Reporting Scott T. Sterling
With the breakout song “Royals,” 16-year-old New Zealand native Lorde (born Ella Yelich-O’Conner) has crashed the international music scene, now earning American radio play with moody and minimal melodies driven by the power of her soaring yet intimate vocals. There’s little more than that – just a few electronic touches and finger snaps.
Evoking a similar anti-consumerist sentiment as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ smash “Thrift Shop,” the meaningful lyricism of “Royals” would seem to belie Lorde’s relatively young age. The artist, however, sees it differently.
“It’s beyond my wildest dreams,” Lorde said of the song’s success, phoning from a recording studio in New Zealand where she’s working on her debut album. “I try not to let it freak me out too much. It’s about all of the opulence in you’ll see in a lot of music videos and stuff, which is fun to look at but is so far from my reality. My friends and I have spent many Saturday nights scraping enough money to get something to eat. It’s all just fantasy. Bullshit, really. It’s not as much profound as it is simply honest.”
An immediate hit in her native New Zealand, “Royals” recently jumped from No. 14 to the top spot on Billboard’s Heatseekers Songs chart, with indications that it will make a debut on the Hot 100 in the coming week. As of July 10, the song currently sits at No. 10 on the playlist at Los Angeles’ KROQ, one of the biggest alternative stations in the country (and a Radio.com station).
“I sent an email very shortly after signing [her] to all the key people at iTunes, and I said, ‘This really takes me back to when I signed Tori Amos,’” Jason Flom, president of Lorde’s U.S. record label, Lava Records, told Billboard. “I feel like Lorde will have the same impact. I worked with Tori from the very beginning, and I can say with some authority that Lorde has the same level of intensity and genius.”
“Royals” can be found on Lorde’s debut EP, 2012′s The Love Club, which recently landed on the Billboard 200 album chart at No. 191. The pop songstress, however, is already releasing new material in the form of new single “Tennis Court,” its B-side an inspired cover of the Replacements‘ “Swingin’ Party.”
“Their lyrics are amazing,” Lorde said, noting a newfound love for the alt-rock pioneers. “Paul Westerberg is just so clever with words, I’m really loving their songs.”
Lorde and her producer/songwriting partner Joel Little are hard at work on her debut full-length, which the label recently tagged with a Sept. 30 release date, among an onslaught of high-profile fall albums hoping to crack year-end lists.
“Having a release date is good for us,” Lorde explained, with plans to make her American live debut around the same time. “Now we have something concrete to work towards. The new music will still have the minimal sound of The Love Club EP. I’m really excited about a song called ‘Team,’ but I don’t want to give too much away about it quite yet.
“Everything on the EP was written when I was 15,” she added. “So much has happened in my life since then, and I really want the album to reflect those changes and experiences.”
Signed to a development deal with Universal at the tender age of 12 after performing a Duffy song at a school talent show, Lorde is making a conscious effort to take her burgeoning success with as much stride as possible.
“I’m not good dealing with these big, amazing moments quite yet,” she admitted. “I’m still getting used to it all, so I try not to overreact to any of it.”
When asked her dream collaborators, Lorde reels off a list including some of the world’s most revered music producers: Paul Epworth, Diplo, Rick Rubin and Pharrell Williams. She’s 16, sure, but she’s got ambition.
“They’re all such incredible artists,” she said. “Diplo has his finger on the pulse of what’s going on, and Rick Rubin is a genius. These are the people that really inspire me when I’m making music, and to work with any of them would be like a dream come true.”