Unlike His Royal Highness George Alexander Louis, 16-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor is not, technically, royalty. But Yelich-O'Connor does sing about royalty, and goes by Lorde, her feminized version of the aristocratic title, which hints at a life that's far detached from the reality as a New Zealand beach-town teenager.
“I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh,” she croons in the opening of her single, “Royals,” in which she calls out pop and rap stars for their emphasis on lavish consumerism: “Crystal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece, jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.” Though her simultaneous fascination with and critique of high-class opulence may be a common teenage sentiment — she vacillates between, “that kinda luxe just ain’t for us,” and, “let me live that fantasy” — Lorde expresses herself in a sophisticated, clear voice, and through cool harmonies reminiscent of a mature female a cappella group. "Royals" spent three weeks in the number one spot on New Zealand’s top 40 chart, and Lorde’s EP, The Love Club, debuted at number two on the country's album chart. According to Interview magazine, the latter was made available for free so that people Lorde's age, who don't have credit cards, would be able to listen to it.
Lorde was discovered by Universal at a school talent show when she was just 13. Already famous in Auckland and embarking on an international tour this fall (including her first trip to America), the self-proclaimed Kiwi is still in high school, and plans to graduate in her home town — though, in addition to her tour, she’s taking a short break to record a full album.
Lorde’s clear, soulful vocals and relevant, self-written songs are surefire indicators that she has an exciting future ahead of her. A fan of minimalist sound, her straightforward vocal work is reminiscent of contemporaries like Florence Welch and Lana Del Ray, though it is compounded by smooth harmonies. Lorde wants to keep the focus on her lyrics, and the simple, unadulterated vocals ensure that her words stand out. In her interview with Spotify, Lorde sites James Blake, Lana Del Ray, Lou Reed, Burial, Bon Iver, and Drake as influences, so it’s no wonder her songs and videos are a compelling combo of pop familiarity and indie weirdness.
Lorde has maintained a carefully curated image, which seems near impossible for a teenager in 2013. She originally released a single photo of herself, in which her signature beachy, wavy, brunette hair and a brown dog stand out against a simple black gown, black combat boots, and a black background. Though the styling of the portrait is distinctly modern, Lorde’s seated pose and dog are a nod to royal portraits from centuries past. In the uber-cool video for her latest single, “Tennis Court,” she is pale and clad in black fishnets. A quick Google image search turns up only unsmiling, simple photographs of Lorde that fit perfectly with the forthright persona she's trying to project. Despite her somewhat sheltered existence (she’s never been on a plane), this 16-year-old is light-years ahead of the train-wrecked, super-searchable contemporaries with whom she is fascinated. Lorde's raw talent, sultry eyes, and quiet, commanding presence have placed her on the verge of becoming pop royalty.