It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since New Zealand-bred Ella Yelich-O’Connor, a.k.a. Lorde, dropped her electro-pop debut Pure Heroine. In the three year interim, save for Hunger Games soundtrack contributions and social accounts, we haven’t heard much from the two-time Grammy and double Billboard Music Award-winning artist.
No longer a teenager, Lorde’s meticulous and decidedly painstaking creative process has prompted fans to grow understandably impatient. Is she in a creative drought or fearing a sophomore slump? Last August, Lorde told skeptics where to go with an impassioned Instagram post.
“Give up on me if you want to! I write a record when I have enough special stories to tell, and it’s all me, every melody every lyric, not some team who just start the machine up every eighteen months like clockwork,” she wrote. “The record is written, we’re in the production stage now. I’ve worked like a dog for a year making this thing great for you guys.”
The very fact that Lorde is willing to test her fans and management’s patience (she split from her long-time manager Scott Maclachlan in 2015) and not rush out an ill-conceived follow-up, highlights wisdom that belies Lorde’s age. After all, careful deliberation and pragmatism are rarely the defining traits of a 20-year-old.
With that in mind, here are 10 lyrics from Lorde’s songbook when the singer/songwriter proved wise beyond her years.
10. “Bravado,” The Love Club EP
“It’s in your bloodstream / A collision of atoms that happens before your eyes / It’s a marathon run or a mountain you scale without thinking of size”
Great art is a marathon, not a sprint. Lorde hasn’t released an album since Sep. 2013 — light years ago in Internet time — but the masses are still clamoring for more. Lorde gets it.
9. “Tennis Court,” Pure Heroine
“Baby be the class clown / I’ll be the beauty queen in tears”
Lorde has always been critical of the pitfalls of superficial beauty, which is just one of the reasons why breakout single “Royals” caught so many off-guard. Here, in a line reminiscent of the ragged poetry of The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg (Lorde covered the ‘Mats “Swinging Party”) a teenage Lorde addressed the underlying sadness beneath the glamour.
8. “Ribs,” Pure Heroine
“The drink you spilt all over me / “Lover’s Spit” left on repeat / My mum and dad let me stay home / It drives you crazy getting old”
If this one doesn’t exactly prove Lorde wise beyond her years, it further cements her good taste. We don’t know too many Top 40 artists going around citing Broken Social Scene songs. Do you, Lorde. Do you.
7. “Team,” Pure Heroine
“We live in cities you’ll never see on screen / Not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things / Living in ruins of a palace within my dreams”
In an almost prescient view of modern Trump America, or an elegy for cities reduced to dust, Lorde throws one out for the marginalized and impoverished.
6. “The Love Club,” Love Club EP
“I’m in a clique but I want out / It’s not the same as when I was punched / In the old days there was enough / The card games and ease with the bitter salt of blood”
We all know high school can be a nightmare, but if you’re one of the chosen few in the cool clique, the tendency is to hang on for dear life. It’s pretty far-fetched to think that Lorde is talking about an actual Fight Club here, but rather the desperation to fit in that plagues teenagers.
5. “400 Lux,” Pure Heroine
“We’re never done with killing time / Can I kill it with you / Til the veins run red and blue? / We come around here all the time / Got a lot to not do / Let me kill it with you”
Youth is a whirlwind of highs and soul-crushing lows, but it’s rare that a teenager can capture world-weariness without the benefit of hindsight. Suburban ennui, Lorde style.
4. “Buzzcut Season,” Pure Heroine
“Explosions on TV / And all the girls with heads inside a dream / So now we live beside the pool / Where everything is good”
In a nod to the Bret Easton Ellis satire of the rich and apathetic, Lorde exposes the ugliness behind entitlement and status, revealing once again that all that glitters is not gold.
3. “Yellow Flicker Beat,” The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
“And now people talk to me, I’m slipping out of reach now / People talk to me, and all their faces blur / But I got my fingers laced together and I made a little prison / And I’m locking up everyone who ever laid a finger on me / I’m done with it”
Again, maybe just a rallying anthem for Katniss, but given Kanye West’s reworking of the song into the haunting, brooding “Flicker,” the lyrics also serve as a middle finger to personal and professional enemies.
2. “A World Alone,” Pure Heroine
“All the double-edged people and schemes / They make a mess then go home and get clean / You’re my best friend, and we’re dancing in a world alone, a world alone, we’re all alone”
The coda to Heroine is one of Lorde’s most beautiful and pessimistic moments; the resignation that the corrupt will likely go unpunished, but we’re never alone as long as we have someone to dance with us.
1. “Royals,” The Love Club EP/Pure Heroine
“But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom / Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room, We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams / But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece / Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash / We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair”
Lorde’s magnum opus, “Royals” ties together all her obsessions. From her disgust and distrust of scenesters and young wealth, to her uncompromising fight to remain true to herself, the song was her perfect introduction to the mainstream.