Sep 25, 2013 Music
Six months ago, I started to hate Lorde. It’s a terrible thing to admit, but I did. It was borne of obsession which spilled over to strange, delusional mania. Not at the music – which I loved – but at the story. Knowing it was out there, unfolding across the city, a few kilometres away. And that I couldn’t have it. It drove me, if not temporarily insane, then temporarily a bit weird.
When I read Katherine Lowe’s first interview with her, I fumed. Upon hearing that ‘Stinky’ Jim Pinkney had scored the first print interview for the Listener, I went one better, unfollowing Lorde on Twitter. I’m not sure what effect I thought such a drastic measure would have on the young woman, but I wasn’t afraid to find out.
I’m getting ahead of myself. I first heard ‘Royals’ after Ash and Josh from Kidz in Space sent links to her Soundcloud. I was astounded. As a grown man who has spent the last 15 years or so freaking over teen-targeted pop music – almost always from overseas, because we make precious little worth loving – it was thrilling to hear something so assured, so perfect, from Auckland. Auckland!
This was during the well-documented information vacuum of late last year. I knew she was on Universal, but my contact there was being cagey with anything more than her age: 16.
Sixteen. How was that even possible? That one so young could release an EP containing not just ‘Royals’, but ‘Bravado’, with its giddying, self-fulfilling prophecy of a lyric “And I can tell you that/ When the lights come on/ I’ll be ready for this”, giving way to “it’s in your bloodstream/ A collision of atoms/ It happens/ Before your eyes/ It’s a marathon run/ Or a mountain scaled/ Without thinking of size”. I’m still floored by those words.
I met her mother, Sonja, late one night at the opening of a restaurant my friend was working at in Devonport. It was mid-December. We had both been drinking. I told her there and then that her daughter was going to be very famous, and I that I was determined to tell the story. We got on well, but I frightened her.
The months wore on, and I curdled, as I describe above. I told myself I deserved this story, dammit. Who else cared so much about the maligned, infantile prole art of pop music? ME! At my lowest ebb I – slightly drunkenly, again, I must confess – reprimanded Adam Holt, the head of Universal Music New Zealand, about my being kept from this story. He’s both the most decent and the smartest guy I’ve met in the music industry. Not my proudest moment.
I kept badgering away, vacillating about whether I cared too much or had moved on. I tried to sneak into video shoots, and was gently but firmly rebuffed. In retaliation, I refused to see her first live shows in May. Idiot. The single came out, and was an enormous hit. She got signed, the buzz started buzzing ever louder. I was mad as hell, but eventually resigned myself to this thing having run away, and busied myself in other projects to stave off the gloom.
Then, quite out of the blue, Universal’s Justin Warren asked me to have coffee to talk about Lorde. We met on a rainy day in early June. They’d decided to do one print story for New Zealand, and one story only. I had it.
I was paralysed with happiness and fear. Happiness at having got the story. Fear that I’d somehow balls it up. I’d been trying for over a year to write substantial, access-all-areas music story. Maybe to atone for the hundreds of glib 15 minute phoners I churned out during my old job at Real Groove. Two prominent – though not Lorde-prominent, obviously – New Zealand artists turned me down. One directly, one via their label. Each didn’t want to reveal too much of their inner workings, to retain some privacy.
Fair enough. But I mention those dead ends by way of commending Ella Yelich-O’Connor and the team around her for being so willing to open all their doors. Throughout the nearly three months I spent, off-and-on, around Lorde, there was never anything walled off from me. I wanted to sit in on meetings, to go to the studio, to meet with her family, her producer, her management – to anyone I could think of who would have anything worthwhile to say.
This was to both get material for the story, and to test the project to see if it was as legit as we’d been told. Because, while there are large parts of Simon Sweetman’s review I find unpleasant, I totally understand his incredulity. It’s a natural scepticism which has lurked in corners of the media and music industries – and the wider public – ever since she emerged. Boiled down, it says: really? How?
My feature should – assuming I haven’t ballsed it up – answer that. It is by no means the final word on Lorde, but it does, I hope, go some way to explain the forces which have acted on Yelich-O’Connor through her 16 years on earth. More pertinently, it should provide a window into the character, intellect, talent and drive of this young woman. And how she’s propelled herself from the North Shore suburbs to global stardom in one remarkable year.
NB: For all the thousands of words which spill out about Lorde every day, there’s been precious little substantial and worthwhile criticism to this point. The best I’ve read, by far, has come from Joe Nunweek, on The Corner, and the Pantograph Punch, which he co-edits. Go read them.