Confession: when I first heard the hit single, “Royals,” I thought it was Beyoncé. In my defense, the only lyrics of the song I was able to hear amidst the loud party I was at were “you can call me Queen Bee.” I only know of one Queen Bee, and although the nickname is usually pronounced “Bey,” I wasn’t about to question her highness herself. Clearly, I was wrong, because “Royals” is sung by none other than the 16-year-old New Zealand native Lorde. Although Lorde’s smoky beats are not necessarily in the same genre as Beyoncé’s booty-poppin’ brilliance, I think it’s still safe to say that there is another queen on the radio.
Lorde’s explosion of fame in the U.S. is well deserved. Let’s revisit the fact that she’s 16 years old. When I was 16, I sung in the ensemble of my high school’s musical. Not exactly the equivalent of rocking sold out shows as my alter-ego (which is how Lorde describes the distinction between “Lorde,” her stage name, and “Ella,” her birth name).
Her album, Pure Heroine, which follows up her EP The Love Club released last November, is the perfect combination of honesty and presentation. Her lyrics are an insightful look into the emotions of a lost teen, but they avoid coming even close to the teeny-bopper realm. In “Ribs,” she describes a young love in a dreamy state but without calling her counterpart “baby” once. “You’re the only friend I need/ Sharing beds like little kids/ We’ll laugh until our ribs get sore/ But that will never be enough,” Lorde sings in her airy, sweet voice. It’s poetic enough to be respected and relatable enough to be endearing.
She pulls off this effect without trying to be something she’s not. In “Tennis Court,” she ends the chorus with “Let’s go down to the tennis court/ And talk it up like yeah.” That vagueness, along with the descriptions of “class clown” and “beauty queen,” brings you immediately to high school. But before you cringe, you’re caught up in the production of the song. The beat starts with what sounds like an electronic tennis game and then turns into a strong bass that verges on angry. Lorde is in high school; she’s not trying to deny that. But that’s not stopping her from getting on a plane (her first, according to the song) to New York to show the world her creative art form. She writes what she knows, and her style is far more mature than her life experience would credit her for.
Along with “Royals,” “Team” has also received a great deal of Internet buzz. “I’m kind of over getting told to put my hands up in the air/ So there,” Lorde sings defiantly. The chorus is then beautifully layered, her harmonies creating an ethereal yet forceful tone. This skillful layering is a pattern throughout the album and can also be seen in “Royals,” in which her echoes create the image of a girl squad backing up her every move.
Lorde may be a teen musician, but she is far above entering any youth-directed environments. She doesn’t belong with her age group in terms of schooling years but has more in common with her artistic counterparts such as Grimes (who has given her shout outs on Twitter). Her songs are addicting because of their advanced musicality, not just because they’re catchy. Take a listen to Pure Heroine and take a trip into Lorde’s world, and high school will suddenly seem like the perfect place to stimulate your artistic side.