Last week, Lorde was fielding collaboration offers from the Backstreet Boys (“I don’t know if could write something pure enough to be a Backstreet Boys song,” she laughed). This week, she crossed paths with R. Kelly. That came on the heels of high-profile endorsements from the likes of Selena Gomez and Carson Daly, to name just a few.
It bears mention at this point that she is just 16 years old, has visited the United States exactly once — she played her first show in New York City on Tuesday night — and has more interviews to her credit than actual songs. Yet, when those songs are as striking, strident and self-assured as “Royals” or “Tennis Court,” well, you can begin to understand why the native New Zealander has become the object of such obsession … and why, despite her age and relative inexperience, she’s already being tapped as pop’s next great hope .
And, yes, she thinks she’s up for the challenge.
“For so long, pop music has been this super-shameful thing, where people don’t want to be associated with it, they want to be on Pitchfork,” she said. “But, the way I see it, pop music doesn’t have to be stupid, and alternative music doesn’t have to be boring; you can mesh the two together and make something cool.
“People who listen to Top 40 radio aren’t as stupid as ‘Aw yeah, Shawty in the club,’ you know?” she continued. “People have a brain, and I think you can combine saying something clever with saying something in a highly-accessible way.”
She’ll get her shot next month, when her full-length debut is released through Lava/Republic. She began recording it in earnest just as the excess-baiting “Royals” began making waves, and continued on as the follow-up single, “Tennis Court” was picking up steam. And if you think her growing celebrity would have inspired her to finish the album and cash in, well, you’d be wrong. If it were up to Lorde, she’d still be working on it.
“I’m the kind of person that needs to have something wrenched away, otherwise I’ll keep working and f—ing around,” she said. “I’m a super control freak, and I micro-manage every situation, which I think is a good way to be. I think people are getting used to taking orders from a 16 year old. I’m pretty good at being a hard-ass if I need to be.”
And that confidence, coupled with her world-weary vocals, is what seemingly separates Lorde (born Ella Yelich-O’Connor) from any of her contemporaries. She’ll readily admit to loving pop, being obsessed with Justin Timberlake, Drake and Nicki Minaj, and yet, isn’t afraid to offer up critiques of artists like Miley — “I love her song. I mean, lyrically, it’s eh, but there’s this bridge melody that’s so good” — or Macklemore — “Do you know when Macklemore plays, they open and close with ‘Thrift Shop?’” she asks. “That’s bad.” In short, both as a fan and a musician, she demands more from pop music.
And she doesn’t think she’s alone in that, either. To her, authenticity is paramount, and though that’s been largely absent from the genre in recent years, well, she’s out to change all that. She is many things to many people, but more than anything else, she is unquestionably real … and she won’t change no matter how many times the Backstreet Boys come calling.
“I’m from a family of six, so, like, I don’t think I’m that cool or anything. I live in New Zealand, you have to get a boat to go to the city; I just live in a suburb, and my friends and I don’t really have anything to do,” she said. “No one’s old enough to drive, and we can’t get into bars, in general, it feels like a waiting period, and everyone wants to get out of it and start their lives. I’m starting mine, and it’s really fun. I love it. I think if I didn’t love it, I shouldn’t be doing it.”