Have you grown tired of the word "twerking"? Are you suffering from post-VMAs queasiness? Do you find yourself yearning for substance over blatant attempts at provocation? If so, you need to familiarize yourself with Lorde, a 16-year-old artist from New Zealand and "Royals" hit-maker. She's the anti-Miley you're longing for.
There isn't much to add to the debate of whether or not Miley's now infamous VMAs performance was at the vanguard or an outright abomination. Instead I'd like to propose an alternative to Miley's pop-cultural over-saturation in the form of Lorde, a songwriter who represents her opposite.
There's a good chance you've heard of Lorde, but if not let me bring you up to speed. Lorde (real name Ella Yelich-O'Connor) is a 16-year-old singer-songwriter hailing from New Zealand who has seen huge success with her hit single "Royals" -- the song dominated in New Zealand and is now on track to do the same in North America. "Royals" continues its ascent up Billboard's Hot 100 chart, most recently jumping from position 12 to 8, just a few weeks removed from becoming the first release from a solo female artist to top the Alternative Songs chart in 17 years. She's prepping her debut album Pure Heroine for release at the end of September, but her recent EP The Love Club is what first got everyone talking.
Among all the praise that Lorde is receiving -- and there's a lot of it, often for her stellar voice and the minimalistic sonic arrangements that showcase it -- the most is for her lyricism. There's an authenticity to Lorde's lyrics that vividly paint a picture of 16-year-old life. She's been compared to talented songwriters like Fiona Apple and Tori Amos, and for good reason. Look at the collection of songs on her debut EP The Love Club. There's the title track that discusses the drama inherent to high school cliques. Or the aforementioned hit single "Royals," a song rejecting the material obsession that's rampant in popular culture in favor of the simple pleasures of a teenager. They are songs that tell the story of a girl who is, for all intents and purposes, normal.
On the other hand, there isn't a single aspect of Miley's life that could be described as normal. We all know her past, growing up as a product inside the Disney machine. Her latest hit song "We Can't Stop" -- and by extension her VMAs performance -- is an attempt to distance herself from the polished Miley image associated with the Hannah Montana brand as quickly and efficiently as possible. It's a song about drugs, partying, and sex; the first move in the shock and awe campaign necessary for a major rebranding effort like this. That's all well and good as a branding decision, but the result is music that paints an inauthentic picture -- done instead to achieve a very specific, calculated result.
Though the "Royals" lyrics written long before Miley ever underwent her rebranding, you'd be hard pressed to find a more spot on rebuke of "We Can't Stop." Miley's lyrics include the line, "Dancing with Molly," a reference to the currently in vogue party drug MDMA, and another drug reference in "Everyone in line for the bathroom / Trying to get a line in the bathroom." Lorde counters with "But every song's like gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin' in the bathroom / Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin' the hotel room / We don't care we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams," addressing the materialistic trend in pop music. And later, "We don't care / we aren't caught up in your love affair." The YouTube description for the "Royals" video includes a description of the song's inspiration from Lorde herself:
[I] guess what I tried to do is make something you could understand. [A] lot of people think teenagers live in this world like '[S]kins' every weekend or whatever, but truth is, half the time we aren't doing anything cooler than playing with lighters, or waiting at some shitty stop. [T]hat's why this had to be real. [A]nd [I]'m at that particular train station every week.
That's the brand of storytelling you get from Lorde. The voice of a 16-year-old who possesses the songwriting gifts to describe her life as a teenager in a way that's real, that's authentic.
This isn't to say that authentic storytelling is a necessary aspect of popular music. It isn't. Much of popular music is intended to be fantastical and sensational. Nobody listens to Kanye and Jay to relate. The people who are listening to Miley aren't trying to relate either. But if you're finding that all this scandal and spectacle and calculation is becoming a bit much, turn your ear to Lorde. She just might be the dose of reality you're yearning for.