Lorde is fighting for the right not to party

The New Zealand singer has anthems for suburban teens


James K. Lowe

It hasn’t been a wholesome year for pop music’s younger divas. Miley Cyrus shocked and appalled pretty much everyone, between her twerking display at the MTV Music Video Awards and her recent Wrecking Ball music video, and Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez went rogue in Harmony Korine’s highly sexual and violent Springbreakers—for which Hudgens released a promotional pop song called $$$ex. It seems young female artists face a Victorian-era ultimatum where their identities are concerned: Play the good girl or the bad, the tame or the twerker—and ne’er the twain shall meet.

The exception to this rule, or perhaps the only person willing to break it, is 16-year-old New Zealand singer Ella Yelich-O’Connor, otherwise known as Lorde. Discovered at an Auckland school talent show when she was 12 and signed by Universal Records at 13, Lorde broke onto the scene this year with the anti-pop pop ballad Royals, a song that mocks the superficial sex-and-parties culture her contemporaries fervently endorse. Royals is hard to miss: It’s made Top 40 charts around the world, eclipsing, however briefly, Miley Cyrus’s massive party anthem We Can’t Stop on the U.S. iTunes chart in September. (For this, Lorde received death threats from Cyrus fans on Twitter.) Lorde is the first female artist in 17 years to top Billboard’s alternative chart. But it’s her lyrics that set her apart.

Royals is a pop song about the vapidity of other pop songs. The chorus, sung over nothing but a bass line and a beat, is a rallying cry for the middle-class teenager: “Every song’s like gold teeth / Grey Goose / tripping in the bathroom / bloodstains / ball gowns / trashing the hotel room / We don’t care / We aren’t caught up in your love affair.” Its music video is equally cheeky. It’s a deliberately mundane montage of suburban landscapes, drab living rooms and lanky teens going about their day. Remarkably, it sells nothing (unless you count the disparaging Grey Goose reference in the chorus): not sex, not cars, not clothes, not Molly (short for MDMA—the drug of choice in pop lyrics today). “A lot of people think teenagers live in this world, like [the British teen drama] Skins every weekend or whatever,” Lorde wrote on her YouTube channel after the video’s release. “But truth is, half the time, we aren’t doing anything cooler than playing with lighters, or waiting at some s–tty stop.”

That candour and simplicity have rendered the 16-year-old a kind of anti-Miley, offering a catchy and danceable alternative to the status quo. Lorde, who will play her first Canadian show in Toronto on Oct. 6,  has taken Cyrus’s art form—the bass-heavy, anthemic pop song—and injected it with something smart. Her lyrics are unusually light on teen drama. “I try to stay away from talking about boys all the time,” she told New York magazine recently. “You can go to Taylor Swift to hear that.” Her most recent single, Team, pokes fun at the annoying and eternal call in pop music to “put your hands up in the air.” “This is the stupidest thing . . . being told to put your hands in the air?” she told Fader magazine. “That’s the last thing I wanna do right now. I just wanted to be a bit more realistic.” That realism clearly resonates with thousands of teens who are tired of the same ode to consumer party culture. “For teenagers, life isn’t what you see in music videos,” says Juan Mora-Amaral, a 17-year-old high school senior from Omaha, Neb., who runs a Facebook fan page dedicated to Lorde. “Most of us work really hard.”

Lorde’s rejection of party culture could come across like the disapproval of a prudish parent. And the odd commentator, including one poster on the Internet forum the Pop Music Megathread, suggests that her derision of Maybachs and gold teeth is no different from the anti- hip-hop grumbling you’d hear from a “vaguely racist middle-class dad.” And yet it doesn’t feel that way. Maybe Lorde is just beautiful and cool enough to speak any truth. Or maybe she knows, like Gangnam Style singer PSY—whose chart-topping hit was a critique of materialism in his Seoul neighbourhood—that you can complain about the stupidity of putting one’s hands in the air, as long as you sing it in a way that makes us want to do just that.


Lorde is fighting for the right not to party

  1. Miley Cyrus is all things wrong with pop culture.

    • Pop culture is all things wrong with pop culture.

    • No. It is all an act and people are too stupid to see through it. So be it. I can not make a person smarter and if peoples lives are so boring that they have to live vicariously through Miley Cyrus then I know who the problem is here.
      If people ignored Miley she would go away but thre is an obvious craving for this sort of behaviour. She is adequately filling the need.

  2. I like big butts and I cannot lie, those other brothers can’t deny.. when a girl walks in with an itty-bitty waist and a big thing in yo face you get sprung!

    • This must be the remix, “round thing” is now “big.”

  3. I love how the writer inserted her own elitist agenda by saying Lorde’s music is a “rallying cry for the middle-class teenager.” Middle class teenager? How about any class of teenager who doesn’t fall like sheep to peer pressure or media hype. Also do the boys in Royal look like middle class teenagers? Oh, Maclean’s, no matter the age of the writer they all come across as judgemental jokers.

  4. “So nice to see a positive role model for the teenagers of today and their dangerous partying lifestyles” – Emma Teitel, apparent age 42.

    • I didn’t read it that way at all. I don’t think Teitel believes teenagers today are into dangerous partying lifestyles and need to be tamed with more modest music. She seems, rather, to be pointing out the absurdity of thinking that teenagers are into such lifestyles in the first place. Since most pop music tends to reinforce that stereotype, it’s refreshing to see someone like Lorde come onto the scene. And I agree. Lorde has done a great job with Royals, and at such a young age, it’s quite refreshing to see.

  5. I have not been able to figure Emma Teitel out at all because she has had strangely opposing viewpoints on subject matter that is fairly connected.
    It seems she has no center-no ground zero from whence she sees the world-perhaps that’s the sign of a good reporter, I don’t know. At any rate, in this case she’s clearly conservative in her leanings with a capital C.
    I fully support this type of article as a small offset to the liberal driven lamestream media which is completely tilted in it’s singular myopic vision which could be generally seen as censorship.
    I was hoping this day would arrive sooner rather than later-that is, young people finally getting sick & tired of all the lies pop culture has been feeding them & finding a positive voice in, ironically, pop stars such as Lorde & Adele who willing to stand apart from all the hyper sexualization which most definitely causes stress for teens of today.

  6. She’s 16. She shouldn’t party. Give it a few years.

    • We’ll said.

  7. lorde is still a baby girl in her “i’m cool and don’t party” teen phase. give it a few years and she’ll be in and out of clubs and bars dressed in designer labels and embracing everything life has to offer.. even grey goose and gold teeth.

  8. Lorde is a blessing to current the music industry.

  9. its wrong for people to be judging her its her and how she is and take that from a 13 year old .. Lorde hasnt done anything its how she adapts to the world and i am exactly like her i love lorde and her music so dont judge