Pop music is built on extremes so it’s only fitting that in the year of Miley Cyrus, of twerking, foam finger excess, hanging naked on a wrecking ball fame, the world also discovered Ella Yelich-O’Conor, a 16 year old Kiwi singer-songwriter, known by her stage name Lorde. On “Royals,” her massive alternative crossover hit, she skewers the type of behavior so prevalent on modern pop, the crazed consumerism, full of bling, brands and liquor. The immediate response is boredom and escapism, as Cadillacs start popping up in dreams.
Pure Heroine is cut from the same cloth, that of teenage ambivalence, having your whole life ahead filtered through the prism of upcoming stardom. “Pretty soon, I’ll be getting on my first plane” she announces on album opener “Tennis Court,” but first she’ll have to deal with high school, night drives around the city, trains, the discovery of romance, parties, being raised by the Internet and most importantly, not fitting in. On album stand out “White Teeth Teens,” she states: “I’ll let you in on something big: I am not a white teeth teen, I tried to join but never did”. She can ground the outcast pop cliché into her reality so it doesn’t feel like you’ve heard this before.
Signed to a record label by the age of 12, Lorde’s had plenty of time to develop her sound, choose her interests, compose the music she liked and face the biggest bully of all, puberty. Studio executives were set on the birth of another teen starlet, planning on her collaboration with multiple producers, to work on run of the mill pop. She showed no interest in that, instead, teaming with up and coming producer Joel Little and his work is fundamental to the set’s success, putting melody and voice always on center stage. The production is minimal, an infusion of R&B and Hip-Hop filtered through some pulsating electronic beats, but it’s all about vocal delivery and she does so devoid of pretense, so while these stories have been told before, this particular voice, a very distinctive lower register, paired with Little’s on point production, makes for a refreshing collection of songs. Even more impressive is the cohesion the duo accomplishes, with every single minute of music being an integral part of the overall arc of this short album.
Also worth of notice is Ella’s talent for creating impressive imagery through her lyrics. On “Buzzcut Season” alone we witness someone’s head catching fire, explosions on T.V. and our titular heroine living in a hologram with her lover. She’s able to paint a portrait of a modern society as seen through the eyes of an apathetic and disinterested youth, always in movement but never settling for anything substantial, ruled by the usual high school caste systems, with queen bees, fake friends, best friends and incessant talk. It only rings false in “Glory and Gore,” where a thick hip hop beat and gladiators as metaphor for violence are used a bit too on the nose.
Elsewhere, she’s again mocking our go-to hitmakers and their obsession with putting hands in the air on “Team,” which probably has the catchiest hook on the album and on the more somber “Still Sane,” (“all work and no play never made me lose it,”) our teenage heroine ponders where she is right now and where, or if, she’s going next. But nothing tops the closer, “A World Alone,” a sweeping, ambitious song that combines and nails all the main themes of the album, where music is the only escape, a feeling so universal and delivered with so much bittersweetness, like only a 16 year old could.
By the time she releases her new album, Lorde will have left behind the 2 things that made this album so special: her teenage years and her anonymity. How she adapts to worldwide fame and acclaim is an interesting prospect, but regardless of where she goes, Pure Heroine is enough proof that she’s worth being followed. – Joaquim Caetano
[author ]Joaquim is 26 and from Brazil. He started following the Grammys in 2006 because he was obsessed with U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Ever since, he’s been trying to guess who’ll fight for that little gramophone. He’s a music lover, charts obsessive and Top 40 radio connoisseur. [/author]