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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 "Perfect Places" by Lorde mean?

What does "Perfect Places" by Lorde mean?

"Perfect Places" Lyrics Meaning

Lorde's new album Melodrama comes out in one week, and "Perfect Places" seems to be the song most like Pure Heroine I've heard so far. The music is synthy and deep, but it differs from Pure Heroine by sounding lighter and less dark. There's just something below the surface of the music--maybe something in her voice--that speaks of being happier. Or maybe it's how she sings the line "I'm nineteen, and I'm on fire." Whatever that quality is, "Perfect Places" might be my favorite song from Melodrama so far. It's Lorde, but it's older, happier Lorde, and I like who she's becoming.

*Actually reads the lyrics deeply*

Well, this is embarrassing, but I take back most of what I said. The music sounds happy, but these lyrics are...uh...pretty depressing. Let me explain.

"What the f**k are perfect places?"

It turns out that Lorde isn't actually so happy. She's transitioned into an adulthood that she seems to feel is somewhat purposeless. She parties, has lots of casual sex, drinks alcohol in abundance, and where does that get her? She resolves to go to "perfect places" but realizes she doesn't even know what that means? It seems that "Perfect Places" is a semi-Millennial-focused reverie on growing up into a life that people told us would be perfect and wonderful. Lorde isn't satisfied with what she's found.

Verse 1

Every night, I live and die
Feel the party to my bones
Watch the wasters blow the speakers
Spill my guts beneath the outdoor light
It's just another graceless night
I hate the headlines and the weather
I'm nineteen and I'm on fire
But when we're dancing I'm alright
It's just another graceless night

Lorde begins telling this story in the verse of "Perfect Places." She tells us that life is a rollercoaster for her. Nothing is sane or steady. "Every night" she "lives life the fullest" and feels the "lowest lows." And how does she do this? She parties hard. She feels it to her "bones" as she "[w]atch[es] the wasters blow the speakers." The "wasters" are people who are drunk, and they're at a party, messing up the speakers, destroying them by playing them too loud. On Genius.com Lorde explains that she actually did that herself once.

When the party's over, she going to "[s]pill her guts beneath the outdoor light," perhaps writing a song or confessing something deep and personal to a friend. Whether it's being drunk and destroying speakers or confessing dark secrets, her description of "just another graceless night" is apt.

She explains that she "hate[s] the headlines and the weather," which she explains on Genius as being about the summer of 2016 in New York City where she hated the news and the hot weather. The line about being "nineteen" and "on fire" seems to actually be a negative thing. Perhaps she has much to be worried about, or maybe her thoughts are consumed with the negative news she's been reading. But despite that, she feels better when she's "dancing" at the parties that are becoming an important theme for this song.

Pre-Chorus

Are you lost enough?
Have another drink, get lost in us
This is how we get notorious
'Cause I don't know
If they keep tellin' me where to go
I'll blow my brains out to the radio

Pre-choruses generally make a good place to develop the song from being story focused in the verses to being more general and abstract in the chorus. Lorde does that here by connecting the partying and drinking to her own dissatisfaction with her life. She asks herself if she's "lost enough" yet and when the answer is "no," she sings, "Have another drink . . . ." Lacking the significance she wants, she reasons that this is "how we get notorious." She expresses a general lack of direction when she sings, "'Cause I don't know," and promises that "[i]f they keep tellin' me where to go / I'll blow my brains out to the radio." The "they" could refer to managers, responsibilities, or friends who think they know best, and what they're doing seems to drive her to want to write songs for others to listen to. It'll be emotionally cathartic for her, and it'll help her to express herself and her frustrations.

Chorus

All of the things we're taking
'Cause we are young and we're ashamed
Send us to perfect places
All of our heroes fading
Now I can't stand to be alone
Let's go to perfect places

The chorus contains a twice-seen pattern of two lines of negative problems followed by one line that contains what seems like a solution (which we'll find later to be empty). In the first case, Lorde mentions "things we're taking," which could refer to substance abuse, and the fact that she and her friends are "ashamed." Faced with that, she asks to be sent to "perfect places"--ostensibly places where there are no problems and only happiness.

In the second case, she bemoans "heroes fading" and explains that she "can't stand to be alone." Interestingly, on Genius, she explains, "Another big realization of the last year for me – 'I think I’m partying so much because I’m just dreading sitting at home by myself hearing my thoughts hit the walls.'" This is a common idea I've seen in music, most notably in "Car Radio" by Twenty One Pilots. Artists and others are faced with heavy and dark thoughts when forced to spend time quietly, when there are no distractions to keep them occupied. Her solution to these heavy thoughts? "Let's go to perfect places."

Verse 2

Every night, I live and die
Meet somebody, take 'em home
Let's kiss and then take off our clothes
It's just another graceless night

Lorde, here, further explains the sexual aspect of her lifestyle. She sings, "Meet somebody, take 'em home / Let's kiss and then take off our clothes." This hasty sexual interaction with someone she hardly knows, she calls (as before) "another graceless night." In fact, on Genius, she adds that "the melody with all those sad harmonies is just my favourite. Cause hooking up with a ton of people you only like a little bit is fun but sad sometimes too!" She also mentions the irony of one of her songs containing a line that sounds like it comes straight from a mainstream pop song--she calls it "profound" suggesting that maybe she's interacting with how strange a "pop lifestyle" feels to her personally. 

Outro

All the nights spent off our faces
Trying to find these perfect places
What the fuck are perfect places anyway?

In the outro, Lorde gives us the true message of "Perfect Places." The answer to her problems so far in the song have been to go to "perfect places," but now she questions whether that's even possible. She realizes she's been looking for "perfect places" during her drunken revelries and realizes she hasn't found them yet. So, she concludes by asking, "What the fuck are perfect places anyway?" Are they real? How can we find them if they are? Are they even attainable? Her repetition of this sentiment a few times and the overall negative tone of the lyrics in "Perfect Places" suggest that she doesn't have much hope for them.

Deeper Meaning of "Perfect Places": Can we be happy?

I think on the deepest level, Lorde is asking if happiness is achievable. After all, she has the money and leisure to party, she's successful and can go anywhere she likes, and she's embraced a "pop star lifestyle" (as suggested by the ironic pop line about taking clothes off), but she still has these questions about whether she can find true happiness. 

Personally, I think happiness can be found, and I don't think that partying is necessarily the best way to find it--I think true happiness comes in stopping trying to indulge the self and instead to give of the self to another, be that "other" be God or other humans. But I respect Lorde for being willing to admit her fruitless searching in this song. It's an important question to ask and an even more important one to ask. 

 

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