In an email correspondence and a Zoom call with Billboard this week, Lorde said that the idea for the Music Box came after her last album cycle pushed her to confront her carbon footprint.
“I’m a pop star, and I drive this massive machine that takes resources and spits out emissions — I'm under no illusion about that,” says Lorde. “But in my personal life, of course, I started to tune into different things. Coming off tour I was like, ‘I just saw so much wasted food, everywhere we went, people were just wasting food.’ And I made this personal, private commitment to never waste any food, and [now] I really don't, I have a compost and I eat everything that I buy.”
Naturally, Lorde says, that personal commitment to greater environmental consciousness started to bleed into her professional life as she began working on her third album and strategizing its rollout. “The opening point really was merch,” she explains. “I realized I had no idea where my merch’s cotton came from, for example, or who was stitching it, or if it was new or recycled… and once I started digging into [details] like that, I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t in good conscience ask my supporters to buy t-shirts without knowing I’d done everything I could to make them a little better for the environment. Don’t get me wrong, buying new stuff isn’t good for the environment. But I knew there’d be demand, and I wanted to feel like I could stand up tall behind the supply.”
That same thought process was applied to the Music Box concept — which Lorde says came to her roughly a year ago, when she began considering the physical components of Solar Power, an album thematically focused on “the natural world,” and dreaming up alternatives to a traditional jewel case. The Music Box itself will be a plastic-free box, with 100% paper and cardboard waste, that’s biodegradable in three months.
“I actually think what’s even cooler about this product is that it speaks to the nature of the modern album as a shifting thing,” she notes. “When you buy the Music Box, you get access to all kinds of interesting bits over the course of the album cycle — stuff like exclusive merch designs, extra mailing list updates, bonus tracks, behind-the-scenes photos, and other stuff. And because of the digital nature, I can add to the world of the album all the time, without anyone having to go back to a store.”
It's uncommon for major artists to pass on producing CDs in 2021, but not unprecedented — especially in hip-hop, where albums like J. Cole’s The Off-Season, Lil Baby & Lil Durk’s The Voice of the Heroes and Rod Wave’s SoulFly have all reached the top of the Billboard 200 this year without a CD component. Meanwhile, recent chart-toppers like Taylor Swift’s Folklore and DJ Khaled’s Khaled Khaled have debuted at No. 1 without a simultaneous CD release, but received one after its debut week.
Lorde is an artist who sells a substantial amount of albums: Melodrama has sold 248,000 copies in the U.S. to date, according to MRC Data, with 975,000 equivalent album units earned. Yet she intends the Music Box not as a way to shrug off the CD, but to re-imagine it. “To be able to stand behind a physical product is a really powerful feeling for me, and I don't know if I would be feeling that power from, like, just making another CD,” she says.
Meanwhile, Lorde confirms that Solar Power will receive a vinyl release, but that she and her team are “still figuring out” how to reduce its impact on the environment, perhaps with a limited edition run. “I thought hard about this — because vinyl is obviously a physical product, and it’s made of oil,” she says. “But my justification on continuing to make it is that I think vinyl is still something people keep for a long time. Whereas I think even the CD enthusiasts among us would agree that it feels like less of a permanent product.”
In addition, Lorde says that she’s focused on minimizing the carbon footprint of her upcoming tour, which kicks off in New Zealand in February 2022 and arrives in North America in April. As a spectacle requiring major resources, the modern pop tour is “definitely a zone that is ripe for improvement,” she says, “and we are for sure putting plans in place to do what we can there.” Lorde adds that she’s open to having conversations with her peers that have already made headway in establishing those improvements: “I know there are artists and industry leaders that try pretty hard in these zones, so I'm definitely keen to have some of those conversations. Call me, Chris Martin!”
As she tweaks her approach to her physical releases, merchandise and touring operations, Lorde stresses that her environmentally conscious adjustments aren’t enough to produce substantial changes on their own. “We all know enough to know that real change in our climate crisis needs to come from legislation,” she says. “As much as I want to believe in the sort of personal approach, like — it has to be so much bigger than that.”
Instead, she hopes that products like the Music Box inspire others, artists and non-artists, to confront their own environmental impact and examine where they can improve, as she was forced to do. “I think people like me saying, 'This is something that I'm going to try and do in my work,' symbolically, it makes a difference. ... It instills you with hope and with sort of a bit of a charge to go and do something differently. It’s a good feeling.”