Release Date: Sep 30, 2013
Record label: Virgin EMI
Genre(s): Pop, Pop/Rock
Review Summary: Just one more hit.Pure Heroine wastes no time in setting out its own narrative. “Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?” Ella Yelich-O’Connor asks at the outset, and the rest of the record revolves around this central conceit. For an album written by a (I’m professionally obligated to say this) sixteen-year-old, Pure Heroine is a remarkably jaded affair, as eager to dismantle the vapidity and bloated emptiness of pop culture as it is to ponder the seemingly eternal state of affairs that is being a teenager.
“Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk,” Lorde hypnotically intones as Pure Heroine, her wildly anticipated debut opens on the confessional “Tennis Court. ” “Making smart with their words again/ Well, I’m bored…” A 16-year old girl not looking to twerk, whine or sugarshock? Meet Ella Yelich-O’Connor, who emerges as a distaff Holden Caulfield, by employing a sangfroid that punches through an acquisitional society which measures worth by a flauntatiousness divorced from meaning. “Royals,” the summer’s surprise lo-fi trance-ish alternative No.
The quintessential old soul in a young body, 16-year-old Ella "Lorde" Yelich-O'Connor is also a new pop archetype. On the one hand, she writes lyrics that identify her as a sensitive, wordy teenager: bursts of poetry ("Pretty soon I'll be getting on my first plane/ I'll see the veins of my city like they do in space") are interwoven with moody observations about her friends (on Ribs, she huffs: "The drink you spilled all over me/ Lovers spit left on repeat"). On the other hand, there's a cool detachment here that's anything but youthful.
“Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?” runs the opening line of Lorde‘s debut album. And talk is what an awful lot of people have done about this 16 year old New Zealander who was signed to her record label aged 12 and projects star quality as brightly as she does world-weary ennui. And with a Number 1 single in the US, a well-documented Twitter spat with Miley Cyrus fans, and some verbal sideswipes at the likes of Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez, it’s a fair guarantee that people are going to talk for some time.
It must be freaky being snapped up by a label at the age of 12. But with Lorde (aka total talent bomb Ella Yelich-O’Connor), the pressure doesn’t show. Now 16, spotted four years ago by Universal thanks to a fuzzy homemade clip on YouTube, she’s a fantastic musician and a pop star sort of like Ke$ha but if bookish and taking production cues from Grimes.
New artists in 2013 don't come any "2013"-ier than Lorde. Ella Yelich-O'Connor is 16, but she could be 25. She sings tough and raps soft. She's from New Zealand, but she could just as easily be from Tampa or Glasgow or Dubrovnik. On her debut, she's a tiny-life teenager and a throne-watching pop ….
New Zealand import Lorde (aka Ella Yelich-O'Connor) is an intriguing artist. Straddling the lines of pop and the hip-hop-influenced R&B so prevalent in the contemporary scene, Lorde nonetheless imbues a heightened level of self-awareness into the whole proceedings. Much talked about self-reflexive single "Royals" "tut-tuts" and "harrumphs" about consumerist excess — popping bottles and all that — while Lorde displays a "wise beyond her 16 years" persona on "Ribs" ("it feels so scary getting old") and the blackly satirical "Glory and Gore" ("We gladiate, but I guess we're really fighting ourselves").
Pop music seems to have just entered some kind of sledgehammer-licking event horizon, and as her debut, Pure Heroine, makes abundantly clear, Lorde wants out. Rather than perpetuate the unapologetic, arrogant posturing of America's celebrity youth, the 16-year-old singer-songwriter ridicules it—albeit from her own comfortable perch—as empty, self-serving, and utterly absurd nonsense. But while her disillusionment with the young, trashed, and proud pack is certainly a fresh perspective, Lorde's creative success doesn't hinge solely on skewering the thoughtless decadence of the Rihannas, Ke$has, and Mileys of the world.
In the current pop firmament, Lorde is a black hole. That's the message you get from the defiantly low-concept video for her single "Tennis Court", in which the 16 year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter (real name: Ella Yelich-O'Connor) stares right at you—her taunting, onyx pupils burning a hole through the computer screen—for a hypnotic and somewhat uncomfortable three and a half minutes. (It's an anti-video in the tradition of the Replacements' "Bastards of Young", and, fittingly, her moody cover of "Swingin Party" has been making the rounds.
By nature, we’re all pretty dumb at the age of 16. With limited life experiences, developing brains, and a multitude of authorities telling us what we can and can’t do, it’s a recipe for disaster. This is the age when we’re supposed to make mistakes. In some proportion or another, there’s high school, drugs, dating, drinking, hormones.
Lorde has been working with her record label since she was 12 years old. After being filmed performing at her school talent show, the New Zealander was quickly snapped up by Universal - developed with vocal lessons and teamed up with songwriters. At the age of 14, she started tentatively writing her own songs before working with co-writer and producer Joel Little for her 2012 EP release The Love Club.
We all know how it started: a young, aspiring musician is spotted by a wise industry type who notes the incredible talent she has on display, signs her to a record deal, but keeps her quiet for years on end, slowly sharpening songwriting, delivery, and overall aesthetic until the time is just right to unleash her onto the world, culminating in a gigantic level of attention and admiration for the release of her first big single. That musician, of course, is Alicia Keys. There has been much griping in certain corners of the press about the origin stories of the 16-year-old artist named Lorde, a New Zealand songstress born Ella Yelich-O’Connor who just recently topped the U.S.
Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s music discusses life in an affluent Nowheresville in New Zealand with the unforced panache only a pouting 16-year-old can manage. Her chopped’n’screwed pop paints pictures of us-against-the-world schoolkids (‘White Teeth Teens’, ‘Team’ and ‘Glory And Gore’ document her gang). The single ‘Royals’ has taken her from suburbia to the top of the US Billboard charts with seemingly little effort.
Is Pure Heroine the most restrained pop release of 2013? It's not only Joel Little's minimalist production, all clicks, bass and empty space. The restraint lies also in Ella Yelich-O'Connor's treatment of orthodox pop themes: "You pick me up and take me home again", is about as much as she reveals about a date on 400 Lux. She is more forthright about pop's failings: on Royals, one of several great moments on a decent album, she deftly punctures the inflated dreams of so many pop artists.
Signed to a major label at an early age, she was groomed in the darkness of studios, the label knowing the potential they had in their singer/songwriter. She wrote on her own, then she was paired with a sympathetic producer/songwriter, live performances taking a back seat to woodshedding. If this story in the early years of the 2010s brings to mind Lana Del Rey, it's no coincidence that it also applies to New Zealand singer/songwriter Lorde, whose 2013 debut, Pure Heroine, contains all of the stylized goth foreboding of LDR's Born to Die and almost none of the louche, languid glamour.
In the ten months since she released her debut single, the insta-classic “Royals,” Lorde has become the latest incarnation of a dying breed: the ubiquitous pop star, the rare 21st-century artist able to hopscotch right across a fragmented media landscape toward an inescapable presence on the top of the hill. This, in itself, is unremarkable. The monoculture may be diluted enough to get industry hyenas drooling over an artist who sells a mere two million records instead of ten, but even in this climate, real pop stars do continue to come along.
The Lorde machine appeared to sweep Ella Yelich-O’Connor from the toast of New Zealand to a debut US number one with a disconcertingly smooth hand. Yet O’Connor’s capacity to fill a chapter in the ongoing evolution of pop music, rather than just free-fall into the footnotes, is due to more than a serendipity of marketing and climate. A handful of incredible early tracks and blog-feed-to-broadsheet acclaim came after a sizeable gestation period for the young singer and songwriter.
“Royals” is a funny song to be ruling the Top Singles chart on iTunes, which it has been for the past week. Among hits by Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, and Lady Gaga, “Royals” basically lifts a middle finger to the self-empowerment and excesses those songs celebrate. The chorus goes: “And we’ll never be royals/ It don’t run in our blood/ That kind of luxe just ain’t for us/ We crave a different kind of buzz.” That’s a revolutionary statement for Top 40 pop music, and it’s the breakthrough moment for Ella Yelich-O’Connor, a 16-year-old artist from New Zealand who’s riding an enormous amount of hype under the name Lorde.
opinion by ADAM OFFITZER Just when we thought we had the modern music industry all figured out, Lorde comes along and flips the conventional wisdom on its head. Yes, we’ve seen artists with similar stories before, building word-of-mouth buzz from the strength of a simple EP, eventually developing a cult following and critical acclaim before ever releasing an album (Vampire Weekend, Passion Pit, Lana Del Rey and Macklemore all come to mind). To call her rise stratospheric would be underselling it.