the last time i heard material this dark from a sixteen year old, earl sweatshirt was drawling about unspeakable acts towards women in a shockingly articulate manner. three years later we get lorde, who took one look at the bombastic and image-driven state of pop music and decided to turn it on its head, crafting brooding songs about her disillusionment from the culture that she’s hesitantly dipping her foot into.
“royals” was a slow climb up the charts; before hearing it on top-40 radio at the end of this summer, i followed the song through the blogosphere and over to npr, which probably tipped the scales even more in her favor. the single is defined by minimalist production and maximalist vocal treatment, and lorde rides this formula throughout most of her debut album pure heroine, rarely deviating from the hip-hop drums and low, rumbling bass. it’s a bit of a shame that she chose to begin her album with “tennis courts”; it’s her strongest song by a long shot, and placing “royals” just two tracks later won’t keep many casual listeners around for more than the first ten minutes of pure heroine.
one aspect of lorde’s songwriting that can’t go unmentioned is her lyrical content. her alienation from celebrity life is readily apparent and has been heavily analyzed within the context of “royals,” but it persists throughout the album. “buzzcut season” has a positively dark chorus, with lorde singing about people who constantly ignore reality to live in a dream-like state. it’s an observation that is consistent with her critical views on materialism and fame; call her pessimistic if you want, but i think lorde is just the realist we’re all to afraid to be.
pure heroine may be the most important pop record of the year. it’s certainly not the best – i don’t expect a teenager to be flawless their first time around – but lorde’s sharp reversal of feminine portrayal in pop music won’t go unnoticed, and i’ll be surprised if it’s not emulated. for a sixteen year old, lorde seems to have her priorities straight. now we’ll just have to see if this newfound fame corrupts her philosophy.