Were it not for indie bands Bon Iver and Grizzly Bear, we might not have Lorde (nee Ella Yelich-O’Connor), the 17-year-old phenom whose harmony-mashing “Royals” topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts for nine weeks in 2013 and garnered a half-million plays on U.S. radio. Her hometown of Auckland “often gets skipped” on a tour, which made her first two shows — at age 15 — extra special.
“So phenomenal and moving,” says Lorde, who name-checks Kanye West, David Bowie and Talking Heads’ David Byrne as influences. “It has been quite weird; I never saw myself as a Top 40 princess,” she says of insta-fame, which includes Grammy noms for record, song and pop solo of the year (for “Royals”) and best pop vocal album (for Pure Heroine). She doesn’t look the part, opting for a no-fuss mane onstage and outfits more in line with Stevie Nicks than Selena Gomez.
Indeed, where Miley Cyrus twerks, Lorde twitches in moves she describes as having “no control over.” Are Lorde and Ella the same person? “I think they are,” she muses. “But I can say and do more with Lorde’s confidence.” Case in point: “I don’t want to get my hopes up, but I would be pretty psyched to win a Grammy,” she says.
Read more of THR’s chat with Lorde in the extended Q&A below:
Coming from New Zealand, was that seen as an impediment to success or did you see yourself going beyond your home country from the get-go?
I have always been internationally minded with how I consumed music and art. Everyone has the Internet now so it doesn’t feel like as much of an impediment. I grew up listening to people who make music in their bedrooms and put it on SoundCloud so I kind thought that the opportunities were limitless.
Here we are at the 2014 Grammys, where you’re up for four awards. This time last year, it was Gotye, another singer from down under, that had the biggest song of the year. Throw in Australia’s Tame Impala and Courtney Barnett and one has to wonder: is there magic in the water?
I think a big part of it is that we are at the bottom end of the world and it’s that desire to get out and get noticed. Like it’s the fact that there’s this possibility of being limited by geography that makes no one want to be limited by geography. It was definitely a driving factor for me — wanting to be in the thick of it.
Is there an album that changed your life?
Probably one of the early ones for me was [Kanye West’s] ‘Late Registration’. I remember staying up and listening to that on repeat. … There a lot of people whose careers I really admire and the kind of common specter amongst them were that they all had a good idea of who they were and where they wanted to go, which I admire.
Who are a few of those people?
Well, Kanye is one. I think David Bowie is one. Arcade Fire … David Byrne. They’re people who, you look at, and you know they’re legends and they’re still feel cool today. It feels like them, not a rip-off.
Your stage moves are really unique and sort of intense. Where did they come from?
To be honest, it’s just the way the music manifests itself in my body. I have no control over it and I watch it back and I almost feel embarrassed because I think it looks really weird. But have you seen Talking Heads’ ‘Stop Making Sense’? Have you seen how David Byrne moves? You know that it’s not put on. It’s just David Byrne feeling the music, which makes me feel not so bad.
What are your expectations for Sunday’s Grammy Awards?
I do not want to get my hopes up in any way, but I would be pretty psyched to win a Grammy. I’m excited for everything that will go along with the day — seeing a bunch of my friends, dressing up, performing will be really fun. … It sounds like prom on ‘roids or something.
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.