Let's face it: It's easy to gorge ourselves on the glut of momentarily satisfying but ultimately nutrition-free singles by the mostly forgettable pop stars that are currently clogging the airwaves.
But it's rare to discover an artist who actually makes us think or -- dare we say it -- feel. And it's even rarer when she's only 16 years old.
Then again, Ella Yelich-O'Connor, who is better known as Lorde, isn't exactly your typical teenager -- or your typical musician.
The New Zealander inked a development deal with Universal Records when she was just 12 and spent the last four years
writing and releasing her first EP, The Love Club, shooting a stunning video for her single "Royals" (watch above), which sat atop New Zealand's music chart for months, and, basically, preparing to take over the world.
And we're totally convinced she's about to do just that.
We recently caught up with the musical wunderkind to chat about why she's conspicuously (and strategically) absent from the "Royals" video, feminism, why you'll never see her tweeting about drinking her own urine and more.
The Huffington Post: When did music transform from something you loved into something that you also did?
I've always written -- predominantly short fiction -- and as a writer, conveying an idea was always important to me. Then I was super into music and I enjoyed singing as well but I didn't really have an idea of how to cross the two. It must have been when I was 14 or 15 that I started tentatively writing songs and was able to convey an emotion and a lyric with what I wanted to say. I started writing with my co-writer Joel [Little], who I'm working with now, and it was a clicking point when I realized that I didn't want to do anything else with my life. It was that fever point -- you catch it and you're different.
I was surprised to see your official bio so openly list your influences, from T.S. Eliot to The Smiths to Bon Iver. So often artists, especially new artists who are worried about carving out their own territory, can be hesitant to name drop others. It's like they want us to think they sprung up from the ground fully formed and entirely unique.
I come from a short fiction background and my mom is a poet, so I've always read poetry, I've always had a lot of different influences both linguistically and musically. A genre like mine is born out of influences because it's pop music but lyrically it's not as -- I don't want to say shallow, but I think you have to think a little bit harder about it than you do some pop music. So I feel like it's born out a bunch of different influences. Musically I've always listened to rap music -- I think Drake is listed on my bio [as an influence] and Kanye West and a lot of pop music, too. Then a few years ago I discovered electronic music and guys like James Blake started revolutionizing how I thought about things. But I've also always read -- that's my first love. I like short fiction because you have to tell a story in a condensed format. You can't screw around with what you're saying. Everything has to count. Everything has to matter. And that's what I like about songwriting: You don't have time for filler. Potency is important in that setting.
I've seen a lot of critics compare you to other artists but I haven't been able to pick out a neat tidy place where I'd say you easily fit into the current musical landscape. Where do you think you fit? Or do you feel you don't?
That's a good point. I've seen people compare me to just about every female slightly alt[ernative] female musician because people feel the need to put females with other females, which I guess I understand, but I think I'm different because my music is accessible, but it's also smart and those are two things that don't often go together musically. I think it's probably because I'm an Internet kid. I'm watching "Adventure Time" but I'm also reading Allen Ginsberg. I'm a mesh of references -- fun and smart? I don't know where I'd put myself. I'd like to think I'm doing something different.
The video for "Royals" is haunting. Every frame could be hung as a piece of art on a wall. But the most intriguing thing to me about the non-U.S. version of the video is that you're barely in it. With image being such an important part of an artist's career these days, that had to have been a deliberate decision.
With pop music and pop musicians, you know everything about everyone all the time, particularly their physical appearance. With female musicians that's made a big thing of and I think people, certainly with me, have appreciated a bit of mystery. When I first released the EP I didn't have any imagery of myself, just this one illustration that was the cover of the EP. So that was a bit of a talking point. People were like, "Who is this? Show your face already." Since then I've been very selective about the visual content that comes out of me. It's something I feel strongly about. With the music video [for "Royals"], I wanted to continue that approach. The music video for me was about creating a piece of art and I wanted it to feel cinematic and like it's something you can immerse yourself in. Having me in it didn't feel like something that was necessary to create that world. So I'm just in it for just a little bit. I think it works well. There are three shots of me -- I start the video and I close the video and there's a 30-second performance shot, which people have said, "You aren't in the video at all and when you are it's for ages and it's almost uncomfortable," [laughs]. If I can get that kind of response from people, then I think I'm doing something right.
The text that accompanies the video on Youtube is almost as moving as the video itself. You write, in part, "...a lot of people think teenagers live in this world like "Skins" every weekend or whatever, but truth is, half the time we aren't doing anything cooler than playing with lighters, or waiting at some shitty stop..." Talk to me about being a teenager who does really ordinary things but at the same time being thrust into this world where the kind of stuff you're singing about in "Royals" really does matter.
I wrote "Royals" in the middle of last year and I played it to my friends and their reaction was like, "This is cool but it's not anything new to us." It's something we've always been very aware of… that our lives are super mundane and we're basically in this transition period waiting for something to happen to us. And then the song came out and people were like, "We never thought about it like this," but I think a lot of young people were just happy that someone was acknowledging that mundanity. I come from a pretty straight forward town, we spend most of our time riding around on bikes and taking photos -- we live pretty straight forward lives. As one of the few teenage voices in music that isn't like... Justin Bieber, I didn't want to glorify that perspective -- this is just what it is and if this is you, too, then cool… Then, we're in it together, I guess.
You're finding meaning in life. I think that's what artists -- real artists -- do. Much of life is pretty mundane. We get up and go to our jobs and come home and maybe watch some TV and maybe make out with our boyfriend or girlfriend a bit -- but it's pretty ho hum on a daily basis. I would argue that an artist's job is to find meaning in every day life. Do you agree?
Definitely. As a teenager in music it's just always been in my interest -- I don't want to say be a spokesperson, but I want there to be someone betting on our team or saying "You know what? This is bullshit… This isn't how a young person thinks." Or just saying what everyone else is thinking because in the entertainment industry where a lot of roles or perceptions are skewed, that's really important.
I recently read an interview of yours where you said that boys aren't everything when it comes to subject matter for songs. So much of what is on the radio when you look at younger artists is love songs or break up songs.
It is. And I feel like that isn't maybe the best thing for young girls to be hearing or molding their lives around. Maybe they aren't the best values for young people and that's another thing I hold with importance: come on, it doesn't all have to be about a boy.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I'd refer to myself as a feminist. I don't think my music is overtly rooted in feminism. I'm a teenager and 95 percent of my friends are boys and that's just the way I've always been. There's a degree of transparency with that stuff in my music -- I talk about exactly what's happening to me and my friends and in my more recent material there are songs about a boy but it's not an overt love song. Everyone's said that a million times. I just want to do something different and that people will like.
I appreciate you saying that. One of my biggest disappointments is when an artist says, "I'm not a feminist! I love guys!"
That's such a worrisome portrayal of feminism. A lot of girls think it's not shaving under their arms and burning bras and hating boys, which just seems stone age to me. Websites like Rookie, Tavi Gevinson's website, are good for that kind of thing and educating girls on what it means to be a feminist. I really appreciate her work.
When you were speaking earlier about your image it got me thinking about pop stars who are so forthcoming about their lives and their careers. Ke$ha, for example, even drank her own urine on TV! It just seems like now there's no intrigue and mystery with many artists. Going forward, do you intend on keeping personal things personal? As more and more people want to know more and more about you, how will you handle that?
I think I have this weird juxtaposition of how I interact with fans. I'm not on the scale of people like Ke$ha who are kind of into the aggressive oversharing, which comes from this being the Internet age and everyone knowing everything and artists then taking it a step further and going completely too far, but then I'm talking about the contents of my bank account -- which is completely dismal -- online, because I feel like not enough artists talk about the stupid lame shit that happens to them. I like to keep it real. My card got declined the other day when I was buying [food from] Subway. And I thought, I totally have to Instagram this, because I think people I have lots of money now or have this super cool life, but no, this is so embarrassing and this has to be shared. And people identified with me and said things like, "Don't worry, it happens to the best of us." With how I interact on social media, I try and maintain a little bit of mystery and my tweets are usually like a line I read in a book rather than "Oh my God -- my urine tastes great today!" [Laughs]
You were signed to Universal really early -- you're only 16 now -- how "normal" has your teenage life been?
[Laughs] Actually, super normal. I've been working with my record company for a few years and pursuing music but it's always been very casual. I might spend a week of my school holidays recording songs, which is what happened with my first EP -- I spent three of my school holidays in the studio recording that. So, it's something I could do on the side and something that not that many of my friends really knew about. So I've actually had a really normal time of it and I like to think that lots of artists should experiences like mine. I think about all those Disney stars who have had breakdowns -- look at Amanda Bynes at the moment, it's a very sad situation. And I feel like it happens because from when they're very young kids they have all these restrictions in place which means they can't go to parties, they can't drink, they can't do any of the things normal teenagers can do and therefore they feel stifled so when they get to an age when they do have control, they take it too far. I have had really normal teenage experiences I don't think I'm liable to… leave my monkey at the airport in Germany or do any of that kind of crazy shit [laughs].
Warning: This might come across as totally offensive and Americentric, but seeing as you're about to touch down in the U.S. to do some shows, does the idea of trying to break into the American market mean more to you or seem scarier than other markets?
It's never really been my intention to "break a market" or whatever. My focus has been to make art -- to make things that I'm happy with. And I think I did that with the video to "Royals" -- I subverted what a lot of people were expecting. I just want to do my thing and be in control and stay true to my vision as an artist and if that works and I get "broken" [laughs] then maybe it's right. It's not a big thing for me. It would be nice -- I'd like it if a lot of people were hearing my music.
Let's end with a typical cliche interview hypothetical. There are a lot of famous people who are buzzing about you right now. If you could hang out with any famous person, who would it be and what would you do?
[Moaning] That is so hard! I'm a big fan of Jimmy Fallon and he has The Roots is his in-house band and I totally love The Roots. So I think I'd just go bug Jimmy Fallon at his studio for a few days and stand behind ?uestlove while he's playing drums and just be a general nuisance [laughs].