Pop music is a young people's game. After a couple week's of her (surprisingly solid) "Wrecking Ball" atop the charts, the 20-year-old Miley Cyrus has been replaced by the 16-year-old Lorde and her song "Royals." I picked up this information through osmosis, for the record. I have not heard any of Lorde's music. I think she is from New Zealand, where Peter Jackson, director of beloved movies such as Dead Alive and the King Kong remake, and I know she is but a child. She was on Fallon the other day, but I did not watch, for reasons I am going to get into, and also because she is not Superchunk, although their performance on Fallon was not all that good, but the sound mix on the vocals on that show are routinely awful.
Anyway, when I found out about "Royals" and Lorde being the number one song im America, I was a bit disheartened. As I discussed when writing about Miley's dad in a Songs We Wish We Could Forget essay, I am queasy about child stars, in music and otherwise. I hate it when they are chewed up and spit out by the media machines. I don't want the key social, mental, and emotional development of childhood to be hindered by having to sustain a career. So, when it becomes clear to me that somebody who hasn't even had the chance to finish high school is clearly part of the machine, has handlers and managers and is touring and shit, I tune out. I don't want that blood on my hands. This is why I will not listen to The Marvelette's "Please Mr. Postman" even though I think it features the best female vocal performance in the history of music.
I don't know exactly where Lorde stands. I don't know if some asshole like Lou Pearlman has gotten their claws into her. A brief look over his Wikipedia page makes it seem like the wheels are only really beginning to roll on her career. I hope it works out alright for her. I hope she gets to control her own future and the business does not consume her. I hope the song I am about to listen to is actually good. Do it for New Zealand! Do it for Bret and Jemaine! Also, Murray!
Man, "Royals" is not what I expected from a song atop the Billboard Hot 100. It does not have the sound you expect from a hit pop song. You can't dance to it. It isn't a banger. It doesn't run on its energy. It's not a bombastic grrl power ballad, but it does have some of that vibe. Instead, it reminds me of the one Lykke Li song I've heard when I saw her perform it on Letterman. This edition of Hit Parade brought to you by late night talk show musical performances.
The song is low key. There are no funky jams. No bass is dropped. It doesn't have a dynamic chorus. "Royals" has an ethereal feel, perhaps even eerie. There is definitely something unique about this. Lorde's vocals are front and center. The vocals in general are the focal point, with Lorde sometimes being joined by a chorus of what I can only assume are spooky ghost girls.
However, while this song does not sound very poppy, and it sounds more like something that would be released by a gothic influenced torch song singer, there is a streak of modernity running through it, but Lorde positions herself in opposition of these things. We are living in a material world, and Lorde is not interested in it. The part of the song that sticks out most to me, and the fact it is repeated a few times helps, is when she lists the sort of things one finds in a rap music video, and she talks about how everybody else is talking about Grey Goose and gold teeth and shit. She's not about that life, and neither are the people she associates with. They will never be royals, I gather.
This is an interesting vein to mine in the pop music world. There is a lot of aspiration in pop music, and you hear a lot of songs about both striving for these signifiers of luxury and then how awesome they are when you attain them. Maybe, when that artist gets older, they sing about how they have grown weary about that stuff, and now they want, you know, love or some bullshit. "Royals" isn't necessarily opposed to opulence, but it expresses disinterest in it. She is not positing herself as Adele crossed with Macklemore (a ghoulish notion if there ever was one). She's just a musician and such.
So yeah, this is one of the more lyrically interesting songs I have come across at number one so far. As for the music, like I said, the instrumentals, which do have a bit of a computerized beat sound to them, sounds pretty good, and they provide a nice intro. Lorde's vocals are... interesting. She rides the strength of her own voice, so there's that. I am not entirely enthused with how it sounds. It isn't idiosyncratic enough to grab me, and it isn't elegant enough to entrance me. Her accent is clear, but it isn't an issue. I don't see Lorde having a songbird type of career, and she can't be Adele, because she doesn't have that quality of voice. Also, Lorde says that she could be the queen bee in this song. There is only one Queen Bee, Lorde, and she is Lil' Kim.
And so, a song I had qualms about listening to ended up yielding one of the longest Hit Parade articles I have written in a while. It wasn't even all that good of a song either. "Royals" is tolerable. It is interesting, but that is only one aspect of song quality, and it doesn't score highly in any of the others. I have no desire to hear it again, or hear anything else from her. I still prefer her Kiki counterparts in Flight of the Conchords, and frankly their musicianship is better. I still hope things turn out well for Lorde. I just won't be along for the ride.