Escaping Lorde’s presence at the moment would be like trying to tune out the successes of Gotye this time last year.
In a seemingly short few months, the New Zealand pop singer has gone from ‘Royals’ blogosphere buzz artist to a bona fide international, chart-breaking sensation, sweeping up historic milestones, a swathe of celebrity fans, and viral cover versions from fellow artists in her wake.
All which would be conceivably an awful lot for any 16-year-old girl to take in, but as previously reported in the wake of her Pure Heroine album debuting at #1 on the Australian charts, the Auckland resident born Ella Yelich-O’Connor was given an opportunity by Fairfax New Zealand’s Sunday Magazine to frame her meteoric rise to fame into her own words.
In doing so, Lorde proves she’s far from simply a schoolgirl with a fluke hit, and instead tackles big topics like sexism, artistic integrity, and the commodification of the music industry.
Waxing on the intense media coverage that accompanies her international recognition – what she calls “the sped-up version of my involvement in music” – Lorde begins her insightful editorial piece by recounting an episode where she was performing in front of some industry bigwigs who simply reduced her to a commodity.
“A silver-haired record company guy had pointed at me, up there onstage, and said slowly to his friend, ‘Lots of zeroes’,” the singer explains by way of a writer from The New Yorker who told her of the exchange. “I laughed at this. The journalist said, kind of rueful: ‘Nothing but a spreadsheet with hair’.” “One of the things I find most challenging, after making art, is trying to keep that art as pure as possible.”
After waxing about the “crazy success” and the “bizarre selfishness” of songwriting, her editorial reveals that the singer is regularly faced with these kinds of attitudes from adults, especially because of the perceptions of her young age. “I’m a teenager, and I’m a girl, and those are factors that can stand in the way of maintaining control,” she writes.
“One of the things I find most challenging, after making art, is trying to keep that art as pure as possible. Sometimes it can be hard not to let record company dudes turn things to crap. Or bad stylists, or music video directors who don’t get it, or whatever,” she writes. “Everyday I turn down countless requests from TV shows and brands and films that want to use my music to sell their product, because I don’t feel that they’re right.”
While she concedes falling prey to the offers made by “every sandwich chain and skincare brand and coming-of-age blockbuster” would make her a millionaire, Lorde notes that her name and integrity are of far greater value. “Every step that I’ve taken since I signed my development deal has been to ensure I am exactly who I want to be, perceived how I’d like to be perceived,” she notes.
Beliefs she’s honed from in two key inspirations she references: legendary punk figure Patti Smith (“eternal queen of cool in my eyes”) and contemporary pop icon Nicki Minaj.
Lodre specifically references an older video of Minaj backstage (“that you should all watch,” says Lorde) talking about the inherent sexism in the industry, where demanding men up are considered to be “bossing up,” while women are denigrated as “bitches” and simply “acting up.”
“Now when I come to a photoshoot – let it be of quality,” says Minaj of her demands that regularly have her pegged as a diva by press. “I put quality in what I do: I spend time, energy, effort, everything I have, every fibre of my being to give people quality,” refusing anything she sees as compromising that. “Lots of people ask me if being a female in the music industry is difficult. I think in some ways it is.”
“I identified with her so strongly when I saw that video,” writes Lorde of the footage. “I know what it’s like to walk on set and demand something of quality, and feel people thinking, ‘Oh, we’ve got a piece of work here.’ That’s just me trying to protect my image and my name. I sometimes think if I were a male musician, the reaction to such a basic request would be different.”
Echoing the poignant piece by CHVRCHES singer Lauren Mayberry in which she tackled sexism following a wave of online misogyny towards the Scottish synthpop trio, Lorde also writes: “lots of people ask me if being a female in the music industry is difficult. I think in some ways it is.”
“Sometimes I feel so lonely I don’t want to do it any more. But truth is, I love what I do so much. I’ve never been so happy, or worked so hard… for all the moments I dislike, there are these moments where everything feels slow motion, full colour, sweet,” she explains, pointing towards her last-minute addition to Splendour in the Grass in July as one such moment.
Concluding her articulate Sunday Magazine feature, Lorde reminisces about the making of her ARIA-topping debut album, Pure Heroine, which by its creator’s own assessment “can be read as well as listened to, digested as well as danced to. I’m a singer, a performer, a popstar and a writer.”
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever made,” Lorde declares. “At the end of the lyric booklet inside Pure Heroine, there’s a portrait of me. I’m wearing a grey sweater, a silver chain. I’m not smiling. There’s a heavy, funereal black border. I showed this to my 11-year-old brother. He looked, and smiled at me, said: ‘About the author.’ I really like that,” writes the 16-year-old musician, his sibling’s comment triggering an epiphany: “[I] knew it would never be about zeroes. I’m not a spreadsheet with hair; will never be.”
Lorde arrives in Australia next week for a highly anticipated four-date tour before returning as part of the Laneway 2014 festival lineup in February 2014 alongside a strong female-centric lineup of Haim, Savages, Adalita, CHVRCHES, Warpaint, The Jezabels and many more.