This past weekend, something unexpected happened. In the midst of a music industry rife with female pop stars willing to trade on their looks, who release predictable material and perform them provocatively, a relative unknown (until recently) New Zealander not only gave an inspired and powerfully commanding performance of her hit song Royals, but also walked away with top honors in the Song Of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance categories, beating out much bigger names in the process. The fact that she is just 17 only serves to underscore the magnitude of her accomplishments. With a maturity beyond her years and an intense and authentic artistic vision, she has overcome tremendous industry odds to become one of pop’s biggest success stories.
Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor (see why she changed it to Lorde?) was born in Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand to a prize winning poet mother and civil engineering father. Ella’s mother would tell you that her daughter was advanced for her age from very early on, actively expressing her own vision from the ripe old age of two.
Active in both drama and singing in school, she and a friend formed a singing duo and recorded material that the friend’s father shopped to label executives. In one of those cringeworthy, bummer life circumstances that can only be described as a real friendship deal breaker, the record execs were interested in signing Ella – not her friend. Ella changed her name to Lorde because she had a fascination with royalty, but added the “E” to add a feminine quality.
And so, she signed with Universal at 13 and released her debut EP The Love Club in November of 2012. The first single Royals debuted at #1 on the New Zealand Top 40 and also #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making her the first New Zealander to have a number one song in the US. Lorde herself posted some of the tracks from The Love Club on Sound Cloud, including Royals, which proved to be a genius move on her part, creating a huge buzz on the internet. We know she craves a different kind of buzz, right? She followed that release up with Pure Heroine the following year, to critical acclaim.
The rest, as they say, is history. But what’s more intriguing is that she’s done it all by using her combination of smarts, artistic vision and authenticity, writing lyrics that she describes as being about “what it’s really like to be a teen”. Her look is more Goth than Glamour, more vampire than vamp – in a good way. Dark lips, black capes and clunky black shoes rule her world rather than the standard ‘show ‘em some skin’ tac, exhibiting class as she sings about social class instead of failed love relationships over and over again. In a youth empowerment climate, she offers a kind of cerebral empowerment.
Lorde, but it’s about time.