Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Lorde – Royals

Just in time for Wimbledon, she’s got a song called “Tennis Court.”


Anthony Easton: No one is better at hip dismissal than a bored 16-year-old — so elegant and so solipsistic — that it just seeps with the blood of First World teenagers who know that they are better than you. The best thing is that she might be. Best chorus of the summer. 

Edward Okulicz: Just when you think you’ve had enough of not-at-all-unattractive ladies who sing as if both their heart and lips weigh a ton, along comes Lorde with a shot of whimsy and a track that’s actually light and breezy and fun. On a track like this where it’s all lightly throbbing bass and beat (and weakly ironic lyrics and strawmen), the melody needs to be instantly memorable and it is — the chorus is like a cold glass of water to the face on a hot day. It’s a sashaying clap-a-long, if you like that kind of thing, and deserves to repeat its home-country success a scale big enough to keep her in gold teeth for years.

Patrick St. Michel: Oh, to be 16 and this bright-eyed again. That’s how old Lorde is, and “Royals” runs on the sort of optimism only a teen who just discovered the vast wilds of Bandcamp can imagine. On “Royals,” she raging against pop stars and envisioning an alternate kingdom where Lorde, err, lords over like-minded folks choosing to make art for art’s sake rather than money. These are sentiments that in a lot of other people’s hands would me obnoxious, but Lorde makes it work because she sounds committed to her ideas and packages it in catchy music. “Royals” is built from the DNA of “indie” acts of the last few years. It has the cheerleader thump of Sleigh Bells, and the vocal harmonizing reminds of Dirty Projectors or Grizzly Bear. So yeah, good song, though it’s also filled with ironies. Like how, due to its success, she’s almost certainly cashing in on it. Or how the groups whose sounds seemingly inspired this ended up finding “buzz” that lead them to me not that different than the pop stars Lorde stink eyes. Maybe she’ll stare all this down in the next single.

Iain Mew: A song about the empty seductiveness of consumption that proves seductive but empty itself. Maybe if every song really were “like gold teeth, Grey Goose,” “Royals” would have something more to offer.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A clickety thing about high aspirations and low ambitions, too slight to ensnare the imagination but too promising to brush off. Knowing little about Lorde going in, I wouldn’t have pegged her for sixteen years but it’s all there if you listen closely enough. She sounds whipsmart and smug at the same time, just like you’d expect a teenage to sound.

Katherine St Asaph: Expected Lordi; got Lana Del Rey in an abandoned subway car posing ironically with Rick Ross LPs. (She’s not dreaming of Windsor Castle in St. John, is she? Things have connotations.) Any interest this holds vanishes when one realizes it’s simply a better-produced “Price Tag.”

Brad Shoup: “Royals” reminds me of large chunks of JoJo’s “Baby It’s You”; both songs shit on bling-rap but do so as representatives of the target demographic. But “Royals” could, with a couple tweaks, actually be a celebration. JoJo just wanted her boy, but Lorde wants to be Beyoncé. Toss in some synths and she could’ve had a cloud-rap classic. Those snaps are beastly, her cadences are infectious, her chorus melody indelible, to the point that I’m currently checking the eBay listings for tigers on a gold leash. 

Alex Ostroff: It turns out that “Price Tag” wasn’t completely insufferable due to bad politics and idiotic misreadings of hip hop; at least 50% of what made it the absolute worst was Jessie J. How do I know? Because “Royals” stumbles into many of the same pitfalls and the lyrics do make me want to tear my hair out, but the harmonies and the echoey thud of the drums and the “Paper Planes” finger-snaps and the vague touches of subtley blooming vworp and the gentle sweep with which Lorde sighs “royals” are almost enough to distract me. If she can work her way past this whole bullshit guilty-pleasure ideology, Lorde could be a force for good in pop. If not, I eagerly await the day that she pulls a Marina and graces us with an unnecessarily-ironic concept album whose concept is “music that I condescend to sing even though it’s more enjoyable and better than I care to admit.”

Alfred Soto: It creates a different kind of buzz alright: the Joni-esque vocal swoops, finger snaps, and Lorde’s all-around swagger. Finding musical correlatives for her teenage fantasies is prodigious. The trick with fantasies, though, is persuading the rest of us they’re worth sharing. Gimme more though.

Mallory O’Donnell: Great minimal beat, decently feisty lyrics, lovely sentiment, vocal straight from Satan’s asshole.  

Reader average: [6.97] (44 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

23 Responses to “Lorde – Royals”

  1. It’s not quite the same sentiment as “Price Tag,” though? Lorde isn’t exactly trying to destroy consumerism in music, she’s just noting the disparity between her fantasy and her reality. There’s still some aspiration, though: “Let me live that fantasy.” Brad’s thoughts were closest to mine.

    I would have given a [6] or [7].

  2. This is exactly the same sentiment as “Price Tag”; if anything “that kind of lux just ain’t for us, we crave a different kind of buzz” is EVEN MORE sanctimonious.

  3. Whew. The thought that this would score over a 7 terrified me!

  4. I would have been one of the [4]s if I’d been around.

  5. But she still desires some sort of opulence, even in dreams, right? And she’s not proud of her home address? Maybe she’s mixing messages. Maybe I’m just being super charitable since it makes more sense coming from Lorde than from Jessie.

  6. Lorde doesn’t say “we need to take it back in time”, so she wins there. More generally, Lorde’s “we” is directed to a group of people opting out, whereas Jessie J’s is trying to convert the whole world, which is significant in making “Royals” less horrible.

  7. And what’s important is that the group of people opting out are doing so because they have no other choice. Jessie J did.

  8. “Price Tag” was an ass production. Simple as that for me.

  9. I was unsure about this girl but hearing her swear in the Tennis Court song has won me over.

  10. Ha, ‘Tennis Court’ was just used at the end of the BBC’s Queen’s coverage.

  11. ‘Tennis Court’ won me over. It’s like Lana Del Rey meets The Knife. For some reason it just works.

  12. This is a racially tinged song that shits on a raft of signifiers associated exclusively with rap, and this bs about her “opting out” that she’s offering and people above offer in defense of the song betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what rap’s materialism is actually about, i.e., celebrating ascension from poverty, and who rap’s consumerist messages are actually addressed to, i.e, not white teenagers from New Zealand. You can’t opt out of something you were never invited to opt into in the first place, and when a rapper brags about his jewelry as a symbol of his emergence from inner-city poverty and derides other rappers’ shitty jewelry, he is not actually pressuring white middle-class people (or white middle-class children in distant lands!) to go out and buy stuff that would look ridiculous on them, or making fun of them because they got their engagement rings at the suburban jewelry megastore, or in any way imposing anything on them such that they can “opt out” of it. What’s really offensive and stupid about this song, though, is that all these things that “everybody’s like [rapping about]” are, in fact, not things that anyone raps about in 2013. She lists a brand of car that went out of production last year, a brand of champagne that Jay-Z and other rappers stopped rapping about seven years ago when the CEO said he couldn’t help it if rappers drank his products but he wasn’t too glad that they did, a brand of vodka that also hasn’t been fashionable to rap about for over five years, and a gold teeth trend that died out in 2005. Did she write this song when she was 8, or did she just write a song shitting on rap when her whole knowledge of it seems to be based on about five ten year-old songs?

  13. Fantastic comment. I’ll second that.

  14. It never explicitly shits on those signifiers, just says that she can’t relate to songs about them. The idea of opting out that she believes she’s doing is indeed based on a false ubiquity Lorde is setting her choices up in opposition to, that’s a problem for all those reasons and maybe it was a bad choice of words to use without questioning it. But it was in the context of comparisons to “Price Tag”, and I’m happy to stick by “Royals” as being significantly less awful and racist than a song which contains the line “We need to take it back in time, when music made us all unite, and it wasn’t low blows and video hoes”, and doesn’t give any indication that ‘we’ isn’t the whole world.

  15. I really wish that people from places like Australia and New Zealand better understood that although American culture can seem like a hegemonic monolith — the expression of a totalizing and all-powerful external force — to properly negotiate it, it’s important to understand the social structures within the foreign country that produced it. (Interestingly, people like Lorde show that “Americanization” doesn’t really work as an idea; she is evidence that some people’s chosen form of engagement with more powerful outside cultures is resistance and that, therefore, people aren’t brainwashed into adopting American ideas; they do so because they like them.) I reckon there are a lot of people who see American signifiers as cultural capital and don’t realize that the producers of that culture don’t themselves possess that capital in their own society.

    That said, I also would like folks who criticise people like Lorde to reckon with their own lack of knowledge about her culture and how it differs from that of their own. Does Tray, for instance, know anything about (white) teenagers from New Zealand? (I know very little and I’m just over here on the other side of the Tasman!)

  16. Someone must have telepathically realised we were doing her new single today!

  17. I think I may have taken the title to this more literally than everybody else. She mixes Hip-hop wealth signifiers (US) with royalty (UK) for “things she doesn’t aspire to because she can’t”. It actually read as a mix of sour grapes and contentment to me. And I think it’s a bit much to ask of 16 year olds from the other end of the world, who are confronted with boatloads of cultural exports from the US to be able to navigate the social structure of the country that produces it. She can’t, and so she lumps together a bunch of symbols of wealth that she is confronted with but that are at once unattainable and meaningless to her.

  18. You know, I’ve read a lot of “but she’s from New Zealand! It’s different there!” but the problem with that argument is that when it still produces something that is functionally no different from an appalled commenter on a New York Times piece on top 40 (the “and every song’s like” part, which is what people are objecting to), maybe it’s a red herring.

  19. How is it different in New Zealand, Katherine?

  20. Considering I don’t live there, I can’t make any grand statements about that, but considering she’s now No. 1 in the US and not off a complete novelty song, I think there’s more to it.

  21. One thing that’s different in New Zealand is that popular NZ rap has had an ambivalent relationship with wealth signifiers since OMC stood for Otara Millionaires Club. e.g. this became one of the biggest hits in the country’s history while Lorde was in primary school:

    They dis their straw man’s material love, yet they’re willing to take Gucci’s name in vain because it sounds cool, or at least it did in 2004. And there’s a zillion less successful songs where that came from. Point is that non-rapper Lorde is nevertheless working within this tradition, in which an apparently adversarial relationship to US rap tropes is cover for a more equivocal engagement with their hold on the imagination in a place far removed from their material existence.

    None of this is to say you can’t hate the song, because it’s written sloppily enough for the negative reading to be clear, and one might feel obliged to read it negatively if one comes from a more virulently racist country than NZ — not to say that there isn’t a ton of racism in NZ, it just lacks the genocidal edge it has in the US.

  22. “genocidal edge”

  23. I really enjoy Royals. From a musical perspective, the minimalistic aspect to it is really mesmerizing. The simple beat mixed with the fading synths tied with her voice makes it an incredible song. Its very hard to knock her vocals, as her concept of harmonies and melody is astounding, especially considering she’s 16. Her voice is equivalent to a singer who’s been in the game for years, and she’s just starting out.
    As for the lyrical aspect of it, I also really enjoy it. Expressing a disinterest in the pressure teens are given to act like kids from Skins or something equivalent. Explaining how not every kid is going to be like that, like the popular rich kids (royals) who never have to worry about anything. It basically gives the average teen an anthem, that anyone can listen to (I personally enjoy punk and heavy metal). Overall, 8/10