Music & Gender: Dear Lorde
With current music industry trends, we consumers are now familiar with the feeling of waiting a painfully long time for our favorite artists to drop a new album. (I’m looking at you, Frank Ocean.) Upon being given great art we devour it, then are left hungry. This is true for all forms of art — literature, film, fashion — but I feel it is especially true for music. There is something intoxicating about being immersed in a certain soundscape, over and over again. Recently, we have been lucky. We were blessed with Rihanna’s ANTI and Beyoncé’s much needed social commentary in “Formation.”
But one artist has managed to slink off of the charts and stay there, out of the sight and the ears of her previously dependent fans. In case you were not able to pick out one artist out of the slew I could be referring to, I’m talking about Lorde. Lorde got us hooked on Pure Heroine and then left us dry. For three years we have been kept alive by closely following the New Zealand artist on social media, drinking in pictures of her with friends, namely Taylor Swift, and devouring her ever-savvy tweets. Her recent feature on Disclosure’s “Magnets” is an excellent kick, but we need a bigger dose.
In lieu of a fresh supply, let’s look back on the blessings Lorde has bestowed upon us. Aside from her impressive music career (she is only aged 19 years) and aforementioned witty twitter, Lorde exudes ingenuity. Resisting the virtuosic nature of so many stars today, she respects reality. And she demands that others respect it as well. For example, her epic calling-out of Diplo on twitter.
And her acknowledgement of flaws, and their rightful place in the world.
Aside from being the kind of person you can’t help but want to be friends with, Lorde is an exceptional artist. It’s impossible to talk about her body of work without mentioning the song that thrust her into the mainstream, “Royals.” In the Summer and Fall of 2013, “Royals” crept into our radios and into our heads, where it remained. While it’s likely that at the time of its release the prevalence of the track became nauseating, returning to it feels like an old friend. “Royals” starts with Lorde’s drawling, “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh.” As we all know, the song continues on to denounce the consumerism-driven, party-centric nature of youth culture. While this direct alienation from all things mainstream may seem like a ploy for individuality, it does not take that form with Lorde. It may be her low-register vocals or the song’s percussive swing, but her critique of culture comes across as concrete. This denunciation of recreational and material standards is particularly pungent when coming from a young woman — someone who is constantly told to meet recreational and beauty standards. Singing “That kind of lux just ain’t for us / We crave a different kind of buzz” is Lorde’s way of telling listeners that there are other ways to harness life other than embracing society’s definition of living.
With the notoriety of “Royals” launching Lorde into the spotlight, attention eventually turned to other tracks, like “Tennis Court.” Lorde is great with opening lines, and “Tennis Court” is no exception. The teen burrs out “Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk” with only the sparse accompaniment of synth. Despite its pop packaging, this track is nothing to trifle with. It addresses the apathy that can come along with youth under the entrapment of an under-stimulating environment. Many pop tracks go for an escapist route, with artists boasting about their entirely unrealistic, fantastical lives. These tracks usually play heavily into gender stereotyping, setting the scene of the sexually successful male and the sexually suggestive female. Lorde partakes in none of this. She paints a picture of her reality; making it known that truth can be romantic and desirable. In her lyricism and cadence, she delivers the lines “It’s a new art form showing people how little we care / We’re so happy, even though we’re smiling out of fear” with such conviction that even the most consumerism-ridden listener may be prompted to change their ways. Not to mention, she looks unearthly and ethereal in the music video, like a magnificently translucent mesh alien. Not everyone can pull off that look.
In a mass culture that so heavily categorizes gender, wealth and experience, Lorde came as a refreshing change of pace. Her focus was on, to put it basically, the smaller things in life. Yes, she sang of driving a Cadillac in her dreams, but she did so without belittling her current position. When dealing with a media climate that caters largely to wealthy white males, Lorde was able to combat that sweltering heat with nothing more than her own opinion. And people listened. As young women are generally put under extreme pressure to conform, it’s not surprising that Lorde felt the need to evaluate the system through her art. In acknowledging the weight that a dredging monotony can put on a human, she opened up a conversation for those who are unable, or unwilling, to lead the kind of life that the media tells them they should.
So, Lorde, if you’re reading this, please follow Rih’s and Bey’s example and give us another dose. I’ve got a real hankering.