Fun fact: The top song of 2013 actually came out in 2012. Granted, it dropped near the end of the year — and for free via SoundCloud — but, it’s true: Long before Lorde ’s “Royals” caught the attention of the powers that be at the Grammys — and Selena Gomez — it was spinning in the Internet ethers.
“Love this,” typed SoundCloud user Angel Guan 12 months ago. “Loving your tone and talent…standout harmonies! xx,” VacancyBobbins raved. “Brilliant,” said Zachariah Bell simply.
Yup, way before Rolling Stone, Spin and even MTV got wind of the now 17-year-old wunderkind Lorde, these SoundCloud users — mostly from New Zealand — were weighing in on her smash-hit jam, “Royals.” Early reviews? Try uber early.
In November of 2012, 16-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor released her debut EP, Love Club, unto the world, after signing to Universal Music at age 13. She did so sans much promotion and fanfare and, what’s more, she did so for free via SoundCloud, following in the footsteps of R&B and hip-hop idols like The Weeknd, who released his debut mixtape, House of Balloons, in a similar fashion back in 2011.
In November of last year, Lorde still had a long road ahead of her when it came to achieving the international success she has handily nabbed by the end of 2013. She didn’t even officially drop Love Club in her home country of New Zealand until March of 2013, where — no doubt thanks to its steady buzz online — “Royals” debuted at #1, where it remained for three straight weeks.
“I wasn’t out in the spotlight,” Lorde told MTV News of the period before her EP dropped. “I was just living my life. Going to the studio once a week or something. I think I had a little bit more freedom to be a young person.”
The spotlight, however, was seconds away from shining full-force. After releasing a “Skins”-esque video for “Royals” back in May, the song started picking up steam beyond the borders of her native land, catching the attention of fans and established musicians alike. Suddenly, a few more people than Angel Guan “loved this.”
Moby was one of those early adopters in the states, having tweeted back in June: “a friend asked me what my favorite song is from 2013 so far. and, maybe i’m too obvious?, i picked this,” with a link to the moody music video. Still, it seems he was hip to the jam long before summer crept in all warm and golden. He picked the song of the year, essentially, before the year had really begun.
— moby (@thelittleidiot) June 16, 2013
“One day last winter I was driving on Mulholland Drive listening to Jason Bentley on KCRW’s ’Morning Becomes Eclectic’, and I heard this amazing minimalist pop song,” Moby told MTV News. “I stopped my car and used Shazam, but at this point I guess it was unreleased so it wasn’t in the Shazam system. Then I emailed Jason and asked him what the song was, and he told me it was ’Royals’ by Lorde.”
At the time, Moby didn’t know just how popular the un-Shazam-able jam would become — although he’s not wholly surprised that it took off, given that it’s “the most remarkable pop song of the year,” he said. Still, he told MTV News: “I’m amazed that the general public has picked up on this idiosyncratic song released by a New Zealand teenager, as there’s not a lot of precedent for interesting and idiosyncratic songs written by New Zealand teenagers becoming huge hit singles.”
That “idiosyncratic song,” however, completely ruled once it hit the U.S. full-force during the summer of 2013, landing on Spotify’s “Most Viral” chart (Lorde was also the most viral artist of the year), and scoring scads of interviews — all before her debut LP Pure Heroine dropped in September. And long before she had even visited the States— for the first time ever.
The accolades and records then started rolling in: she became the first woman in 17 years to top the alternative charts — and she did so for the longest amount of time. “Royals,” after the release of her LP, hit the #1 position on the Billboard Hot 100— where it remained for nine straight weeks. And that’s not to mention the myriad covers by the likes of Selena Gomez, Mayer Hawthorne and, of course, Rebecca Black. And who can forget Rick Ross’s stirring remix? We know we can’t.
Yes, by the time Grammy nominations rolled around we were expecting the deluge of “royal” nods — including Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Pop Solo Performance for “Royals,” and Best Vocal Pop Album for Pure Heroine. The only shocker was that she wasn’t tapped for Best New Artist.
Like Moby said, it’s rather miraculous that a song like “Royals” could take off in the way that it did — a song about anti-consumerism penned by a teenager in a far-off land. A song that earned its share of criticisms, but — as many a songwriter has said — stands on its own metaphorical two feet against a tide of radio hits.
“Lorde is following the same trend as Macklemore did in my opinion,” Robopop, author of chart-topping jams by Gym Class Heroes and Maroon 5 told MTV News. “Someone who storms onto the pop scene with a fresh sound, a real message, and a swagger of non-insecurity/non-conformity in their artistry that a large number of young music lovers relate to.”
And, like Macklemore, she “stormed onto the pop scene” in an unconventional way: not with a splashy campaign, not with glossy photos and image, but with a handful of songs posted to the Web that a handful of people recognized, early on, were “brilliant.”