She’s smart, opinionated and an exciting new voice in modern pop. But the New Zealander’s debut doesn’t quite live up to the hype
Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s music discusses life in an affluent Nowheresville in New Zealand with the unforced panache only a pouting 16-year-old can manage. Her chopped’n’screwed pop paints pictures of us-against-the-world schoolkids (‘White Teeth Teens’, ‘Team’ and ‘Glory And Gore’ document her gang). The single ‘Royals’ has taken her from suburbia to the top of the US Billboard charts with seemingly little effort. But for debut album ‘Pure Heroine’, it’s vital not to get caught up with the fact that Lorde is a teenager. Validating this album as “awesome for a 16-year-old” sounds like praise from a grandma. Like any precocious teen, Lorde wants to be taken seriously.
Via 10 songs, Lorde taps into a malaise typical of an internet and TMZ-obsessed generation. As she remarks over a background of canned chatter on ‘A World Alone’: “The people are talking, the people are talking… we’re dancing in the world alone”. It’s a poignant line that could be a critique of social media, and perhaps a reference to the hype surrounding her. Similar is ‘Royals’ itself. As Lorde lists items that define young Hollywood (“gold teeth, Grey Goose, Cristal, Maybach”) she shrugs them off, resisting the Miley Cyrus lifestyle often sought by aspiring popstars.
Unlike Miley, Lorde has created something organic and unspoiled. She wrote and produced ‘Pure Heroine’ while “killing time”, as though making an album was interchangeable with scrawling diary entries or browsing Clams Casino’s SoundCloud. It’s an admirable approach, but a flawed one, because Lorde’s challenge to the status quo currently stands at just one idea. Every track here follows the same pattern over identical lackadaisical rhythms, her vocals never rising beyond a low-slung murmur with most of the lyrics drawing the same conclusion: she’s bored.
It’s ironic that Lorde’s deadpan melancholia has seen her compared with Lana Del Rey. LDR tried far harder to become famous, but also followed up a hit (‘Video Games’) with a solid album (‘Born To Die’). Lorde spends so much time rebelling against the pop formula there’s little time left to deliver the goods.