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400 Lux one of Lorde’s top tier songs. Period.
As a Lorde stan since 2013, I must say that I think 400 Lux is her best song. Yes, I know Ribs is a fan favorite. Yellow Flicker Beat is a writing feat to replicate. The Lourve is a masterpiece that needs to be played in the Lourve.
I hope to begin one of my dreams of breaking down song lyrics just like poems and explain and interpret them as a series on this blog and eventually YouTube. I believe that lyrics are a form of poetry. Lyricism uses many of the same literary elements that poems use such as metaphors, rhyme, and repetition. Besides, I want to become a songwriter one day.
Let’s hop into my interpretation of 400 Lux.
400 Lux creates an ambiance that feels both hazy and dreamy. There’s this feeling of sitting in the passenger seat of your friend’s car, sweating in the middle of summer. They get out to buy you a drink —maybe even orange juice. Then you both are stuck in traffic and simply “killing time.”
I had to do some research. Lux is Latin for light (that one semester of Latin finally came in handy). But in modern times, a lux is a measure of light. 400 Lux is a lot of light.
The intro is a siren wailing from earbud to earbud. Maybe it’s a warning of the wasteful moments as teens or it’s a long drawl to symbolize the time. We, the listener, is also waiting a solid 30 seconds until Lorde begins to sing. Then, the first words are..
“We’re never done with killing time/Can I kill it with you/Til the veins run red and blue?/We come around here all the time/Got a lot to no do, lemme kill it with you.”
This opening gives the speaker a question of wasting time away. To kill time means to pass time. Yet like time, the speaker is not “never done.” Time goes on forever and is never complete.
The first verse takes me back to my early teen years, where I had nothing to do. Probably some school work, but overall I had nothing. According to Genius, in 2018, Lorde said: “the song is a nod to kids in the suburbs.” I lived in the suburbs for 2-3 years as a teen. I particularly remembering rejecting my family’s friends’ kids offers to go hang out. Pretty much there isn’t much for kids to do before working as teens. All we did was hang out and want as time went away.
Hell, I spent my time looking up “One Direction Funny Moments.”
The pre-chorus is the glue of the song. This is what makes this song one of my favorite. It has this way of both getting stuck in my head due to the melody and internal rhyme of “ai.”
“…Take me home again/Head out the window again/We’re hollow like the bottle that we drain/You drape…”
This pre-chorus has a lot to unpack.
The speaker and the “you” has some sort of relationship. The repetition of “again” indicates that. Then the speaker hangs out with this person a lot, meaning that they sneak out of “the window.”
Lorde’s description of the bottles and themselves being hollow and empty is an interesting turn of events. The bottles that they drain are hollow like them. The speaker and their friends are also empty inside.
(And I like you)/ I love these roads where the houses don’t change/ (And I like you)/ Where we can talk like there’s something to say/(And I like you)/ I’m glad that we stopped kissing the tar on the highway/ (And I like you)/We move in the streets/I’d like it if you stayed
To move the song’s miniature plotline, the chrous introduces a twist. The repetition of “And I like you” signals that the speaker is in love with the person they are hanging out with. The chorus brings in intimitacy with phrases like “And I like you,” “I’m glad that we stopped kissing the tar,” and “I’d like it if you stayed.”
The setting reveals that the speaker is most likely in the suburbs. Houses don’t change in the suburbs.
Also, the line of “kissing the tar on the highway” hints beyond intimacy of a relationship. It also alludes to being stuck in traffic. The type of kiss isn’t specified, so I’m assuming that it’s a gentle, short kiss. The car the speaker is in is kissing the highway’s tar.
Now we’re wearing long sleeves/ And the heating comes on/ (You buy me orange juice)/ We’re getting good at this/ Dreams of clean teeth…
The second verse the oddest one out of all the stanzas.
Time has past from the summer or fall maybe to winter. The speaker brings up that they are wearing “long sleeves.” The heating also comes on during the winter. No one wants the heater on during the scorching summer heat.
The speaker says to the other person is “We’re getting good at this.” So they’re used to killing time and just sitting around in this person’s car.
Throughout Pure Heroine, Lorde drops mentions of “teeth” a lot. “White Teeth Teens is one of the songs on the album that I didn’t quite get at first. It’s mainly about cliques and social circles during adolescence. I think from that lyric, Lorde and this person either yearns for a place to belong or having status or money. Having clean teeth that are white is usually found with people who have enough money to obtain that perfect smile. (Just getting braces, having my wisdom teeth pulled out, and filling all my cavities cost my family around $5k-10k in total.) It’s not cheap.
A big part of being a teen is finding where you belong in the area you are in. A lot of teens fall hard into wanting to fit it and filling the air with pointless conversations. Also, everything at that age seems so deep and meaningful, yet it is hollow.
The bridge brings the first verse back to the listener. It wraps the whole song together. There’s still nothing to do. The speaker does not want to be anywhere else but there with that person.
The words “I like you” are repeated 14 times through the song. The words are sung in the background as if the speaker does not want the person they are with to know directly. The subtly is what gives this song a dreamy tone. The speaker clearly loves this person and loves killing time with them. Through these habitual visits and hangouts, there is a relationship between them that’s deeper than a regular friendship.
400 Lux paints a picture of the typical teen’s day. From hanging out with a person they care a lot about, to driving past the same houses in their neighborhood, to the emptiness teenagers feel, Lorde has crafted a classic piece of work to pinpoint the teenage years.
And the long-time misheard lyrics of this song are…
“I’m glad that we stopped kissing. It’s hot on the highway”
“Moses can drive from here”
I thought she/the speaker meant something about separation for a line or two. You know…the red sea.
This song is now on my Spotify’s On Repeat playlist due to its ability to wow me every time I listen to it. Go stream and buy Pure Heroine!
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