Before Lorde was the globally adored queen of heartbreaking electro-pop, a teenage Ella Yelich-O’Connor could be found performing acoustic covers in coffee shops throughout Auckland, New Zealand. It was a rendition of Duffy’s ‘Warwick Avenue’ that first got her signed to Universal Music (via a recording sent in by her dad) and Lorde’s never forgot her roots. Her incredible live shows often feature cover songs from artists she admires and Lorde’s never been afraid to twist iconic tracks into something uniquely hers.
While we wait for album three and the unique combination of emotional devastation and joy it’ll inevitably bring, let’s take a look back at Lorde’s best cover songs to date.
‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’
Who’s it originally by? The Eurythmics
Why’s it so good? A rare glimpse into pre-‘Royals’ Lorde shows the 16-year-old already stealing the spotlight. Part of a fashion show at Auckland’s illustrious Takapuna Grammar School, this early performance sees Lorde’s dynamic vocals paired perfectly with the ballet dancers onstage – something she’d bring back for her ‘Melodrama’ tour five years later.
The best bit: The amount of drama in those opening lines.
Who’s it originally by? Kanye West
Why’s it so good? After the release of her debut album, Lorde was by far the most exciting thing in pop music and while her ethereal, aching ballads could break hearts, they didn’t exactly go off live. This reworking of Kanye West’s ‘Flashing Lights’ – dropped mid-set as an intro to ‘Bravado’ – proved there was more to Lorde than we’d seen so far.
The best bit: The ocean of mobile phones – the crowd know they’re witnessing a ‘moment’.
‘Run Away With Me’
Who’s it originally by? Carly Rae Jepsen
Why’s it so good? The original is a euphoric, ’80s inspired belter complete with a saxophone solo, so you’d assume a stripped-back piano rendition would be incredibly dull. You’d be wrong, though. Leaning into the romance, Lorde turns this pop banger into a moment of not-so-quiet longing that’s about as devastating as they come.
The best bit: Lorde not letting a piano ballad hold back her impressive vocals.
Who’s it originally by? Nirvana
Why’s it so good? This cover sees Lorde, backed by the surviving members of Nirvana for their 2014 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, go grunge but really bring out the pop smarts of Nirvana’s music. Apparently she wasn’t their first choice to sing this track, but others had turned the opportunity down out of fear if not doing it justice. Sure, Lorde does look shy as she walks onstage, but the second Dave Grohl comes in on drums, she transforms into a swaggering rock star doing things her own way.
The best bit: That she never tries to be anyone but herself. That’s rock’n’roll, man.
Who’s it originally by? St. Vincent
Why’s it so good? The performance that launched a thousand rumours. When producer/friend Jack Antonoff joined Lorde onstage for this emotional take on the ‘Masseduction’ track, the internet exploded with theories about their relationship, which should tell you something about how intimate this cover feels.
The best bit: Antonoff trying his hardest not to sing along.
‘Are You Strong Enough To Be My Man?’
Who’s it originally by? Sheryl Crow
Why’s it so good? Haim, who have often been compared to Sheryl Crow, join Lorde here – the iconic track is well within their wheelhouse, after all. This version starts off faithfully enough with Danielle, Este and Alana bolstering the ’90s anthem with some impressive harmonies – but then Lorde walks onstage, like a rebellious younger sister in the midst of her goth phase, and completely transforms things. There are not many artists who can compete with the might of a unified Haim, but turns out Lorde is definitely one of them.
The best bit: Lorde strutting onstage. You know she means business.
Who’s it originally by? The 1975
Why’s it so good? Despite her missing the open goal of performing ‘Paris’ in Paris, this 1975 cover is about as faithful as Lorde renditions get. A theatrical pop banger about love and heartbreak that isn’t afraid of letting loose, it’s easy to see how this song might have inspired ‘Melodrama’.
The best bit: Dancing to the guitar solo like a fan in their bedroom. Just pure joy.
‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’
Who’s it originally by? Tears for Fears
Why’s it so good? Before Lorde curated the entire soundtrack for ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1’, she recorded this cover for ‘Catching Fire’. It takes a special sort of artist to take an iconic, upbeat ’80s classic and twist it into something dark, dystopian and frankly, a little terrifying. Yet Lorde’s version of this track was so universally adored that Tears For Fears used it to open their 2019 tour.
The best bit: How crushing Lorde sounds when she sings, “There’s no turning back…”
Who’s it originally by? James Blake
Why’s it so good? James Blake has made a name for himself with emotionally cutting songs, but this interpretation sees Lorde dial back the soulful electro-pop track even further, exposing more of the raw, bloodied and bruised passion underneath.
The best bit: Even though it’s for radio, Lorde still performs like she’s stood onstage at a stadium.
‘In The Air Tonight’
Who’s it originally by? Phil Collins
Why’s it so good? Of course Lorde knows what she’s doing with a gradually building anthem full of drama and suspense with an emotional payoff, but there’s still something surprising about just how much control she has over the course of this four-minute epic.
The best bit: The YouTube comment “when the beat drops she starts punching ghosts”. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.