No longer the best kept secret, the world has wised up to the talents of Lorde in a whirlwind six months that would have significantly turned the head of most, but not Ella Yelich-O’Connor. As much as the plaudits and achievements are piling up – #1 album and single in her native New Zealand, the first female artist to top the Billboard Alternative Chart in 17 years, taking Frank Ocean’s slot last minute at Australia’s Splendour In the Grass festival and killing it etc etc – you wouldn’t know it from the girl herself.
With Royals, Tennis Court and The Love Club EP about to be backed up by her debut album Pure Heroine, listeners will finally get their first chance to fully immerse themselves in the extended work of an artist who has already managed to nail the ebullience, ennui and constantly confounding nature of modern life in a way it seems almost everyone can relate to. Spurning the stereotypes of pouting pop princesses and vacuous marketing-sponge teens, Lorde turns a mirror to the monotony and the magnificence that surrounds her, articulating it with razor sharp intensity and some right regal rhetorical behaviour.
Given a chance to develop her craft and find her feet, after being signed up by Universal three years ago, the musical stars aligned for her when she linked up with producer and co-writer Joel Little, who was able to assist in getting the songs out of her head and into the irrepressible ear worms they have become. Slipped out with zero fanfare and accompanied only by a simple illustration, The Love Club EP was released free to Soundcloud where it took on a life of its own, reaching out all over the globe and rapidly attracting interest from major industry players, and more importantly legions of folk simply struck and enchanted by a fresh voice in often stale times. Royals cemented the deal, spreading like a benevolent virus with its pinpoint musings on materialism, bling, brand worship, commercial fetishisation and all that 2013 stuff.
A voracious music listener, Ella’s songs reflect an upbringing of quality soul, rock, folk and pop combined with the adventure and sonic wonderment of contemporary inspirations like James Blake, Burial, SBTRKT and Drake. However, when it all comes together, with her distinctive multi-layered vocal arrangements and exacting sound design in the studio with Joel, it becomes a vivid, hyperreal magical thing that is considerably more than the sum of its parts.
Is it too early to say ‘voice of a generation’? Maybe. Success can be easy, substance is considerably harder, and combining the two in an original and relevant way is as rare as it comes. While she is unlikely to be presumptuous enough to adopt the title of anyone’s spokesperson – what else are you supposed to call someone who can articulate so succinctly the minutiae of our daily lives with all of its dilemmas and distractions, in a way that makes pop an art form and manages to relate to not only her teenager peer group, but seemingly just about everyone who has ever been one.
Even in our borderless, globalised times it seems to have come as a surprise to some that sophisticated statements like The Love Club and Pure Heroine could come from a previously unknown, and decidedly untypical, 16-year-old student from Auckland’s North Shore, rather than the usual cultural capitals and the same old suspects. Outside of her phenomenal talent and unforced maturity, which is genuinely worthy of some amazement, there should be no surprise – the barriers went down long ago, the internet doesn’t have passport control, and lyrics and music this potent simply cannot be restrained.