Lorde is New Zealand’s teen singing sensation
After two No 1s in her native NZ, the teen sensation is taking on the world, writes Iain Shedden
SHE’S only 16, but already fame is starting to stalk Ella YelichO’Connor. As the Kiwi singer better known as Lorde sits outside a restaurant in Sydney’s Surry Hills, admitting to being nervous about the imminent release of her debut album, an excited passer-by homes in on her.
Apologetically, the fan asks if they can be in a photo together. Lorde takes it in her stride, obliging with good grace and professionalism in her relatively new role as a schoolgirl pop star. The fuss on the street is reflective of a somewhat greater flurry of attention for Lorde in the charts, not least for her pop anthem Royals, which went to No 1 in New Zealand in March and since then has made her one of the most talked-about artists in the music industry on several continents.
Lorde’s most recent single, Tennis Court, debuted at No 1 in New Zealand and reached No 21 in Australia, but just as significant as her chart success is that the young singer from Auckland is a buzz artist, tipped by many industry pundits as someone capable of replicating Gotye’s phenomenal leap last year into the world’s pop consciousness.
On the eve of her album Pure Heroine’s release, the Year 12 Takapuna Grammar School student may be nervous, but she’s also well-prepared for a long-term career in the music business. She’s aware of the hype but not paying it too much attention.
‘‘ Because I’m in it I can’t really see it,’’ she says. ‘‘ All the time my parameters for what is normal change. That means I don’t get too bogged down and nervous about the hype. I’m constantly surprised, but I know what I’ve done is good and I’m proud of it.’’
Such a level head is admirable for someone thrust from obscurity into the spotlight in a matter of weeks, but what many people won’t know is that Lorde has been preparing for this moment since she was 12. That’s when she was discovered by Universal Music A&R man Scott Maclachlan, now her manager, who saw her perform on a video from her school talent contest. The singer was signed to a contract with Universal when she was 13 and has been groomed for success since then.
Her ease as a performer stretches back much further. Lorde has been acting since she was five. ‘‘ I love acting and I love being on stage,’’ she says. It was only after her record company expressed an interest that she began to take singing and songwriting seriously.
‘‘ Before then I had just been singing as a hobby,’’ she says. ‘‘ And I wasn’t really writing songs, I was writing short fiction.’’
Along with her three siblings, Lorde has been involved one way or another in artistic endeavour for as long as she can remember. Her father, a civil engineer, and her poet mother encouraged her to express herself and to embrace the arts, she says. ‘‘ My mum in particular always bought us books and took us to art galleries and we did pottery and drama, so there was always lots of the arts around. We’re definitely an arts family.’’
The road to the release of Pure Heroine has been one of pursuing her dream while also sitting exams and doing homework. She appreciates that she was given time to grow as a person and as an artist before having to release a record.
‘‘ I didn’t get to hate it because I had been thrown into it,’’ she says. ‘‘ I was allowed the luxury of time to learn to love it.’’
Lorde has a collaborator, Auckland writer and producer Joel Little, with whom she has carved the 10 tracks that make up the album. Most often she would complete a lyric and take it to Little for them to work on together. Royals was done that way. The tracks were fashioned at Little’s relatively small recording studio, Golden Age, in the Auckland suburb of Morningside.
‘‘ It was quite relaxed,’’ she says. ‘‘ It’s the same place I’ve written for the past two years, so it felt comfortable. It wasn’t like I was in a recording studio with a bunch of producers or anything like that.’’
It was during those two years that the singer began plotting her future. Evenings and school holidays were spent writing, as well as listening to music as an inspiration. She cites electronic artist Moby as one of those influences. In turn the American musician has been complimentary about Lorde’s work, as have several high-profile artists, including Backstreet Boys. ‘‘ Isn’t that ridiculous?’’ she says with a laugh.
Further inspiration comes from the electronic music of Vienna-based Londoner Sohn. ‘‘ He chops up vocals and uses them as part of his soundscape, which is what I do as well,’’ she explains. ‘‘ It’s warm electronic music that inspires me.’’
Her lyrics stem from her social circle, most of them 16-year-olds, although she doesn’t like her words to be analysed too closely. ‘‘ I don’t know how much I want to explain songs,’’ she says. ‘‘ I want people to take them and get their own meaning from them.’’
THE ROAD TO PURE HEROINE HAS BEEN ONE OF PURSUING HER DREAM WHILE DOING HOMEWORK
She admit that much of her inspiration comes from her mates. ‘‘ I find my friends really inspiring,’’ she says. ‘‘ I tend to write a lot about them and about us. People my age are so creative. They have an interesting perspective on stuff that happens.’’
Lorde’s live performances have been few and far between so far, but she won over the large crowd at the Splendour in the Grass festival in Byron Bay in July when she was brought in at the last minute to replace American artist Frank Ocean. It was her biggest show so far. Now she’s looking forward to performing regularly, beginning with a short Australian tour next month.
‘‘ I still get really nervous,’’ she says about performing. ‘‘ It’s different doing music, performing stuff that is yours as opposed to someone else’s work. You get to communicate something that you feel strongly about.’’
Lorde has another year of school to go, Year 13 in NZ, although she doesn’t sound com- pletely convincing about seeing it through. ‘‘ I’m the kind of person who isn’t going to stop learning just because I’m not in class,’’ she says. ‘‘ I’m constantly reading, whether it’s essays or fiction. English has always been important.’’
There’s a maturity in Lorde’s manner — and in her looks — slightly at odds with her 16 years, although when she lifts her sleeve to reveal several tattoos, her childish charm prevails. ‘‘ They’re temporary ones,’’ she says emphatically. ‘‘ I change them all the time. My mum would kill me otherwise.’’
Lorde’s Pure Heroine is released through UMA on September 27. Her Australian tour begins in Brisbane on October 16 and travels to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
Ella Yelich-O’Connor, better known as Lorde