The Welcome Contradictions of Lorde

The other day, a friend of mine who recently moved to New York from Salt Lake City was lamenting the collective fashion sense of her Williamsburg brethren. Back home, she explained, you could automatically tell who was alternative and who was a square, based simply on the way they were dressed. In New York, it's different. "Everything's blended together," she said. "There's no way to tell who's mainstream and who's not."

See also: Lorde - Webster Hall - 9/30/13

All due respect to my friend, there are still plenty of freaks walking around in NYC. But her observation is useful in evaluating the output of a new crop of indie singers, who, as Steven Hyden noted over at Grantland, don't sound all that alternative. Like the kids in Brooklyn that my friend can't figure out, these artists are mixing signals in a way that makes them hard to decipher and emblematic of a shape-shifting generation.

One of the best and poppiest new acts toeing that line is Lorde, a 16-year-old Kiwi with a voice like Lana Del Rey and an attitude far more interesting. Where Del Rey seems content to be a poster-girl for an industry-stamped combination of vintage style and vague, fashionable angst, Ella "Lorde" Yelich-O'Connor is more difficult to pin down, and is, as a result, a lot more fun.

The first single from her new album Pure Heroine is a good example. "Royals," seems at first to be a straightforward song, with the same anti-consumption attitude that has powered recent radio hits ("Thrift Shop") and avant-garde outbursts ("New Slaves,") alike. But the song is knottier than it first appears.

For one thing, similar to Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools (Drank)," it's got the potential to sound like a celebration of the very things it purports to reject. The song's catchy, elongated bridge: "gold teeth, grey goose, trippin' in the bathroom, bloodstains, ball gowns, trashin' the hotel room" etc. will no doubt lead some epic party sing-alongs. And those signifiers' placement within the song guarantee that they'll be celebrated with the fervor that Lorde is initially denying them.

Then there's the chorus, where things get really tricky, as it operates on a distinction between being a "royal"--someone with money--and "ruling," which, apparently means simply being awesome, a trickier aspiration that's less easy to assume simply by making some money.

This is fascinating stuff, which contains an undercurrent of political thought that has (for the most part) been missing from mainstream pop since rap found shiny suits. The difference is that there's no confusion here about "serious" music--Pure Heroine makes it clear that pop songs are as useful as vehicles for in-depth ideas as any banjo-powered protest jam.

The album is chock full of moments of genuine rebellion--a spark that can't be consistently found in any one genre of music anymore. "Buzzcut Season" opens with a line delivered innocuously enough: "I remember when your head caught flame." The story goes on to detail a genuine devil-may-care reaction to an unintentional hairstyle change--a rebellion more difficult to signify than the simple mention of molly in an otherwise perfectly bland anthem-by-numbers. But at the same time, the song is pure pop, with girl-group cooing, another of those head-grabbing bridges, and talk of "explosions on TV" and other recognizable symbols of pop bombast.

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@RBAUTZ  if i understood your comment rightly (& i hope i didnt) ..

EUROPE..?? .. im assuming your american and probably cant find europe on the Map..?? .. Lol shes from NEW ZEALAND! .. which is further away from Europe than America is hahahaha! .. (learn how to use an atlas) .. New Zealand (the place where hobbits come from ;) .. is a small country with a population less than 5million, made up of three islands.. near Australia.. Australia being south of Asia.. 

Lorde is different to most major pop artists because NZers are in general different to most westerners.. our music scene is alot different.. its generally independent artists who make it here, because the major labels suck at promoting anything thats different to whats on TV .. we have a huge Dub/reggae scene and our dub is different to most dub from around the world, as is our electronic music ( no shitty avici cheese trance here) & its all alot more concious .. & alot of youths listen to drum & bass and electronic since we have a big scene for that.. we had a dubstep scene as far back as 2007, drum & bass as far back as 1998.. (mainstream in 2005) & except for the fact we unfortunately now have a very right-wing govt, a large proportion are politically/worldly/environmentally aware (we're known as being Nuclear free for over 30 years & proud of it, & the 1st place in the world to give women the vote..) every little town in NZ has DJs & a dub/reggae/electronic/D&B/dubstep band.. Fat Freddys Drop headlined EUs biggest D&B/Dubstep festival, & is getting big in the US underground now, (260,000 fans is pretty good for a full independent dub band) & theyre only one of many similar bands) . expect to see more of us moving up as music starts to become a little more real.. :)


I think we do our best thinking in adolescence. This young lady is refreshing. Thoughtful post, thank you!

AngelaZammit At D'Addario
AngelaZammit At D'Addario

The excitement at Carnegie Hall's Weill Hall continues on 10/17 with performances by young classical guitar prodigies: 12-year-old Junhong Kuang and Celil Rafik Kaya who is 22! We hope you'll join us! Presented by the D'Addario Music Foundation


You wrote 8 paragraphs and some eluded saying anything at all. Such vacuousness is what you are attempting to celebrate in the younger generation.


Lol, hating Lana Del Rey, doesn't make her less important for Pop Art or less successful.

Europe you've got it better.

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