Screen Shot from Lorde's Website
[screenshot from Lorde’s Website]
SONG MEANING: “Magnets” is about a relationship that’s weakening. Lorde, as the lead singer and narrator, doesn’t want it to end and urges her lover to fight on. Keep reading to find out more!

“Magnets” was dropped on Friday, September 25th. The song is hypnotic and dreamy with plenty of synth and an almost African/Caribbean dance floor beat. The song’s going to make good dancing for a lot of parties this fall, and the constant refrain of “[l]et’s embrace the point of no return” will only contribute to the two-stepping madness.

If you want to hear it before you read more, I’ve added the song to my Spotify playlist “Clifford Stumme’s Pop Prerogative” below. Don’t forget to follow my playlist!

The Explanation

Like I said above, “Magnets” is about a romantic pull that’s weakening. Two magnets (two people in love) had a strong attraction, but they’re starting to fall away from one another, or one of them is turning around. No longer will north and south be facing each other. Soon, two north’s or two south’s will be pushing each other away.

The song, sung by Lorde, is told from the point-of-view of the female in the relationship. Her man is leaving her for another woman, but she knows that woman doesn’t have experience or knowledge to understand the guy. Lorde want him to come back to her and to go so far that they’ll never be able to return to a platonic relationship.

In Verse 1, Lorde sings about how neither she nor the guy ever felt the relationship was strong and how they kept on going with it even still: “Never really felt bad about it / As we drank deep from a lie.” The lie is that they will be able to survive as a couple, and she describes this state as “melting magnets”–a slang term that refers to a supposedly strong relationship falling apart. When she mentions “half-shut eyes,” we know that they’re sleeping together and that after some excitement (possibly that of sex) reality begins to settle in.

In the Pre-Chorus, Lorde references “[s]moke and sunset off Mulholland.” Smoke suggests mystery and secrecy in the relationship, and the sunset suggests romance or the end of a relationship (similar to the end of a day and the “half-shut eyes” reference).

Possibly while driving down Mulholland (a famous road in LA where many celebrities live), Lorde’s male counterpart is talking to another woman who Lorde thinks may be his girlfriend, meaning that to be with Lorde, he’s cheating on this other girl. And Lorde doesn’t like this girl at all. Almost as an insult, she says the girl has a “[f]ace from heaven” to suggest that she’s too innocent to be interesting or to “know the things that I know.”

In fact, Lorde claims that “[p]retty girls” in general “don’t know the things that I know.” This is not self-deprecating–Lorde isn’t admitting to being ugly–she’s saying that girls who focus on their appearances and live superficial or “innocent” lives have never dug deep enough to really understand life the way Lorde looks at it.

CULTURE MOMENT: Suggesting that innocence and superficiality go hand-in-hand comes from a cultural tendency to believe that pain, difficulties, and struggles are “real” while good and happy things don’t have substance or depth. Of course, joy can sometimes be deeper than sorrow, but it’s usually easier to find sorrow than joy, so people who think sorrow is deep may be the shallow ones.

"Team"
[screenshot from “Royals” MV]
You can see similar themes in “Royals” where Lorde again complains about superficial wealth and instead prefers to be part of a group that gains its identity by despising wealth and the shallowness that comes with it–the kind of shallowness that thinks wealth is life’s primary goal or pleasure.

But unlike this girl, Lorde knows things and is introspective enough to recognize shallowness and tells the man that if he comes with her, she’ll “share the things that [his girlfriend] won’t.” This could be a reference to sex or existential struggles–either way, it seems to be deeper than what she says the girlfriend offers.

Check out my weekly podcast where we break these songs down even further!

In the Chorus, Lorde shows her depth in an odd way. She describes her relationship as “dancin’ past the point of no return.” Her depth has found itself in dancing, embracing a relationship, and the emotion surrounding the losing of one’s self. She has found meaning in the intensity of emotion, encouraging her friend to join her in freeing “ourselves of all we’ve learned.”

Their bond has strengthened, so she loves “this secret language that we’re speaking.” And by urging him to “[s]ay it to me,” she wants him to keep speaking it to her. This language could be a physical or emotional language, but it doesn’t matter either way. Lorde’s depth and communication style here are tied up in intensity of feeling. Knowledge of deeper, darker things (fill in here what you guess those things may be) has led her to the knowledge that letting go is the only answer and that letting go will bring, maybe not happiness, but at least ecstasy–a shorter lived and more intense emotion.

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All of this build up is meant to climax in the final three lines of the chorus: “Let’s embrace the point of no return.” Whatever Lorde and her friend are doing, she wants to do it so strongly, that there’s no going back. They have to commit and continue on to sustain the bond (whether physical or emotional) that they have created.

Lorde (also known as Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor) [screenshot from "Royals" MV]
Lorde (also known as Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor) [screenshot from “Royals” MV]
In Verse 2, Lorde sings, “Never really thought we would make it / We be thinking about what could have been.” These lines could imply that Lorde and the fellow have been having a strong secret relationship and that Lorde really wishes it could have been open; however, she’s still even surprised that the relationship has lasted this long, in spite of “melting magnets.”

Even though the magnets were melting at one point, that warm melting has turned into a hot fire that has intensified their love. They’ve “had a record summer” and “can’t turn it down.” Lorde wants this to keep going and to not “see the envy again” that comes with a weakening relationship and her man going back to his girlfriend.

The song ends in several repetitions of the chorus’s last line “Let’s embrace the point of no return” that emphasize Lorde’s powerful desire to go deeper with this man.

What’d you think of “Magnets” by Lorde and Disclosure? If you share your thoughts soon enough, I may even mention be able to use your comment in my podcast on Friday!

Thanks for reading CliffordStumme.com, and please don’t forget to share, like, and follow on Twitter, Facebook, and this blog. I just started up an insider e-mail list where I ask for your help to explain pop songs and let you know about new posts and podcasts. PLEASE JOIN! Thanks for reading!

Clifford Stumme is a blogger on CliffordStumme.com and a college instructor/desk-watcher at Liberty University. He likes juggling and reading/writing, and he is married to the wonderful and beautiful Wife April.

 

  • Your explanation of who the guy is in a relationship with and with whom he is cheating seems conflicting, but I understand the song as having Lorde playing the observer and mistress and the other girl being the girlfriend.

    From the get-go, Lorde admits that the whole affair she has been having with the guy wasn’t meant to real or something lasting “a lie”, but she didn’t feel bad about entertaining such feelings. She declares that the pretty girl with “a face from heaven” doesn’t know about the actions between herself and the girl’s man, “bet the world she don’t know”. Here she seems to dig out a bit of justification for her actions by saying that the pretty girls don’t know the same stuff she does, whether that only references sex or simply being a deeper, more interesting and more intense person (emotionally) is up for debate like you mentioned.

    The chorus is an admission on her part that she wants to continue in this affair and to go further than what they’ve reached and experienced in their relationship together, “dancin’ past the point of no return/ Let go, we can free ourselves of all we’ve learned.”

    In the second verse she continues admitting that she didn’t expect them to pull it off and be together for so long. They have had “a record summer, can’t turn it down”, and Lorde doesn’t want this sweltering affair to come to an end, “Now I don’t want to see the end begin.”

    The song carries on with “Let’s embrace the point of no return” as Lorde makes it clear that she has her sights set on continuing the affair. Similar to Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘This Kiss’, this is another song where the wrong or bad choice is promoted and the whole “forbidden fruit” or “forbidden fruit” theme comes through. Whether one would like to entertain such actions is up to each person’s own moral standing, but as a song ‘Magnets’ sounds great and is probably one of the best from the Disclosure’s latest album ‘Caracal.’

    • It’s super catchy, and thanks for commenting, Stephen! I may need to iron out my interpretation of the first verse a little. I begin to wonder at times if maybe the “lie” isn’t about whether they can make it but maybe more about how they’re going behind the GF’s back. That seems to be more likely, maybe? Your analysis is really thorough, and I think we agree on most things, though as a result of your comment, I’m going to look into “This Kiss” a little bit before the podcast.

  • John R.

    Yeah, you’re definitely onto something here. Your interpretation makes a lot of sense.

    But have you seen the music video yet? It’s kinda whack. From my experience, Lorde usually uses her videos as an analogy, with scenes that are almost as difficult to understand as her lyrics, but also as a way to further explain what the song is about/ could mean. She also helps us out by pointing out key evidence to the whole thing on her facebook page:”the most important detail is the girlfriend’s black eye, when she’s by the window.. watch with that moment in mind. that’s the point the whole video hinges on / takes it from being “an affair narrative” to being [about domestic abuse]”

    She acknowledges that there’s an aspect of disloyalty about the whole thing, but also that there’s revenge. When I listen to the song as the video progresses, I am absolutely sure that the woman who is abused and cheated on (in the video, I see ring on her finger) Is the one speaking for most of the song, even though Lorde is in the video, playing a different character, lip-syncing the whole time.

    From all of this, I interpret the song this way:

    Abused Wife: “I don’t regret our relationship, or what I’m about to do, because our love wasn’t true, and wasn’t going to last anyway”

    “I knew this when I saw you with that girl at the party (just off mulholland street). I was watching you two through the swollen black eyes you had given me (or maybe her eyes were half closed because she was crying). At that time, I felt my love for you dying”

    “That girl doesn’t know the hardship that I do because she’s pretty, and isn’t in a committed relationship with my husband”

    Abused Wife to husband’s mistress:”If you come over here, i’ll tell you what i’ve learned about love/from this man”

    Then the cheating couple’s narrative takes a turn:” It doesn’t matter what the consequences are, let’s just do this and enjoy our forbidden passion for each other”

    Then, for the second verse, the wife starts to speak:”I knew it wasn’t going to work, I just had all these hopes for what our relationship could have been”

    The cheaters interrupt again:”But our love is hot, and we can’t stop it”

    Wife:”It’s still hard to let go of our whole entire relationship”

    Then Comes the wife speaking in the Pre-Chorus again, but instead of the chorus being about the husband and mistress’ love, I think the wife is making her final resolve: “It’s too late now, the damage has been done, and i’ve made my decision. It’s weird to think this way, but i’m telling myself it’s passed the point of no return for all of us”

    Then in the next scene, the wife has tied up her husband by the pool, and she’s cleaned up. Lorde enters, but in a very different costume than she was before when she played the mistress being affectionate with the husband. I think at this point, Lorde is either portraying a hit-woman hired to kill the wife’s husband, or the wife has gotten through to the girlfriend, who might not have known her lover was married, and now the mistress is angry with her lover too, and kills him with the wife, saying in his face: “Let’s embrace the point of no return” You can then read the husbands lips as he replies to her saying, “I f***** up” The girlfriend then repeats herself,”Let’s embrace the point of no return” and continues to push the man into the pool, drowning him

    Does that make any sense? What do you think about that enterpretation?

    Maybe the song by itself is translated how you did, but the video makes it’s meaning a lot more different?

    • John, that’s a really good point. What if it WAS from a wife’s point of view? I like it, and I’m going to try to mention this on the podcast today. I hadn’t caught the black eye part, so I’m especially glad you mentioned that.
      However, my interpretation of the song seems to fit in better with songs like “Royals” and “Team,” where Lorde keeps talking about how she’s not something else. Of course, you could still be right, and I could be wrong. But I would agree with what you say at the end–I’m going to stick by my song interpretation, but if you hadn’t commented, I would have totally misinterpreted the music video and actually was. You’ve saved me a lot of trouble. Thanks!
      My tendency is to think that all of Lorde’s singing is done from her narrator’s point of view–there don’t seem to be a lot of or very strong signals to suggest that she’s switching perspectives. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this and why you think she switches? That’s something that’s always confused me. Thanks for your help!

      • John R.

        Yeah, I agree with you, her songs don’t change perspective or person pretty much ever. However, she has written songs as if she was someone else. For example, Lorde’s song Yellow Flicker Beat was written from the point of view of Katniss Everdeen. The songs from Pure Heroine are all about Lorde’s personal experiences with dating her boyfriend and growing up. They were all super personal, and we can tell from these that Lorde thinks deeper, and is more observant/intraspective than most teens. This song is not really about growing up, or her culture, and if the song is really about cheating, I don’t think the song is about Lorde and her boyfriend.

        So this song seems to be a piece of its own. You’re definitely right that the song gives no reason to think there’s a perspective change, but the Video seems too.

        The first time I heard the song, I was watching the music video. I think the video almost completely changes what the song is about. If you don’t watch the video, your interpretation seems right on, but with the video, nothing really feels certain

        Regards,

        John

        • Caprice

          Sorry, if this post is super long; and yes, my thoughts are all over the place.
          I’m excited, and happy I found this site! Thank you both for your contributing insight!
          I’m learning so much.
          _____________________________________________________________________________

          “The first time I heard the song, I was watching the music video. I think the video almost completely changes what the song is about. If you don’t watch the video, your interpretation seems right on, but with the video, nothing really feels certain” – John

          I agree with this statement one hundred percent because that’s how I first heard the song, too.

          From the video, I share in feeling that it’s the wife who the lyrics are being told from.

          I see Lorde and the wife as interchangeable characters. At one time, the wife was in the Lorde’s shoes. Whether she was a mistress, or just a young, and passionate love. She knows that man in that stage, but what Lorde doesn’t know, or learns to know is that if she continues on with that man, she will find herself in the same predicament of the wife..black eye and all.

          That’s why the video shoots from a Lorde scene to a wife scene, and it just progresses and changes with either passion or sadness/darkens.

          The scene where the women look at each other with a mutual understanding, as equals with a goal. Means a lot. I don’t know if the girl got tired of him not leaving his wife, and became friends with the beaten down wife, or if the wife warned Lorde’s character, and when it did finally happen to her, she wasn’t going to let happen again, and called the “ex-wife” up.. I don’t know.

          This is the girl power- element of the video. Women join together, and let’s get rid of these men that don’t respect us as human beings, and can therefore never love us. And so, Lorde takes care of her man by drowning him in the pool and setting the pool on fire.

          > Oh, I just thought of this: First scene shows Lorde in a white gown, first encounter with him: black top and skirt, with white corset, next scene: all black, next scene: all black, shiny material, intense make up. The wife: first scene pretty in black, with each scene she gets dull, sullen, and black eye, until the final scene where she’s dressed for the occasion: all black.

          I do see this progression of the clothes signifying the loss of innocence; getting in deep

          >> Thought of one more thing: How she chooses to kill him, is interesting and very dramatic.
          It makes me think of the Lake of Fire in the bible.
          First, he’s drowned = first death, adding the fire = second death, and the second death is absolute.
          *just looked up: The lake of fire is a symbol for eternal damnation.
          Interesting.. or nah. Thoughts?

          • John R.

            I love it, caprice, that makes sooo much sense.

          • The point about the Lake of Fire is certainly interesting–the idea perhaps that cheaters go to Hell. It’s almost as if Lorde is saying, “Go to Hell,” as well. There’s certainly some meaning there.

            I still think the song and MV are different stories, but your analysis of the MV I mainly agree with! Thanks for sharing!
            Cliff

        • Your last paragraph is basically what I was thinking. And I think it’s okay to assume that the two pieces having separate meanings is okay. The MV seemed like an experiment. The song seems to be the main thing. You know?
          Cliff

          • John R.

            yeah, for sure. Fun stuff Cliff!

            John

  • Genevieve

    The video is simply about how the man’s wife has hired Lorde as a hit women to seduce and kill her husband due to domestic violence. That’s why you see the black eye the wife has as she turn from the window in the video.

    • Yes, that’s what the video’s about–not necessarily the song.

  • Anon1763409

    Ok, this is doing my head in.
    After having watched the video and I think Lorde and the wife are the same person.
    Does anyone else think that?

    • OK, I know I’m late for the discussion, but your comment is the one I was waiting to find down here. Since the first time I watched the MV I thought they were the same person and I just can’t see it in another way, although I guess the song and the video are differents stories too.

  • Siska

    Hey I love your article! I’ve been looking to Magnets song explanation…it’s confusing. So Lorde speaks up for who, the mistress or the wife?

    Also, please don’t stop making song explanation like this! Love your website xD