How Lorde’s synesthesia helped her write ‘Melodrama’

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Alex Poucher
Lorde forever, amen.

Image: Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Who knew “Green Light” was so literal? 

Unless you’re a loyal fan, you might not realise that New Zealand musician and young genius Lorde has synesthesia. But she does. And it informs her songwriting more than you might think.  

The 20-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor has sound-to-colour synesthesia, otherwise known as chromesthesia. That means for notes and sounds that she hears, corresponding colours appear in front of her eyes. She’s spoken about it before, but a new profile in the NY Times last week has shed new light on the condition and how it effects her songwriting.  

“From the moment I start something, I can see the finished song, even if it’s far-off and foggy,” she told the publication while speaking how the neurological condition manifests for her. Explaining that songwriting means colour-correction, she describes arranging chords and rhythms in a way that brings her vision into focus. “It’s about getting the actual thing to sound like what I’ve been seeing,” she said.

In fact, the whole of Lorde’s new album, Melodrama, was subject to a colour-coding process, so the artist could “skim the whole album, 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.'”

To do this, each song had an assigned colour and different hues described different themes. “A song about partying would get a certain colour,” she said, “but it might be a sad song, and that got its own colour, too.” In this way, Lorde’s kitchen table and wall became a colour-filled visual map that she could shuffle around until the colours looked just right. 

Amazing, right? Lorde has been sharing details about her synesthesia for a while now. In a Q&A on her Tumblr, posted around the time “Royals” was released, she described how the song “Tennis Court” was also subject to an intense colour-correction process. 

“When we first started tennis court [sic] we just had that pad playing the chords and it was the worst textured tan colour, like really dated, and it made me feel sick, and the we figured out that pre chorus and I started the lyric and the song changed to all these incredible greens overnight!!!”  

Fellow musicians Pharrell Williams and Blood Oranges’ Dev Hynes have also stated they have forms of synesthesia. Research from a 2015 study from Australian National University found that “synesthetes” have stronger connections between different brain areas than people without the condition. It’s this cross-activation of brain regions (such as regions associated with conceptual and perceptual processes) that leads to “sound-to-colour” experiences, like in Lorde’s case. 

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Click to view the original article on Mashable.

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