I ask a lot from my music. A strong beat, something tuneful or catchy, isn’t enough for me. It’s not enough to hold my attention, and it’s not enough to inspire me to write. There has to be philosophical inquiry, social observation, searching, or struggling, scathing commentary, yearning, mourning, hunger. If it doesn’t provide me with answers, at the very least it has to ask the right questions. Whether it does this in words, in music, or both, I really don’t care. But it has to do something.
I don’t know if Lorde can be trusted. Is she the youngest philosopher of our time, or a savvy business woman light-years beyond her earthling age? In either scenario, if she indeed is the author of these coming of awareness tales, precociously making her social observations and spewing her venom towards mainstream culture while starkly framed by the skeletal remains of modern tribal electronica, then she’s a genius.
“All the double-edged people and schemes.
They make a mess then go home and get clean.
You’re my best friend, and we’re dancing in a world alone,
a world alone, we’re all alone.”
– A World Alone
Does it matter if she’s genuine? For her legions of teenage worshipers looking for a role model who won’t sell them out, it matters a great deal. For the rest of us, she’s intriguing regardless. This young woman seems to have her eyes wide open, experiencing while reporting on the moral conflicts and torn emotions of teendom, bombarded by the seductive lure of sparkly objects yet wary of becoming part of a demographic, a foot away from the conveyor belt of consumerism and status envy, a short ride to the slaughterhouse. Lorde claims to be different, not influenced by mainstream culture. She says she’s not a “white teeth teen” (her words). She burst onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere with a beautiful unautotuned voice and razor sharp insights. This is at a time when the pop music landscape is littered with liars, and we’ve all grown tired of being taken for fools. Visionary or charlatan—which is it, Lorde?
Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor was raised in an Auckland suburb, where her upbringing included support and encouragement from her mother Sonja Yelich, a prize winning New Zealand poet. Immersed in literature, arts and a fertile imagination, she chose Lorde as her stage name because of a fascination with aristocracy.
“But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.”
“And we’ll never be royals (royals).
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.”
I’d love to believe her. Maybe I’m just old and jaded; I don’t know. But nothing would make me happier than to come upon an empowering role model for young women who isn’t a material girl twerking across a stage in latex and bondage gear.
There is no doubt that growing up in a literary household (and reading authors like Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Carver in her pre-teen years) gave her a richly diverse palette from which to create. It’s traditional storytelling with the buzzwords and catchphrases of today’s youth, reveling in contemporary culture while at the same time rejecting it in favor of individual identity.
There’s a unique perspective that comes from living on a small pair of islands more than 2,500 miles from the nearest mainland. You see everything happening in the world—the riches, the excess, the hypocrisy, the lies—and yet, you’re removed from it somehow, like a child staring in at an adult’s dinner party from the other side of the glass window. Or, in Lorde’s case, an old soul housed in a teenage body, looking in at a high school prom.
Time will tell if Lorde is the real deal, and if she’ll go on to reach even loftier heights of perception. Will she become ensnared by the lure of celebrity, a believer in her own legend, or will she continue to be an objective observer of her own predicament?
“I was frightened of every little thing that I thought was out to get me down
To trip me up and laugh at me”
“But I learnt not to want
The quiet of the room with no one around to find me out
I want the applause the approval the things that make me go”
“Pretty soon I’ll be getting on my first plane
I’ll see the veins of my city like they do in space
But my head’s filling up fast with the wicked games, up in flames
How can I fuck with the fun again, when I’m known
And my boys trip me up with their heads again, loving them
Everything’s cool when we’re all in line for the throne
But I know it’s not forever.”
– Tennis Court
This astonishing music video for “Tennis Court” is a personality study under a high powered microscope. It’s as if she’s in an observation room with a team of psychoanalysts viewing her behavior through a one-way mirror. Except that it’s we, her audience, who are on the opposite side of that glass. Her thoughts and emotions are like the changing seasons, dancing across her expressive features. We see innocence, then fear, then superiority, then petulance, then sadness, then smugness, then boredom, then angst, then bravado, then self-absorption, then back to fear and insecurity, then vanity. And repeat. She’s the child, the clown, the seductress, the empress. In 3 minutes and 25 seconds, she captures the whole of a young girl’s life, like a time-lapse video of a growing tree.
U.S. Tour – *All Sold Out*
3/3 – Austin Music Hall, Austin
3/4 – Southside Ballroom, Dallas
3/5 – Bayou, Houston
3/7 – Echostage, Washington, D.C.
3/8 – Tower Theatre, Philadelphia
3/10-12 – Roseland Ballroom, New York
3/14 – Orpheum, Boston
3/15 – Sound Academy, Toronto
3/16 – Fillmore, Detroit
3/18 – Aragon, Chicago
3/20 – Peabody Opera House, St. Louis
3/21 – Arvest Bank Theatre, Kansas City, Mo.
3/22 – Fillmore Auditorium, Denver
3/24 – WAMU Theater, Seattle
3/26-27 – Fox Theatre, Oakland, CA
“We live in cities you’ll never see on screen
Not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things
Living in ruins of a palace within my dreams
And you know, we’re on each other’s team”
A Brief History of Lorde
November 7 1996 – born in Auckland, New Zealand
2009 – signed to Universal, after an A&R talent scout heard her covering Duffy’s “Warwick Avenue” and Pixie Lott’s “Mama Do”
November 2012 – The Love Club, her debut EP, posted on SoundCloud
March 2013 – Love Club EP officially released
June 2013 – Tennis Court EP released
September 30 2013 – debut album Pure Heroine released in the U.S.
September/October 2013 – limited U.S./Canada promotional tour
January 2014 – Rolling Stone cover story; wins Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance for “Royals” at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards
March 2014 – first U.S. tour
Lorde has received high praise from luminaries such as David Bowie and Elton John. It was a surprise to some when Bruce Springsteen covered “Royals” at a recent Auckland show, but it makes perfect sense. Apart from Bruce’s uncanny ability to give the people what they want, he and Lorde are kindred spirits, albeit from different generations, hoisting a flag high for the common man (and woman).