The Pop Music Populism of Lorde

Lorde recently became the first woman to top the U.S. Billboard Alternative Chart since 1996. She’s more populist  than pop, though—Lorde makes music for the people.

“Royals” is a very unusual pop song in that way. For a tune that launched Lorde to the dizzying heights she is rapidly approaching, it’s incredibly minimal. Ninety percent of the song is just drum and vocals. A subtle synth very occasionally pops in, but that’s about it. Even without bells and whistles, the song is unrelentingly catchy—a guaranteed earworm. Its highly economical minimalism is a testament to its message.

“Everybody’s like Cristal/Maybach/Diamonds on your timepiece/Jet planes/Islands/Tigers on a gold leash/We don’t care/We aren’t caught up in your love affair,” she sings. “Royals” is a clever middle finger to the limousines and diamond rings promoted by our dominating cultural narrative. “We’re fine with this/We didn’t come from money.”

So who the hell is Lorde? Surprise! She’s a 16-year-old from New Zealand who also might be the smartest person in the music industry right now. Even though she was offered a music deal by Universal at age 12, she continued with her honors studies in public school, quietly honing her songwriting chops into the razor-sharp weapons of pop destruction they’ve become. While she consciously skewers the excesses of pop culture, she’s rubbed elbows with Diplo and Kanye West and turned down an opening slot on Katy Perry’s world tour. Her brilliantly named double-entendre debut LP, Pure Heroine, is out this month, and will likely wreak joyful havoc on today’s musical landscape. If I had a daughter, I hope she’d listen to Lorde. With Until the Ribbon Breaks. Lorde plays Saturday at the Showbox at the Market. 7 p.m. SOLD OUT. Free with Decibel Pass (Note: passes do not guarantee entrance to the show). All ages.

*Correction: The original version of this post misstated which venue Lorde is playing. She’s at the Showbox at the Market, not Showbox Sodo.

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