Lorde’s sophomore album Melodrama is out today, marking the 20-year-old pop star’s first release since September 2013. That feels like a very long time ago, and that’s because it was. But at the risk of stretching your brain farther than it wants to go on a Friday afternoon, I’d like to take us back for a minute to the year 2008.
That’s when XOXO Festival co-founder and longtime internet fixture Andy Baio asked his pal, Vox Media product design director Ryan Gantz, to help him come up with a word to describe, you know, that thing when a bunch of thematically or literally related clips of video are cut together into a frenetic, encyclopedic montage. A “supercut,” they eventually decided! That word did not always exist, which may be hard for you to believe if you are me, and barely remember 2008, and is likely even harder if you are Lorde, who was 11 years old at the time.
“Supercut” is part of the language of the internet now, following several years where it seemed like almost all of YouTube was supercuts and nearly every blog post housed one. Everyone knows the word, and it barely feels like web lingo. In a song — called “Supercut” — about looking back at the highs and lows of a relationship after it’s over, Lorde makes repeated reference to a supercut that plays in her head.
“All the stages and the stars
I turn all of it
To just a supercut
'Cause in my head (in my head, I do everything right)
When you call (when you call, I'll forgive and not fight)
Because ours are the moments I play in the dark”
Today, on Twitter, Baio cheerfully took credit for gifting her the word, and she cheerfully gave thanks for it.
It was a sweet moment of two creatives crossing paths on the web. My Vox Media colleague Ryan Gantz told me a little bit more about it, writing to me in Slack, “It's fascinating how language chosen by some geeks to describe a new kind of expression can end up slowly saturating popular culture. I wonder if Americans under 35 are more familiar with ‘supercut’ as a term for a certain kind of video edit than they are with the haircut chain.” (Personally? Yes.)
“I also happen to be a massive Lorde fan,” Gantz added. “[I] listened to her EP and first album obsessively. So it's neat to have this connection to her new record, a lovely meme to have come full circle for me.”
Following this conversation, I called Baio to hear some more, because it’s Friday and we’re all talking about Lorde and listening to Lorde and doing little else. Here’s the rest of the story!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
How did you feel the first time you listened to “Supercut?”
It’s a really good song. When I saw the track list come out in May, I thought “Oh, it’s probably just the song name because it’s a good word,” but it’s actually the central metaphor of the entire song and she gets it. There’s this funny thing that happens with supercuts that I’ve seen, where people sometimes think that any montage or collage is a supercut. It’ll be like “Oh, great speeches from Hollywood films.” No, that’s not a supercut, that’s a montage. What distinguishes a supercut is like an obsessively compiled collection of clips, usually short, spliced together into a remix. And usually they’re comprehensive. So it’s coming from fan culture primarily. For example: every time Kramer walks in the door in Seinfeld across every season. That’s a supercut.
Read more about the history of supercuts here.
The elements of obsessiveness and comprehensiveness make it a supercut. And the lyrics in the song, she’s talking about a relationship that’s failed, and she’s remembering just the good parts, spliced together, like all together and forgetting everything else. Everything that was negative or mundane or upsetting, it’s just a supercut of the good stuff. It’s so great that that became the chorus. I love it.
So you’ve seen a lot of supercuts. Do you have one you could recommend to Lorde to watch?
I have some that I always go back to, because they’re really artful and fun or funny. But for her, specifically, I’d have to think about it.
I think she has a pretty wide range of interests so it would be hard to go wrong here.
The one that always seemed to push the medium a little bit is one called “Let’s Enhance,” where it’s all zoom and enhance scenes. Though that’s a pretty geeky subject.
Christian Marclay's "Telephones" from 1995 is an early ancestor of the supercut meme, and it has a disjointed, surreal style that reminds me of Lorde's work.
Can you think of any other web lingo that’s become a song title?
Over the years, I’ve made some goofy Spotify playlists. There’s one that’s all songs about blogs, one that’s all songs about social networks, one that’s all songs that mention Twitter. I’m sure that practically any term or meme that you can think of has made its way into a song. But as far as any that have been this high-profile I can’t think of any.
It’s certainly the only one that’s the title of a Lorde song. And she only has like 30 songs, so.
Were you a big Lorde fan before “Supercut”?
Yeah, I love the first album. When “Royals” first broke I was like, “This sounds so different than anything that I’ve heard.” My wife played it for me first. She’s awesome.
So, that’s the story. Please enjoy Lorde’s beautiful new album and your weekend.