The 16-year-old is already a chart-topper in her native New Zealand. Is America next?
Popping up on the lower reaches of the Billboard 200 chart last week was Lorde's "The Love Club" EP, which entered the tally at No. 191 following its release in March on Lava/Republic. The five-song set has sold 10,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, despite the fact that Lorde is a mysterious 16-year-old New Zealander who was a complete unknown eight months ago and has done next to no stateside promotion.
Last November, Ella Yelich O'Connor released the EP in New Zealand under the name Lorde through a deal with Universal that she signed at the age of 12. The ornate pop songs contain an austerity that invites comparisons to Adele and Florence & the Machine, with evocative lyrics like "Every song's like gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin' in the bathroom/Blood stains, ball gowns, trashing the hotel rooms/We don't care-we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams" on standout track "Royals."
Lava president Jason Flom first caught wind of Lorde less than six months ago when his friend, music supervisor Natalia Romiszewski, sent him an email with a link to the teen singer's SoundCloud page, which had been set up days earlier. "I took one listen and was immediately obsessed," says Flom, who emailed the singer directly to find out more. Soon, Flom was talking on the phone with Lorde, her longtime manager Scott Maclachlan and the singer's parents about how the high schooler can and should showcase her music outside of New Zealand. Flom, a former A&R head of Atlantic Records who can be credited with breaking acts like Kid Rock and Paramore, added Lorde to a compact roster of artists on Lava (which is partnered with Republic) that includes Jessie J, Black Veil Brides and CJ Holland.
Soon after Lorde signed her U.S. deal, "Royals" spent three weeks atop New Zealand's digital songs chart beginning March 30, more than a month before Lorde would perform her first show in the country. Meanwhile, Flom was playing her music to whomever would listen within the U.S. music industry. "I sent an email very shortly after signing [Lorde] to all the key people at iTunes, and I said, 'This really takes me back to when I signed Tori Amos,'" Flom recalls. "I feel like Lorde will have the same impact. I worked with Tori from the very beginning, and I can say with some authority that Lorde has the same level of intensity and genius."
The blogosphere outside of New Zealand slowly began hearing the whispers about Lorde that Flom and Lava were starting. On April 26, Buzzfeed ran a post titled "Listen to This Teen Singer From New Zealand Right Now," while Jezebel, the Guardian and Idolator touted the singer in the following weeks. In May, the EP shot onto Billboard's Heatseekers Albums chart at No. 8, while "Royals" entered the Alternative tally at No. 30 last week. The single was given a darkly artistic music video that has received 1.4 million views since its YouTube posting on May 12.
Flom says Sept. 30 is the release date for Lorde's as-yet-untitled debut full-length, which will include some of the songs on "The Love Club" but not all five tracks. Dates for a U.S. promotional run are being finalized, but will likely occur in late August and early September and include performances on both coasts and appearances at "key industry events."
Expect to hear much more of "Royals" in the coming months: The track is getting pushed to triple A radio, but Flom expects it to reach top 40, AC and rhythmic formats soon. "It's one of those six-format records," he says, "but we're really trying to take our time-we didn't even mean to go to Alternative as quickly as we did, but they sort of picked up on it and stations started adding it. But we really want to take a very deliberate approach to this-there's absolutely no rush."