Lorde Shares Her Thoughts on the Viral 'Cat Person' Short Story

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Olivia Bee
Lorde photographed on Dec. 19, 2017 at Jonkers Farm in Auckland, New Zealand.

For a moment in mid-December, one of the biggest topics of conversation online wasn’t about yet another powerful man being taken down or the crazy train of tweets fired off by President Trump. Instead, it seemed as though everyone had something to say about a short story published in The New Yorker. 

Entitled “Cat Person,” Kristen Roupenian’s piece (the magazine's second-most read of 2017) is about a 20-year-old college student named Margot who meets 34-year-old Robert at an artsy movie theater where she works at the concession stand. He buys popcorn and Red Vines, and after some flirtatious banter (“I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before,” Margot remarks), readers are drawn into a narrative that ultimately explores the excruciating discomfort that can arise from the way virtual intimacy stacks up against reality. There is text messaging and awkward sex had, and while the story isn’t explicitly about consent, it offers a broader commentary on it. 

The opinions on "Cat Person," which were polarized, flowed like a ruptured water main. The Atlantic deemed it “A Viral Short Story for the #MeToo Moment;” Roxane Gay tweeted, “I get why people like Cat Person. It just wasn’t for me.” Some women felt overwhelmed by how relatable it was, while some felt it fat shamed Robert whose “belly thick and soft and covered with hair” is among the repulsed descriptions Margot uses as she realizes she does not want to sleep with him.  

So what did Lorde, an avid short story reader whose living room in Auckland is lined with books by authors like Renata Adler and Ray Bradbury, think? 

“I fully understand why people lost their shit and had the reaction that they had to it,” she said during our Skype interview for Billboard's cover feature. “Your stomach kind of boils, it’s so unpleasant. I definitely identified with a lot of the stuff in there. There’s this one moment where [Margot is] like ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, but I’ve come this far and it’s going to take too much to extricate myself.’ And it’s like every girl knows that feeling. It’s always amazing when a piece of short fiction hits people in that way—you’re like ‘Oh good! Come to our team!’”