opinion by ADAM OFFITZER
For an innocent, mild-mannered sixteen-year-old, Lorde cited a pretty shocking influence for “Bravado,” the first track on her Love Club EP – Yeezus himself.
“You see, I’d been listening to Kanye West,” she said, “and there’s a track called ‘Dark Fantasy’ where he says, ‘we found bravery in my bravado’ and I liked that idea of false confidence delivering real confidence. In reality I’m a super-shy, contained, non-confrontational person, but I was about to step into a line of work – a line of art – where everyone would be watching me, and everyone would want to talk to me and confront me.”
Everyone’s certainly watching Lorde now. Her Love Club EP and “Tennis Court” single are bursts of originality in a pop landscape full of mindless hooks and dubstep anthems. All her songs operate within a perfectly balanced yin-and-yang of coolness and warmth, as the ghostly, sparse, robotic beats are paired with Lorde’s bubbly, smooth, inviting vocals. “Be a part of the love club,” she tells us with a smile, “everything will glow for you.”
While Lorde only mentioned Kanye when discussing “Bravado,” the connection remains surprisingly consistent throughout the EP. Much like Mr. West on his introductory album, The College Dropout, Lorde launches back and forth between moments of assured self-confidence and acute self-consciousness. “I’m sitting pretty on the throne,” she sings on the EP’s title track, “there’s nothing more I want except to be alone.” On “Royals,” a witty takedown of our materialistic culture, she admits she’s “never seen a diamond in the flesh,” before asking to “be your ruler – you can call me Queen Bee.” She goes on to mock the current state of pop music’s mindless lyrical content: “Every song’s like: ‘gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom, blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room.’”
But Lorde’s lyrics, while clever, are only the secondary story of her music. The biggest draw here is the production – sleek, slithering beats that truly have a “different kind of buzz” (as noted in “Royals”) from modern pop. Where most artists clamor for the big hook, the huge chorus, the mid-song dubstep breakdown, Lorde opts for a casual, understated groove. It turns out that calm, beautiful vocals layered on top of swirling, humming hip-hop beats makes for a winning combination – it’s indisputably pop music, but with the swagger and flow of rap.
When discussing his work on Kanye West’s Yeezus, producer Rick Rubin shared a revealing exchange with the prolific rapper. “I’d say, ‘This song is not so good. Should I start messing with it? Can I make it better?’ And he’d say, ‘Yes, but instead of adding stuff, try taking stuff away.’ We talked a lot about minimalism.” It’s easy to imagine Lorde taking a similar approach to her music. The songs are absolutely loaded with musical ideas – the vocal percussion of “Million Dollar Bills,” the massive snaps of “Royals,” the stacked vocals of “Bravado,” the hard-hitting synths of “Tennis Court.” But it’s all paired with a great deal of restraint – the music seems to take place in vast, open spaces, with a pervasive emptiness alongside the relentlessly catchy melodies.
In short, it’s maximalist minimalism, an art form that’s recently been displayed on some of the best albums from the last twelve months – Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City, Kanye West’s Yeezus and Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. It’s not right to place Lorde in a category with those visionaries just yet – the sixteen-year-old New Zealander still has yet to put a full-length album, and not every song works (“Biting Down” is darker and duller than the EP’s other tracks, and her cover of “Swingin’ Party” is too reminiscent of Lana Del Rey). But with a style all her own and a unique voice – both musically and lyrically – expect Lorde’s “false confidence” to become real confidence fairly soon. She’ll never match the bravado of Kanye West, but that’s probably a good thing. [B+/B]