What we talk about when we talk about Lorde
Without knowing Lorde, I'll admit that she seems likeable. On paper, a 16-year-old riding a hit single and already getting to share her artistic dreams to a huge audience is inspiring. Adding to that, the New Zealand native often mentions in interviews that her poet mother put lots of good books in her hands. An author she latched onto is short-fiction legend Raymond Carver -- a personal favorite.
"A writer is judged by what he writes, and that's the way it should be," Carver told the Paris Review 30 years ago. "The circumstances surrounding the writing are something else, something extraliterary." The author, who was probably not a fan of KISS, died in 1988. So we'll never know if a master of minimalist writing hears brilliance in the bare-bones beat of "Royals." Much as we agree with Carver's sentiment, it's nearly impossible today to block out circumstances far outside what Lorde writes when forming an opinion on her.
"In a perfect world, I would never do any interviews," she says in a Billboard interview. "And probably there would be one photo out there of me, and that would be it." Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Aside from liking Carver, she's big on Burial and the Weeknd, both because they built up followings while keeping their identities shrouded in secrecy.
"Lorde courts enigma," Jason Lipshutz writes later in the piece, "harking back to the mid-'90s heyday of alternative dark-stars like Mazzy Star and Portishead that preferred to let their music do the talking."
We all know the talking that's going on in Lorde's anti-conformity anthem quite well by now. "And we'll never be royals," the Kiwi sings on the song that just reached the Billboard Hot 100's number one slot. "It don't run in our blood / that kind of luxe just ain't for us / we crave a different kind of buzz." What she craves and what she's getting aren't necessarily in harmony.
The single is now a staple of radio formats in the Twin Cities from 89.3 the Current to 101.3 KDWB, and the early chart success of Lorde is good business for her major label home, Lava/Republic. First-week sales of her debut album, Pure Heroine, are expected to easily clear 100,000 copies, and she just landed her first major TV appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. On paper, these sorts of dollar-garnering figures are exactly what any cigar-chomping label exec wants to see, and exploit.
"I'm kind of over gettin' told to throw my hands up in the air," she sings on "Team." If she's really this self-aware about her unique and cliche-flauting status in pop, she should get a tighter hold on another team -- her marketing team.
This week, her label announced a campaign slapping a crude advertisement for Pure Heroine onto of the most mass-produced items a person can own.
Touted as a "groundbreaking, one-of-a-kind advertising campaign," the label found a company that makes windshield stickers and recruited "genuine Lorde fans" to turn their vehicles into moving billboards for the star. And no, this is not a joke. A joke would be if any of the cars pictured were the Maybachs and Cadillacs she sings about with disdain.
The press release assures us that this is the first time any artist has engaged in an initiative like this, but we have seen too many rappers' faces plastered on the sides of conversion vans to take that claim seriously. What is even remotely enigmatic about any of this?
Most band merch is somewhere on the sliding scale of innocuous to blatant in terms of its ability to turn people into walking advertising. Ideally, it also makes the person look good in the process. But diminishing a car's resale value for the sake of a bland, view-blocking sticker seems to only benefit one side of this transaction, and certainly not Lorde.
Cool with modifying a vehicle for Lorde's sake? A little more creativity and sass, please. One idea we had:
Art by Tatiana Craine
That's right, Lava/Republic. Back off. The hope for Lorde's viability will in part rely on her staying focused on the music. Interested fans want to talk about their interpretation of "Royals" and what constitutes "White Teeth Teens," and bask in what little mystery a pop star can retain in 2013.
Before she's out of her teens, Lorde is already fixing to be a better-known commodity than her literary hero. Raymond Carver never finished a novel in his lifetime, in part, because he couldn't bank enough time to sit with one project, and short stories could get him cash faster. Several of his stories, which often focus on the lives of those who missed their shot, received their most mainstream attention after he died when they were pieced together for the Robert Altman movie Short Cuts.
"I think most of my characters would like their actions to count for something," Carver says later in his Paris Review interview. "But at the same time they've reached the point--as so many people do--that they know it isn't so. It doesn't add up any longer. The things you once thought important or even worth dying for aren't worth a nickel now." But this devaluation of purpose is a peril often befalling those who attain uncontrollable success too.
Lorde is in the middle of her shot right now, and the word-of-mouth built by her music is priceless. Sure, she'll need to do her part and not instigate drama with Taylor Swift fans any longer. Mostly, we can still decide how we feel about her music without worrying too much about how we feel about her. (And definitely not about the window stickers that feel like the tip of a "cash in early" iceberg.) That's exactly the type of buzz she needs to hold onto.
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