The pop animal Katy Perry sings Roar and anything else she has to. Miley Cyrus would twerk across broken glass if need be. And Justin Bieber seems simply out of his mind. But Lorde, the poised, audacious Aucklander whose proper name is Ella Yelich-O'Connor, craves a different kind of buzz. The 16-year-old art-pop sensation has taken in the landscape with her oversized eyes, and she has seen the music-chart needle and the damage done. "Today is my birthday, and I'm riding high," she sings on Still Sane, "hair is dripping, hiding that I'm terrified, but this is summer …"
It is summer, for her. If you know Lorde – pronounced as the regal title, with a silent 'e' – you know her for her sardonic smash hit Royals, a sultry, savvy condemnation of the bejewelled lifestyle flaunted and enjoyed by jet-set, hip-hop elite. "But every song's like gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin' in the bathroom," she half-moans, mezzo-soprano and wise beyond her years. "Life is great without a care, we aren't caught up in your love affair."
On her debut album of chilled, richly textured modern pop, Lorde has found a lyrical groove that sets her apart from the attention-seeking rabble. The lush sound is often reminiscent of the blue-smoked ambience of Lana Del Rey. But where Del Rey's noir drama was more mature than its unseasoned singer, Lorde appears to be much more authentic – the lines between reality and fantasy not only being easily defined, but smartly explored.
On the clacking, down-tempo Tennis Court, the chorus is an example of the young singer-songwriter's advanced state of self-awareness: "It's a new art form showing people how little we care," she discloses. "We're so happy, even when we're smilin' out of fear." This can relate to the front put up by a wary star on the rise, or it can be a comment on the fake cockiness of any teenager, in any hemisphere.
Team begins with a sultry chant that moves to moody, pitched-down vocal bit, before settling into a heavy-clap rhythm and a tripping R&B beat. The chorus is of the sweeping Del Rey style, with a sparkle of Rihanna's Diamonds. "I'm kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air," Lorde defiantly declares, commenting on the annoying habit of the MC's incessant decree.
The song's first line is as refreshing as we've heard from a pop star in years: "Wait 'til you're announced, we've not yet lost all our graces." In an age of manufactured stars, Lorde is a refreshing change – she arrives fully-formed and with something to sing. Her challenge now is to retain some sort of saneness and humanness.
Lorde plays Toronto's Danforth Music Hall, Oct. 6.
The week in music
Top selling albums in Canada for the week ending Sept. 29: Drake starts from the top. The hip-hop star's Nothing Was the Same debuted at No. 1 on the Canadian album chart, ahead of another new one, Mechanical Bull from the Tennessee rock stars Kings of Leon. Jack Johnson's From Here to Now to You went from the top spot to the third, followed by Swedish D.J. Avicii's True and a self-titled effort from Dream Theater. American audiences favoured LPs from Cher (Closer to the Truth; No. 3 on the U.S. chart) and Elton John (Diving Board; No. 4).
Top single: With her breakthrough single Royals now sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100, the 16-year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde becomes the youngest solo artist to chart at No. 1 since Tiffany did it with I Think We're Alone Now in 1987. Meanwhile, Badfinger's 1972 song Baby Blue, which closed the final episode of the television series Breaking Bad, entered into the iTunes top songs chart on the strength of 5,000 downloads on Sunday night alone.
Also released this week: HAIM's Days Are Gone, Basia Bulat's Tall Tall Shadow, Blind Boys of Alabama's I'll Find A Way, Blitzen Trapper's VII, Brendan Canning's You Gots 2 Chill, Dizzee Rascal's The Fifth, Joan Jett's Unvarnished, Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience, Moby's Innocents, The Deep Dark Woods's Jubilee, Yuck's Glow and Behold and a self-titled collaboration between the Old 97s and Waylon Jennings.