Olivia Rafferty: Lorde’s long-awaited sophomore album has finally been heralded by “Green Light,” and, with all the weight that circumstance has placed upon it, the song actually delivers. It dances on the edge of commerciality (but by this point, it’s Lorde, so who cares) with a strong pop sensibility but a subversive nature, illuminated by each of the familiar-yet-slightly-unexpected twists at the start of each new section. My only gripe is that Lorde, for all the lyrical prowess she possesses, could have come up with a bigger hook. One of the greatest rhythmic stresses in the chorus lies on the word “things,” which sits unimpressively, inciting neither intrigue nor imagery with its utterance.
Joshua Copperman: The way this deviates from the rest of pop music is subtle but brutal — I can imagine an a cappella group wanting to do “Green Light,” but then realizing that the constantly shifting arrangement and vocal melody are too strange to pull off. I can also imagine every other pop songwriter wanting to write their own version (or a group of Drew’s Famous-esque session musicians wanting to make a knockoff), but unable to figure out just how Jack Antonoff and Lorde made that jump from the verse to the pre-chorus work, and what plugin makes that monstrous synth toward the end. It’s as if, tired of musicians imitating her, Lorde decided to create something both difficult to recreate and poppier than anything she’s done before. Even as this change in mood and arguably genre is divisive among fans (as demonstrated on r/popheads, the only part of Reddit worth visiting), she’s more than succeeded in that regard.
Leonel Manzanares: That minor/major key shift (most specifically, that G-chord that transforms the tonal picture entirely) is the perfect encapsulation of the message of the song; it’s a triumph of light over darkness, and coming off from heartbreak stronger than ever. “Green Light” feels like a not-so-far relative to Chvrches’ “Clearest Blue,” both gradually rising in intensity until the big explosion, but Lorde keeps the build-up a bit longer, creating more anticipation, so when the claps, the beats and the other voices come, you just break into full euphoria. All hail house-piano Lorde!
William John: The piano figure waltzes in unannounced and with surprising levity, interrupting a weighty soliloquy about some spineless drongo that Lorde appears to have been delivering with disdainful candour into her bedroom mirror. It proves propulsive: the build toward the chorus is hurricane-like, and swiftly twists the narrative from rueful wallowing to strident self-belief. Backed by a chorus of Malin Dahlström doppelgängers, Lorde demonstrates humanity’s uncanny ability to self-actualise in unexpected circumstances, and reinforces the often forgotten notion that there’s something truly exhilarating about moving forward, about accelerating through a green light before things set themselves in amber.
Jonathan Bradley: Apparently Lorde has learned from confrère Taylor Swift; “Green Light” marks an evolution in Lorde’s songwriting, and it is distinguished by the carefully arranged set-pieces characteristic of Swift’s lyrics. The younger hand, though, is not as adept; she has been an arresting writer, but that has been through unruffled poise rather than these close observations. “I do my makeup in a somebody else’s car” and “We order different drinks in the same bar” form finely cut vignettes that sketch vivid tableaux, but neither gives life to drama larger than the plain facts of the narrative; an ill-advised metaphor about sharks, the sort of thing Swift would make work in spite of itself, is bathetic. The two have in common Jack Antonoff, whose contribution appears to primarily be crescendo; if so, he pushes Lorde, who sounds most alive when biting out “you’re such a damn liar,” into her chorus with an awkward vivant shriek. The part that keeps drawing me back, though, is that jubilant piano run. It could be mistaken for house, but it’s squarer and fustier in origin: a pop-rock pound that has none of Lorde’s iciness and a baffling eagerness to please. It’s incongruous and unfashionable and I recoil from it even as I’m drawn to it it as the most original thing here.
Dorian Sinclair: I honestly quite enjoy the jaunty piano vamp that carries the chorus of “Green Light,” but it does seem like it wandered in from some other, more cheerful song. I think the contrast could work very well if Lorde and Antonoff leaned into it just a little more, but ultimately “Green Light” doesn’t quite get there. One more editing pass could have made something pretty special.
Alfred Soto: For one so young she has a talent for writing songs that reflect the sounds in her head and the tumult in her imagination, and when she overdubs herself nagging I couldn’t wait for the moment I’d hear “Green Light” in its entirety on Clear Channel radio. I mean, I’m not sure who else would turn a jealous intimation about the beach into a great white shark fantasy.
Katherine St Asaph: Lorde couldn’t exactly have helped that the industry made this sound a rising alt-pop artist’s cliche just before her sophomore album. But after a decent piano verse — albeit one that’s clunky in its transitions, leans a bit too much on “see, I’m grown up!” lines like “sometimes I wake up in a different bedroom” and positions Lorde’s voice awkwardly between simmering contempt and affected gargling — arrives a chorus that suggests the sounds she heard in her mind were those of the “Dancing On My Own”-soundtracked close of a Girls episode.
Edward Okulicz: Second album lead singles are a minefield. Your budget goes up, you can pick your producer and radio is probably waiting. But it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t come back with a big chorus. “Green Light” is not a big chorus; it is a gigantic, crushing monster of a chorus, maybe the best of the year so far. Of course because Lorde is a woman, some people will be quick to credit her co-producer, but the sense of nervous exhiliration that goes through “Green Light” is all her. The house pianos are just the window dressing on a great pop single.
Will Adams: I suppose this is what it’s like to hear the seams of a song’s sausage or whatever. “Green Light” makes all the necessary moves to achieve that rush: key change, long build, false drop, giant drums, gospel choir. For me, a pop song has never been made worse by learning about the calculations behind it. The main drawback of “Green Light” is the way Lorde’s lyrics and the pop sheen rubbing against each other like passengers on a crowded subway. It’s not actively bad; once the initial shock of Lorde going house wears off, we’re left with a decent Foxes song.
Maxwell Cavaseno: Its a good thing to be unsure about things sometimes. The most wearying thing about Pure Heroine was that it was the relentless sound of such absolute certainty by pushing low-stakes, most notably in how WACK the production remained consistently. Lorde herself was admittedly someone’s drop of fresh air, but had a relentless drive to pen the haughtiest lyrics that just seemed eyerolly for someone who, on a musical level, really played it safe. “Green Light” is real weird, just because at first her growling over piano chords and seething could be the easiest drive into singer-songwriter parody until we get a Derrick May style piano riff beneath her snarls slowly evolving into a triumphant wail that reminds me of the improbable world where Mackenzie “Torres” Scott goes dancepop. And that dramatic drum break which on the final moments gets added to with strange distortion? I can’t help but think of something Kanye West would try. I can’t say I like this song, but I really like the idea that Lorde wants to move past the satisfaction of certainty. After all, after getting to such success, its a nice idea to know you can be a different kind of brave.