Of Love Clubs and Bravados

In a memoir from the anthology ‘Stories from the Previous World’, Bren Swogger takes readers on an uplifting journey of music and self-discovery, revealing, through words and photos, how pop artist Lorde’s music has deeply affected their life over multiple years. Cover photo by Gabi Murphy.

March 10, 2018, 10:30 pm. 

There’s nothing quite like the rush of cold air when exiting a hot, crowded building. For so long, I stood in that crowd of people—all packed onto the floor, rising to the rafters of the arena, creating a wall of sweat, screams, claps, cheers, and tears. It all pools in the air, descending like a muggy cloud upon the masses, raising the temperature to unforgivable heights. 

When I arrived earlier that evening, I was bundled up in multiple layers, beanie pulled tightly over my head to conserve the escaping body heat. But now, jacket off, I welcome the rush of ice-cold air, enveloping my body and wicking the beaded heat and sweat from my skin. 

Hundreds of bodies exit the doors alongside me, a field of noise—laughter, voices, singing—all swirling around. They all go in multiple directions, diverging paths to the garage, the train, the now empty, dark, and damp streets of Portland. 

But my night is not over. Weaving through the hustle and bustle, I make my way to the back of the building where three tour buses are parked under a blinking street light. 

I’d thought there would be more people here, more fans willing to brave the elements, even if the chances may be slim. But as the minutes tick on, and the expansive arena campus is emptied, it is only a small group of us left in the parking lot: 

There’s me, my friend Emma, her friend Taylor, and one other person—though he keeps to himself, pacing around on a phone, separated from our tight-knit group of three. 

“How long do you think we should wait?” Emma asks. She’s sitting close to me on the damp concrete curb, as we try to keep ourselves warm in the crisp winter air. 

I look at my watch again to gauge the time. 

11:00. 

“I don’t know,” I reply. “But if there’s any chance at all we’ll meet her, I don’t want to waste it.” 

I’ve known Emma for almost two years now. We understand each other on a level much deeper than many others. We think the same way, we share the same passions, and she knows how much this moment means to me. She knows I’d do the same for her.

We sit there in silence for a beat more, keeping a keen eye on the buses and the backstage doors, for any activity that may be an indication of things to come. 

Emma tucks her hands into her denim jacket. “Let’s give it till midnight,” she says. 

As the minutes tick by, the memories flood through me. 

August 10, 2013. 

I’ve been in love with Lorde since the day I first heard her voice—that sweltering summer day in the rurals of Oregon. My friends and I were all packed into our friend’s mom’s van, the air conditioning blasting cold air onto our faces, as sweat trickled down the back of my suit. We were on our way to a wedding. I believe it was a cousin—or a family friend? The wedding itself is not the part I remember most. What I do remember, clear as if it happened yesterday, was when that song came on the radio. 

As the scenes of rural farmland rolled by through the window, everything else around me seemed to stop. It was just me and the music. A simple, yet captivating drum beat. That low, sultry voice. My breath stopped. I listened. Before the song reached its final notes, I managed to take out my phone. “Royals” by Lorde, it informed me. Thank god for Shazam. 

November 19, 2013. 

I’m in my childhood best friend’s bedroom. We’re sprawled out on her bed, Soundcloud open on her laptop next to us, as Lorde sings of love clubs and bravados. 

After I first heard “Royals,” my best friend and I went down a rabbit hole of her music, basking in the awe of every song we could find. The passion grew deep, leading us to create a Tumblr fan account. 

Just days before, a dream began to take shape. Lorde was coming to Portland, and we got tickets. It was truly a miracle. The whole show sold out in less than a minute. But with the show on the horizon, we decided to take a chance. We messaged her about the show from our Tumblr account. 

“Can we meet you after the concert?” we asked. 

As we sat there on the bed, the message open next to us on the laptop, the music filtering into our ears, another sound came through the laptop speaker. A new message awaits. As we looked toward the screen, our jaws went slack. 

“For sure,” Lorde replied. “Try to always X.”

December 4, 2013. 

We never did meet her that year. But that night, packed into the Crystal Ballroom, hanging on to the barricade and screaming those songs at the top of my lungs, was a night I’ll never forget. 

Lorde at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, December 4, 2013.
Lorde at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, December 4, 2013.

March 10, 2018, 11:30. 

It’s the middle of the night, and the still unknown fourth man, tired of pacing around, waiting for something that might not even come, decides to call it a night. 

“I think I’m gonna head out you guys,” he says. 

We say our goodbyes, tell him to have a good night, and return to our waiting game. 

Now, we’re down to three. 

We’ve been spending the past hour in the middle of this parking lot, alternating positions between sitting on the curb, standing up, and pacing around. Though the weather is cold, and the heat from the crowd has dissipated into the winter air, it is at least dry and clear. We’re comfortable here, and our hopes still have not diminished. 

Every once in a while, a crew member will come out of the building carrying equipment to the truck or going in and out of the tour bus parked behind us. The bus hasn’t officially left, which leads us to believe that neither has Lorde. We hope that she’s still here somewhere. And maybe she knows we’re here too. 

We’ve tweeted at her, letting her know where we are. But, of course, no response has been made. But we still sit, and wait, and hope for the best. 

Sitting on the curb, scooted in close to Emma, we scroll through the camera rolls on our phones, reliving the small moments of the show from just hours before. Lights flash, music blares from the screens of our iPhones. Somewhere in the background, hidden beneath the booming bass and vocals pouring from the stage, we can hear our own voices, singing along at full volume. 

In scrolling through, I happen upon a photo from a different show. Less than a year ago, my long-awaited reunion with Lorde. As the memories play fondly in my head, I tap on the thumbnail… 

September 2, 2017. 

…and I’m there again, dancing in a stadium in Seattle, green lights flooding the field, fireworks electrifying the air. 

It had been a long four years of waiting. After her first album and the tours it sparked, she went into hiding—a long hiatus in which her fans’ hunger for more music continued to grow insatiable. 

We waited, and waited, and waited. We listened to her first album, looping on repeat to fill the void we felt. Then, one day in 2017, the drought finally ended. 

That was the year we got Melodrama. I remember vividly the first time I heard “Green Light,” once again in a car, driving through winding country roads with my windows rolled down.

My first listen through the album was another moment I’ll never forget. Closing the door to my bedroom, I turned off all the lights, put my headphones in, and listened all the way through—dancing like nobody was watching, laying on the bed to soak in the more tender moments, feeling every little emotion she had packed into these eleven songs.

When I’d seen her name in big, bold white letters on the top of the Bumbershoot Music Festival poster, I knew I couldn’t wait for another opportunity. Four years since the last time I saw her was long enough. I bought a ticket as soon as I could. 

That September, with my friend Amelia in tow, we trekked up to Washington State for our reunion with Lorde. We both planned our outfits impeccably, brandishing as much Lorde merch as we could. We blasted her music on the radio the whole drive up—singing every word, both of us imagining what this night would bring. 

We made our way into the stadium early that night, snaking our way through gaps in the crowd, through drunk frat boys and the smell of alcohol as Weezer played their set on stage. By the time the sun had set and the hour was finally upon us, we had managed to find a snug spot only a few rows back from the barricade. 

It all felt like a dream, a hallucination that, if I blinked a little too hard, would fade away. But I managed to hang on, stay in the dream for just a moment longer until the lights went down, the bass boomed out, and she was there again, standing on the stage in front of me, just as she was four years before. 

Lorde at Bumbershoot in Seattle, September 2, 2017.
Lorde at Bumbershoot in Seattle, September 2, 2017.

I wanted to meet her that night too—had thought about trying, but to find an artist at a festival is a bigger beast than at a venue with only a few stage doors. Luckily, after the hour we spent in that crowd—the lights, the fireworks, the music, the people, and the tears it made me shed—I felt a sense of satisfaction.

After all, I would have another chance. And next time, I wouldn’t pass it up. Next time, I’d do everything it took. 

March 10, 2018, 11:58. 

The minutes quickly passed. We told ourselves midnight would be our cutoff. We didn’t want to leave too late. Emma and Taylor had to drive back to Eugene, and they couldn’t risk postponing that two-hour drive any later. We were only moments away, and we hadn’t seen much activity. Still, a small flicker of hope kept me alight. 

I scrolled through Twitter, waiting—possibly—for a response to my tweet to her, or some kind of indication of something to come: a post from her account, a picture from the show, another fan spotting her miles away elsewhere. Anything to either crush my hopes or surge them. 

My eyes flicked to the time in the upper-left corner of my screen. 

11:59. 

I know it’s a superficial thing. After all, she’s just a person. But her music has been a constant for me—through all these years, trying to figure out where in the world I felt I belonged. Every step of the way, her voice and her words have gotten me through. More than anything else, those words she messaged me all those years ago: “try to always.” Those words that told me no matter what the chances may seem, if there’s an opportunity in front of me, I had to take it. They lead me to some of the most meaningful moments of my life—moments of impossibilities I’d never dreamed of—and every time I look down at my arm, at those words forever on my skin, I’m reminded of how far I’ve come. 

After everything she’d done—without even knowing—I wanted… no, I needed the chance to thank her. 

“We should probably head out soon,” Emma said. She and Taylor were starting to shuffle a bit on the curb, getting ready to make our move back to the garage and begin our drive home. But I stayed put. Just a second longer. There was still time. Who knows what could happen in a second… 

March 11, 2018, midnight. 

“Hey, you guys!”

That voice. I knew that voice. I looked up from my phone. 

There she was, walking toward us out of the shadow of the parking garage, surrounded by a group of security. She wore a black tour hoodie—the same one I’d been eyeing at the merch stand earlier that night. Her long dark hair was straightened, waving behind her as she strode toward us, smile beaming. 

Time seemed to stop. The air around me was gone. I don’t quite remember telling my body to move. I just remember standing up, and suddenly moving—seemingly floating—toward her. I don’t remember what I said, what was happening around me at all. I just remember my arms opening, her arms opening, and suddenly the gap between us was closed. 

And those five years of waiting finally came to an end. 

It felt like reuniting with an old friend, even though we had never met before. Her arms wrapped around me, her head nestled into my shoulder. We stood there together for what might have been only a second, but it felt like forever. It felt like five years of time closing around us. A world of impossibilities finally standing there under the streetlight. 

My emotions welled up within me. I felt time start to move forward again. Before I let go, I said softly, with my whole heart packed into those two words: 

“Thank you.” 

The next minute went by like a whirlwind. Emma and Taylor came over, they exchanged some words. She smiled at us, gave us all hugs, hung close by as we all shuffled to take out our phones. I tried to begin to explain everything I wanted to say: hearing her for the first time, her message on Tumblr, seeing her in 2013, her words tattooed on my arm. There was so much to unravel, and only a moment to do it. My mouth opened, the words began to form on my tongue… 

“We have to get going,” one of the security guards interrupted. “We can’t talk. Just pictures. No autographs.” 

And so, my speech cut short, I settled for a photograph. She leaned in again, both of our smiles beaming, and a single moment in time was captured in a series of pixels. 

It wasn’t the greatest photo. No single selfie, no pixel or image could capture the five years of emotions that lead to it all. But that moment—that one impossible moment, born of her words that told me to never give up, to take the chance, to try to always. That moment will mean more to me than anybody will ever understand.

Bren Swogger and Lorde outside the Moda Center in Portland, March 11, 2018.
Bren Swogger and Lorde outside the Moda Center in Portland, March 11, 2018.

‘Stories from the Previous World’ will be available for purchase soon via Barnes & Noble.

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