Harper's BAZAAR Australia December 2013
"It’s about my life, my friends, going out to parties, bad shit happening and good shit happening and all of that, because… teenage life, well, it’s complicated.” Ella Yelich-O’Connor, better known as Lorde, the 17-year-old enigma from across the Tasman, is referring to her debut album, Pure Heroine, which, at the time of writing, has just dropped and entered the ARIA Album Chart at number one. Her double-platinum, eye-rolling song about celebrity excess, Royals, is holding the coveted number-one spot on the US Billboard and iTunes charts, bumping Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry down a notch or two — a huge feat for an artist who, only six months ago, when BAZAAR picked her as a one-to-watch, was essentially (and strategically, she admitted to me at the time), unGoogleable.
For the shy, long-legged singer, it’s been a slow burn. At 12 years old, she was spotted performing at a school talent show and swiftly signed to a record label for development, eventually pairing up with Joel Little, her current writing partner and producer (now also hugely in demand). “She’s not your average teenager,” says Little of their first meeting. “She was writing the most amazing lyrics; I was instantly impressed. And once I heard her voice, it was obvious she was something pretty special.” She now counts Lena
Dunham, Selena Gomez, Alexa Chung, Sir Elton John and even the Backstreet Boys as fans.
The Auckland local’s music is written for her friends, at school and on public transport, and draws on her love of short fiction, resulting in highly personal yet cleverly veiled songs about adolescence, suburbia and the emotional turmoil that comes with youth, with her tongue pressed firmly in her cheek. “I think the way the entertainment industry caters to teenage girls is like, ‘If I don’t have a man, I’m nothing’… It’s not a good mindset for a young person,” she says with a shrug. “It’s good to talk about stuff. I mean, Kanye isn’t going to write about the perils of Tumblr.” These tales of high-school nostalgia are adorned with layered harmonies, cool electronic percussion and a spirit of minimalism that spotlights the lyrics and creates a sense of intrigue.
Yelich-O’Connor never intended to push her age as a gimmick, and her savvy-beyond-her-years, gradual approach to her career is admirable; it may be typical of many women her age to be so self-aware, but a double-platinum pop star completely in control? A rarity. “I recently had someone want to use my music,” she says. “They always offer heaps of money, but I have to think about whether that will be a good idea in the long run. I don’t want to tarnish any music by being connected to a brand or whatever; that’s something I’ve had to guard quite closely.” She also turned down an opportunity to tour with Katy Perry. Well versed in literature and pop culture, Yelich-O’Connor cites Tobias Wolff as one of many favourite authors, Miranda July, M.I.A., Lena Dunham and Tavi Gevinson’s Rookie magazine as role-model material and says Miley Cyrus is “killing it … [The VMA performance] was the most entertaining thing in pop music in a while”, but adds that we will never see a spectacle like that from her. “I’m at the other end of the pop spectrum,” she says, laughing. “For me it’s more about closing your eyes, feeling and listening.” As Lorde The Rising Star, Yelich-O’Connor can appreciate the irony of poking fun at the celebrity reality-gap and of crooning
about suburban life while the A-list-party gift bags accumulate, but at the end of the day, she says, her friends aren’t in the music industry, so her success is no big deal back home. And besides, she has homework piling up.
Lorde will perform at Laneway Festival, in various cities, January 31– February 8, 2014; her debut album, Pure Heroine, is out now.
Ella Yelich-O’Connor wears Louis Vuitton dress, Lonely Bra. Photographed by Zachary Handley. Styled by Karla
Clarke. Hair and Makeup by Claire Thompson.