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Lorde sings
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Source: Getty

At the 2013 Splendour in the Grass Festival in Byron Bay, Australia

A Diamond in the Flesh

Lorde: Royally Original

Why you should care

This 16-year-old singer is about to take over global airwaves — and she’s more than a pretty voice.

It’s hard to believe that just a year ago Ella Yelich-O’Connor — now known to the world as Lorde — was leading a pretty typical suburban teen life, trading dares with friends on deserted tennis courts at night. In a matter of months, the New Zealand native posted a handful of tracks online, ignited a buzz storm of epic proportions and, with the übercatchy “Royals,” became the first solo woman to top the U.S. alternative music charts in 17 years (the last was Tracy Bonham, before Lorde was even born). All before releasing a full-length album.

Discovered in an old-fashioned way, when a rep saw her school talent show video and signed her to a deal at age 13.

For such a viral talent, Lorde was actually discovered in an old-fashioned way, when a rep from Universal saw a video of her school talent show and signed her to a development deal at age 13. (Listen to 12-year-old Lorde showing off her pipes in this Radio New Zealand interview, and you’ll see why she stood out.) Attempts to pair her with songwriters didn’t pan out, so she picked up a guitar and started writing her own tunes. Finally she met producer Joel Little, and the pieces of a meteoric music career began falling into place. 

Lorde’s vocal stylings invite comparisons to Adele and Florence Welch, and she cites an eclectic range of influences, from electronica artist Burial to rapper Nicki Minaj. While her lyrics are rooted in real-life experiences, they don’t come off as typical teen fare. She has no patience for the boy-obsessed songs of Taylor Swift and Lana Del Ray, saying, “I think we’re past that – it’s 2013. Every song doesn’t have to be ‘I’m absolutely nothing without you, I’m holding onto your leg, don’t let me go!’ It’s tired.” The daughter of a poet, she read voraciously as a child and wrote short stories before turning to music, and her songs show some of that storytelling instinct. 

Ironically, it was Lorde’s takedown of pop-culture excesses in “Royals” that put her on the map. Now, with her album Pure Heroine slated to drop on September 30, she may be poised to “live that fantasy” herself. Check out a live version of her hit recorded at KCRW during her first trip to the U.S. last month.

Lorde Performs

Cover image: Richard Robinson

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