find a way to be without you, babe

Lorde, like her mother, is fiercely loyal to those she loves and also has the tendency to obsess over things. She tells her ex that she'll "love you 'til my breathing stops / I'll love you 'til you call the cops on me." This is the point in the story before she discovers new personal truth that will enable her to move on, but this first half of the chorus is focused on showing just how lost she was in her need and dependency for him. 

But that new leaf does come, and she tells him, "But in our darkest hours, I stumbled on a secret power." When things were difficult for the couple or perhaps after the relationship was over, she, forced by necessity, learned to "find a way to be without you, babe." She found the strength to move on and be her own person.

Verse 2

I still feel you, now and then
Slow like pseudo-ephedrine
When you see me, will you say I've changed?
I ride the subway, read the signs
I let the seasons change my mind
I love it here since I’ve stopped needing you

Verse 2 is the stanza that shows how she's grown up and found her own independence from her old love interest. She's honest and tells him and us, "I still feel you, now and then / Slow like pseudoephedrine," which is a drug (though there's some debate about whether its effects actually slow anything). She wonders, "When you see me, will you say I've changed?" She wonders what effect she'll have on him and if he'll notice that she now no longer needs him if he'll notice her revitalized confidence. 

As for how she spends her time now, she tells us that she lets her own ideas and curiosity guide her: "I ride the subway, read the signs / I let the seasons change my mind." And she's quite happy where she is as well. She "love[s] it here since I've stopped needing you." She has completed the story arc and is now her own person, independent of her need to please and be with her ex.

Deeper Meaning of "Writer in the Dark": A Mature Pop Song?

I think the best part of "Writer in the Dark" is that Lorde seems so mature. She travels a complete story arc from needing to please her boyfriend, to being broken up with, to plotting her revenge, to completely moving on and not needing to think about him anymore. The line of reasoning we see here is clear and honest, and I love it!

I think the best part too is that she hardly seems aware of how good the story is. Based on the quote I shared earlier, she seems to almost imagine herself like a Taylor Swift-esque bitter pop star girlfriend (and even Taylor's not really cruel) and threaten to take shots at this guy, but other than the first verse where she just gives the facts to set up the story, she seems to like the idea of being able to be cruel more than actually being cruel. In the same interview as above, she says, "I was like, ‘Oh God, I feel so naughty writing this!’ While somebody’s sleeping, like an evil witch." Even her explaining the song herself suggests that she's just having fun with the whole idea.

For these reasons and more, I think "Writer in the Dark" is one of the best songs on Melodrama, and I highly recommend that you listen to it!

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