Back in July I reviewed Lorde’s mesmerizing and mind-blowingly good single “Tennis Court” and its glorious B-side “Swingin Party.” And I felt like I was late to the party, having only just heard the 16 year old New Zealand native — real name Ella Yelich-O’Connor — for the first time then, this even though her EP The Love Club had been out for months. Little did I know how many more people would hear Lorde during the coming weeks. Oh, I had a feeling that she’d rise in popularity, but I would have guesstimated that she’d achieve a fame level around that of Lana Del Rey or Sky Ferreira, the two immensely talented singers I thought she sounded like a cross between. I never suspected that she was about to rise to the level of Fiona Apple at her peak, but that would seem to be around where she’s at on the popularity meter at the moment. And, unlike the popularity of far too many pop stars these days, it’s well-deserved. Sure, Universal may have spotted her at a talent show when she was 12 and promptly signed her, but their work behind the scenes wouldn’t be succeeding so splendidly if she didn’t have real talent. The ironic thing is that genuinely talented people like Lorde usually don’t get this popular, at least not in the world of pop. Typically, someone as unique and gifted as Lorde would be rising to the top of the alternative and college charts while barely making a dent in the top 40 pop world. During recent years, it’s been awfully rare for someone to hit quote unquote mainstream paydirt without songs that have five or more co-writers apiece. But perhaps times are changing? Lady Gaga writes her own songs after all. So does Ellie Goulding, whose re-release Halcyon Days is currently doing pretty darn well. Granted, Ellie co-wrote that release’s new tracks with plenty of A-listers du jour, but, still, they’re very much indie-minded pop songs, a far cry from the mainstream pop of Rihanna or Demi Lovato, which is also the case with the songs of Lorde, who co-wrote her album with its producer, Joel Little, who was previously most known for his work producing Kids Of 88.
Suffice to say that Lorde is a true original who doesn’t conform to any predictable pop molds. One gets the feeling that she wouldn’t collaborate with will.i.am or Dr. Luke if you paid her 2 million U.S. dollars and God bless her for that.
Listening to Lorde’s immensely addictive worldwide smash “Royals,” which originally appeared on her E.P. The Love Club and now appears here on her debut full-length, Pure Heroine, one gets the impression that this a girl who only ever thought she’d become famous in her own mind, certainly not outside of her circle of friends. “We don’t care,” she sings. “We’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.” Oh, she sings “we’re bigger than we ever dreamed, and I’m in love with being queen,” but when she wrote that song she was only daydreaming of the level of success she’s now achieved and she probably wasn’t even sure she wanted it. Certainly, she couldn’t have predicted that she’d actually achieve it. “That kind of luxe just ain’t for us,” she sang. “We crave a different kind of buzz.” This was a girl who craved credibility and authenticity, not Top 40. If she really had her heart set on being queen bee and ruling — things she sang about in “Royals” but likely never thought would actually happen to her — then surely she would have been seeking out producers like Calvin Harris and David Guetta. No, Lorde had an artistic vision and it’s delightful to hear that vision realized on Pure Heroine.
Along with Little, Lorde has churned out what is arguably the most cohesive pop album of the year. Initially, “Tennis Court” and “Royals” stand out as the catchiest songs among the album’s 8 other tracks, but that’s only because you’ve already heard those gems at least 50 times by now. Once you’ve listened to the album as a complete body of work a few times then you’re sure to find yourself falling equally in love with its other tracks. All 10 of them are truly fantastic. The recent single “Team,” for example, is exquisite, a punchy and highly potent mix of hip-hop beats and introspective lyrics with a chorus that gets inside of your head and swirls around like an opiate. “Livin’ in ruins of a palace within my dreams,” she sings. “And you know we’re on each other’s team.” (She’s referring to her circle of friends, none of whom are famous, as she often does throughout the album. To that end, it would seem that her friends are the most important thing in the world to her, which is refreshing.)
In addition to the uber-infectious singles, Lorde also delivers quite a few subtle numbers with slower, almost droning beats, delicate electro-flourishes and crooned vocals. The album’s most self-reflexive song is among these tracks. It’s called “Still Sane” and it’s essentially a manifesto about how she’s determined not to let fame ruin her. “Riding around on the bikes, we’re still sane / I won’t be her, tripping over onstage / Hey, it’s all cool, I still like hotels, but I think that’ll change,” she sings matter-of-factly and she sounds entirely earnest. And that’s clearly one of the reasons audiences are embracing her: in a world of lipo-suctioned, botox-injected, auto-tuned pop startlets, she’s an honest to blog normal girl with normal experiences who’s wearing her heart on her sleeve and threatening to expose the plastic princesses for all the vile things that she’s not.
“We both got a million bad habits to kick / Not sleeping is one / We’re biting our nails, you’re biting my lip / I’m biting my tongue,” she sings during the second verse of album’s brutally honest closing track, “A World Alone.” It continues: “But people are talking, people are talking.” Indeed they are. And they’re listening, too.