“Pretty soon, I’ll be getting on my first plane,” goes the opening of the second verse in “Tennis Court,” Lorde’s biting ode to the trappings of fame. When the 16-year-old slowly delivered the line midway through her performance at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge on Tuesday night (Aug. 6), her audience emitted a knowing cheer; after all, the show marked the New Zealand native’s first-ever stateside performance.
When Lorde floated out the line, she bit her lip, snuck in a heartfelt smile and slightly dipped her head, as if bowing to the sold-out crowd that allowed that first plane trip to happen. Just as rapidly, she whipped her brown curls behind her with the power of a thousand Willow Smiths and snapped her smolder back into place, moving on to sing about how her “head’s filling up fast with the wicked games” and leaving the starry-eyed sentiment for the curtain call.
Lorde is many things, but above all, she is unflappable. The rising Lava/Republic artist introduced her collection of immaculately drawn pop compositions on Tuesday night with a confidence and demeanor well beyond her years, only allowing the disposition of a sunny 16-year-old to show up in the corners of the performance. Throughout the set, which drew from her “The Love Club” EP and introduced a handful of new songs, Lorde staggered across the stage, fluttered her hands toward the ceiling during melismas and made “sleepy-eyed smirk” look like a trademarked expression. Her songwriting required such an affected persona — Lorde’s music resembles Fiona Apple’s oeuvre much more than her bubblegum peers — and with her well-defined stage presence, it was easy to forget that the audience was watching an artist who couldn’t get a driver’s license in some states.
Lorde is also an industry curiosity: her single “Royals” is consistently climbing the Hot 100 and “The Love Club” EP cracked the Billboard 200 chart in June, despite a sound lack of U.S. promotion before her debut stateside show. Lava president Jason Flom has compared Lorde to a young Tori Amos, and she has a publishing deal that’s up for grabs. Accordingly, Lorde’s performance was attended by more over-40 industry folk than pop fans anywhere near the singer’s age. For those who stumbled into Le Poisson Rouge knowing “Royals” and not much else, Lorde’s other songs clued them in to what the fuss was all about: opener “Bravado” was delightfully spooky, while “The Love Club’s” magnificent title track lilted around Lorde’s smoky voice. And the new songs sounded meatier than her previously released material, with cold, clanging production supporting a slew of inviting hooks.
“I’m so humbled to be here,” Lorde informed the crowd in one of her few spoken interludes. The New Zealander presents her songs with the a certain solemnity, but that fortunately doesn’t mean that she shuts herself off from her enthusiastic onlookers. Lorde is an incredibly savvy performer with a deep collection of songs in her pocket. Now that she’s gotten off of her first plane, America better watch out.