I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air,” sneers the teen singer-songwriter Lorde on the track “Team” from her wildly hyped debut Pure Heroine. Unimpressed with what her youth culture offers, the 16-year-old from New Zealand seeks to be an adrenaline shot to the currently comatose female pop industry.
On her debut, Lorde conveys the persona of an industry outsider who tears apart pop music from the inside out, pulling the curtain on all of its hollow luxury and fantastic delusions. Her sound makes her come across as a radio ambassador of the indie world without dulling its fresh bite — a rare feat. Her influences range from The xx to the Replacements. In songs such as “Tennis Court,” Lorde sings in a blase drawl meshed with brooding yet elegant synths, while sparse claps echo with ballroom grandeur. No one has ever expressed poker-faced dissatisfaction so sharply through a sonic landscape.
Her sound is hauntingly opulent at its highs but a bit derivative of Lana Del Rey at its lows. Yet Lorde’s lyrical prowess transforms an already strong debut into a mesmerizing tour de force. The songstress is blessed with a lyrical, razor-sharp wit. Her world is surreal, a bit dystopian and one in which the masses are ominously sedated. In “Buzzcut Season,” Lorde croons of “(living) in a hologram with you” while drinking “cola with a burnt-out taste,” feigning happiness as she silently suffocates in the emptiness of her modern culture.
Despite all the derision, Lorde is keenly self-aware that she’s a pop artist herself, which is what makes her persona so engagingly complex and strikingly deconstructive. She’s the perfect poster child of the post-digital era, in which everyone is painfully conscious of the personal brand he or she has developed in the public sphere. Pure Heroine packs the explosiveness of a cannon fired against lofty castles in the sky, presumably where the kings and queens of pop reside. A few years ago, Kanye and Jay-Z cautioned the world to watch the throne. Examining the charts, Lorde seems to have already taken a seat.