In 2011, Adele caused a rupture in the pop music scene that was a result of several years of high-tempo electronic dance pop. While Adele clearly had the voice and the songs to succeed anyway, they came at a time when people desperately wanted a break from the beat-heavy tunes that dominated pop radio.
Once again, timing is everything for New Zealand teen Lorde. Time is the greatest tool used to her advantage for her recent breakthrough, yet, unlike Adele, Lorde is upfront about her role as an alternative to mindless pop music.
“I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air,” she sings on Team, responding to many a song that has made such a demand. It is one of the key tracks on Pure Heroine used to put Lorde on the map. The song, like most of the record, embraces the sort of musical minimalism not often heard from the huge stars. But Lorde ensures that she isn’t like those huge stars.
What makes her stand apart from the rest of radio’s key players is how she embraces her humble roots in her lyrics. She doesn’t necessarily take pride in where she’s from per se, since she says so: “and I’m not proud of my address,” but she owns her roots. In a way, she’s making it an us-vs-them with the sensationalism of celebrities on one end and herself (and most of the rest of us) on the other.
While she fantasizes about her first plane ride in Tennis Court, the single Royals is about just how far removed she is from the songs that saturate the airwaves targeting her demographic. She responds to a list of luxuries with a droning “we don’t care” over a basic, simplistic beat with a thin synth layer before proclaiming “that kind of luxe just ain’t for us.”
Ultimately, Lorde is painting an extremely relatable picture that makes her one of us and therefore, ever so appealing. Once again, going back to her timing, it couldn’t be better for her. While so many pop songs are about how great everything is or will be, Lorde takes a more realistic perspective.
In that sense, it’s a breath of fresh air.
Lorde offers a lot of perspective for her young years. She still has some growing up to do, obviously, but her thought-provoking lyrics are beyond her years and even outdo older songwriters who have several albums under their belts.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the album is just how fine a line Lorde is playing with. She isn’t the anti-pop star and isn’t necessarily trying to be, but she’s not not the anti-pop star either.
So far, she’s playing both sides just right but it’s a tough game to play and unfortunately for her, could be a limiting one. Such limitations lead to the one glaring weakness of the record. If you remove the lyrics and meaning, there isn’t so much to go on.
So while Adele could have succeeded in any setting and in any time period, much of what Lorde is relying on is the music and the sense of celebrity she’s responding to. She needs songs that command us to put our hands up and celebrities who party all night, for contrast. Without those, she’s not as enticing and therefore can come off feeling as gimmicky as what she’s the alternative to.
1. Tennis Court
2. 400 Lux
5. Buzzcut Season
7. Glory And Gore
8. Still Sane
9. White Teeth Teens
10. A World Alone