Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Stellar Q&A - Melo­drama (Uni­ver­sal Music Aus­tralia) is out June 16.


Lorde is a witch. She says so, many peo­ple think so. The 20-year-old pop shapeshifter has en­tranced fol­low­ers of music, fash­ion and In­sta­gram since mak­ing her en­trance four years ago. Googling “Lorde witch” will yield nearly half a mil­lion results, var­i­ously de­scrib­ing her as the “celebrity avatar of pop cul­ture’s witch ob­ses­sion”, the first of “20 spell­bind­ing singers who might be witches” and the “Queen of Dark­ness” be­cause of her style evo­lu­tion.

Ella Yelich-o’con­nor ma­te­ri­alised from the ether – ac­tu­ally, the suburbs of Auck­land – with her gen­er­a­tion-defin­ing, genre-de­fy­ing de­but al­bum Pure Hero­ine in 2013. Along with her 2012 EP The Love Club, it was a clar­ion call to mil­len­ni­als who did not iden­tify with the pre­vail­ing wis­doms of a music in­dus­try still hell-bent on putting artists in neat boxes. It mashed hip-hop, R’N’B and pop with off-kil­ter phras­ing, min­i­mal­ist beats and lyrics that el­e­vated teenage mun­dan­i­ties into well-crafted songs that could top the charts.

“So much of the record was songs about quite do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tions, hang­ing out in the suburbs, muck­ing around with friends and mak­ing that sound tran­scen­dent,” Lorde tells Stel­lar. “The most vivid ex­pe­ri­ences for me, the most tech­ni­colour sit­u­a­tions, can hap­pen when I go for a walk or a car ride some­where. Or in the 10 words I hear some­one say on the sub­way. And then I found my­self in crazy sit­u­a­tions. Emo­tion­ally crazy sit­u­a­tions.”

Such as meet­ing David Bowie. Just days be­fore she turned 17 (and not long af­ter Pure Hero­ine came out), Lorde was at a Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art affair in New York to hon­our ac­tor Tilda Swin­ton. Bowie was there, too. He held her hands, looked into her eyes and de­clared her music was “like lis­ten­ing to to­mor­row”. Af­ter his death last year, Lorde was asked to hon­our Bowie at the BRIT Awards, where she sang “Life On Mars” with his band.

That per­for­mance was a break in the ar­du­ous cre­ative ges­ta­tion of her up­com­ing sec­ond al­bum Melo­drama. For two years, Lorde would suf­fer the freak outs which come with writ­ing the sound­track to the day af­ter to­mor­row. It is a com­mon curse for any artist whose de­but hit No.1 in Aus­tralia and New Zealand and sold more than five mil­lion copies around the world.

As she fash­ioned the skele­ton of Melo­drama, Lorde could feel the ghost of Bowie lurk­ing – in the stu­dio, on the sub­way. “I feel so con­nected to him as an artist,” she says. “I have al­ways felt con­nected to him, even though I spent only about five min­utes in [his] com­pany. He was such an au­teur and had an all-en­com­pass­ing vi­sion for his work.”

Liv­ing in New York while she recorded her new al­bum, Lorde says, “I felt he was watch­ing over me in a way. It would be no sur­prise to any­one I am not weirded out by ghosts or spir­its.” Af­ter all, she re­minds us, “I am ba­si­cally a witch.”

AS SHE EN­TERS the countdown to Melo­drama’s re­lease this month, Lorde is cast­ing a spell over the Stel­lar team with her easy laugh and no-non­sense pro­fes­sion­al­ism. Af­ter her body­guard checks out the toi­lets, she sweeps into a photo stu­dio with her mother, poet Sonja Yelich, grabs a plate of food and – still wear­ing her back­pack – plonks down at the ta­ble to fuel up for our shoot.

Her witchy curled locks are tamed and smooth, her ef­fer­ves­cent girl­ish de­meanour drop­ping away as she nat­u­rally strikes poses and as­sumes a model’s vis­age for the cam­era. She can look in­tense in a Wed­nes­day Ad­dams way, star­ing down the lens with eyes that are sharp, fo­cused and de­ter­mined.

Lorde adores fash­ion as both an art form and per­sonal ex­pres­sion. When she hits red car­pets – at home, here in Aus­tralia, in Amer­ica or Eng­land – she rel­ishes the op­por­tu­nity to wear Dior or Gucci, se­quins or crys­tals, the flights of fash­ion fancy af­forded to a stylish young pop star. A day af­ter the shoot, she was back in New Zealand, fin­ish­ing off more record­ing ses­sions. Across the globe in New York, al­most ev­ery other pop star of her gen­er­a­tion was vamp­ing at the Met Gala, cel­e­brat­ing the avant-garde style of Commes des Garçons. Lorde was crushed to miss it, tweet­ing that it “deeply breaks my heart not to be there. This is a cus­tom theme for yours truly, big­gest Commes-head in all of pop.”

All of this hap­pened be­cause of “Roy­als”. Her de­but sin­gle was one of those rare unions of rhythm and melody that sound like noth­ing else on the ra­dio when they hit. It was a phe­nom­e­non ev­ery­where it was played, its suc­cess with mil­len­ni­als draw­ing com­par­isons to the ar­rival of Nir­vana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at Gen X’s grunge apex. It earned Lorde her first two Gram­mys, and low­ered the vel­vet rope to pop’s in­ner sanc­tum.

As well as Bowie, she was sud­denly em­braced by ev­ery­body from Dave Grohl to Ed Sheeran to Tay­lor Swift. Lorde was in­ducted into the lat­ter’s pow­er­ful posse of fel­low pop stars, mod­els and ac­tors. It was per­fectly nat­u­ral for Swift and Lorde to be chummy. Each came with a fabled back­story about a girl­hood spent tran­scend­ing their gawk­i­ness to fol­low their dreams, the ones formed singing into hair­brushes and prac­tis­ing award-ac­cep­tance speeches into the mir­ror. “I was lucky to be sur­rounded by these artists I had been lis­ten­ing to,” she says. “It’s so ex­cit­ing to be in con­ver­sa­tion with [them]. It’s very cool.”

Born in 1996 to civil en­gi­neer fa­ther Vic O’con­nor and mother Sonja Yelich, the sec­ond of four chil­dren, Lorde served an ado­les­cent ap­pren­tice­ship per­form­ing in school mu­si­cals and tour­ing as an acous­tic duo with her friend Louis Mcdon­ald. En­cour­aged by her mother, she vo­ra­ciously de­voured books and dur­ing a ra­dio in­ter­view when she was 12, es­ti­mated that by then she had read at least a thou­sand of them. That same year, Mcdon­ald’s fa­ther sent a record­ing of the acous­tic duo to tal­ent scout Scott Ma­clach­lan, who later be­came her man­ager. When he paired her with Kiwi mu­si­cian Joel Lit­tle, the magic hap­pened.

THINGS WEREN’T QUITE the same this time around. Af­ter a gru­elling two years spent pro­mot­ing and tour­ing Pure Hero­ine around the world, Lorde fi­nally went home to re­group. And what tran­spired was a bunch of melo­drama. She split with her long-time boyfriend, Auck­land pho­tog­ra­pher James Lowe. The new record is a mu­si­cal di­ary that tracks the emo­tional jour­ney of the young and bro­ken-hearted. The tracks boast ti­tles such as “Li­a­bil­ity”, “Writer In The Dark” and “Hard Feel­ings/love­less”.

And then there’s a song called “Sober”. Lorde ad­mits she did some drink­ing as she came of age and ne­go­ti­ated the rites of pas­sage to adult­hood. “I prob­a­bly was [self-med­i­cat­ing],” she says. “There was an el­e­ment of es­capism and ex­plo­ration and want­ing to be my­self in strange sit­u­a­tions and see what hap­pens. Af­ter a break-up, you go to these crazy places. I def­i­nitely did.”

Lorde con­fesses she’s al­ways the girl at the party en­cour­ag­ing ev­ery­one to have one more, but strug­gles to re­call her worst ex­pe­ri­ence with al­co­hol. “I don’t know if I have re­ally had a bad one. I don’t re­ally get a hang­over; I am still at that age. I def­i­nitely in­spire peo­ple to keep drink­ing.” She mim­ics words of en­cour­age­ment: “I am like,

‘Come on!’” How­ever, she in­sists, “I am quite well-be­haved these days.”

As she was get­ting her head around ways to start shap­ing her heart­break and those crazy nights out into new songs, Lorde first re-teamed with Lit­tle. But like most pop song­writ­ers, par­tic­u­larly those with lim­ited in­stru­men­tal abil­i­ties, she de­cided to ex­plore other po­ten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tors. Un­like her peers whose songs of­ten fea­ture sev­eral co-writ­ers, Lorde works best one-on-one.

Her search led to speed dat­ing-style stu­dio ses­sions with a raft of pro­duc­ers. And it wasn’t work­ing. Soon she was duck­ing out to text Jack Antonoff, a singer, pro­ducer and part­ner to her new friend, Girls star Lena Dun­ham. Lorde would ask if he was free; when he was, they’d meet up at the Brook­lyn home he shares with Dun­ham to write. “Jack was re­ally the key that un­locked the whole thing for me,” Lorde says. “I was meet­ing with a lot of song­writ­ers and hav­ing those stu­dio speed dates to see if I had con­nec­tions with peo­ple. I was feel­ing un­moored by the whole thing. I didn’t have an an­chor to what I’d be as a song­writer. And then I got in a room with Jack. In­stantly, we were both aware we had some­thing spe­cial.”

She jokes it was a “cre­ative affair’’, and that part of her just wanted to spend time with Antonoff and Dun­ham. “Lena is won­der­ful,” Lorde tells Stel­lar. “She was so good about us. I was [of­ten] there un­til mid­night, and she would come in and say good­night, which was re­ally sweet. She brought bits and pieces of jew­ellery she wanted me to have. I have a mas­sive bowl of her trin­kets.” When it all got too over­whelm­ing, they would en­cour­age Lorde to go home to New Zealand, to the fam­ily and friends who knew her best.

All the anx­i­ety about match­ing the suc­cess of Pure Hero­ine, which helped Lorde’s net worth reach an es­ti­mated $12 mil­lion, fell away when the first fruit of their en­deav­ours reached the air­waves. New sin­gle “Green Light” was un­ex­pected – an elec­tronic dance pop num­ber an­chored by puls­ing pi­ano stabs which sounded un­like any­thing she had recorded be­fore. It reached No. 1 in New Zealand and be­came a Top 5 hit here. And, adds Lorde, “Aus­tralia was the first coun­try it went plat­inum!” She seems floored – but grate­ful – by the strong re­sponse. “I am so aware how long three years is in pop cul­ture and yet peo­ple are al­ready in­vested in an al­bum they haven’t heard yet.”

These early indi­ca­tors of an­other suc­cess­ful al­bum un­der­score Lorde’s pop pre­science. When she was younger, she’d pull apart Justin Tim­ber­lake and Nelly Fur­tado songs, try­ing to anal­yse what made them work. Per­haps she de­serves an hon­orary de­gree in mu­si­cal math­e­mat­ics? The idea makes her laugh. “I like that. I should prob­a­bly have a PHD in pop at this point. I like to take songs, get all nerdy and draw par­al­lels with other songs. I re­ally think there is such wis­dom in pop music. It doesn’t get enough credit for that.”

This mirth be­lies the fact that Lorde is se­ri­ous about mak­ing music – and is as pas­sion­ate a lis­tener as she is a cre­ator. She con­stantly posts shout-outs to songs she loves, in­clud­ing new ef­forts from con­tem­po­raries such as Mi­ley Cyrus and Camila Ca­bello. “I love pop,” she says, “and have so much re­spect for and rev­er­ence of it. At the same time, I break a lot of rules with my work be­cause to do ‘the right thing’ won’t be the best way to con­vey what I am feel­ing.

“For the most part,” she is quick to add, “I still feel like a fan. And I am lucky to still feel that way af­ter see­ing how the sausage is made.”


WORLD DOM­I­NA­TION (clock­wise from top) Lorde with her mother at the 2014 Grammy Awards; on­stage at this year’s Coachella; with Tay­lor Swift at the 2016 Van­ity Fair Os­car Party; hon­our­ing David Bowie at the BRIT Awards.

LORDE WEARS Saint Lau­rent blazer, and Dolce & Gab­bana blouse, both david­jones.com.au; Acne Stu­dios pants, ac­nes­tu­dios.com; Chris­tian Dior boots, (02) 9229 4600

HAIR Jenny Kim us­ing Oribe and Babyliss MAKE-UP Am­ber Dreadon

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