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

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

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.’’


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

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