Ella Yelich-O'Connor is a New Zealand singer-songwriter. Inspired by her love for such royals as Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI of France, and the last Tsar, Nicholas II of Russia, she adopted the moniker of Lorde (The 'e' is pronounced silently). Yelich-O'Connor was discovered when her now manager, Scott Maclachlan, saw a video of her performing at a Belmont Intermediate School talent show when she was 12. In development with Universal Music NZ since she turned 13, the young singer signed to the US-based Lava Records three years later. This is her first single, which debuted at #1 on the New Zealand Top 40 on March 15, 2013 and stayed there for three weeks. Yelich-O'Connor was just 16-years-old at the time.
Yelich-O'Connor's management paired her with other local songwriters, none of whom worked out very well until she met Joel Little of the pop-punk group Goodnight Nurse. The teenage songstress told the New Zealand Herald that unlike the other would-collaborators, whom she felt didn't take her seriously because of her age and wanted to do all the work, she enjoys writing with Little because "he doesn't want to put his huge big signature on the music." They penned this underdog song with a similar regal theme to Yelich-O'Connor's stage name during her school holidays.
The song debuted at Billboard's Alternative Songs at #30. It was the highest entry for a solo female making her first visit to the airplay chart as a lead artist since M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes
" arrived at #28 in 2008.
The song later climbed to #1 on Alternative Songs making Lorde the first solo female to top that particular chart in 17 years. The last solo female to lead the tally was Tracy Bonham, whose "Mother, Mother" topped the charts on June 8, 1996. That was five months before Lorde was even born.
This came out of Yelich-O'Connor listening to the Kanye West and Jay-Z project Watch the Throne, as well as Lana Del Rey's debut album, Born To Die. "What really got me," she told The Observer, "is this ridiculous, unrelatable, unattainable opulence that runs throughout. Lana Del Rey is always singing about being in the Hamptons or driving her Bugatti Veyron or whatever, and at the time, me and my friends were at some house party worrying how to get home because we couldn't afford a cab. This is our reality!" (laughs). "If I write songs about anything else then I'm not writing anything that's real."
Yelich-O'Connor wrote the lyrics to this takedown of the luxurious lifestyle that Hip-Hop artists rap about in just half an hour. She told the NZ Listener, "When I wrote Royals, I was listening to a lot of rap, but also a lot of Lana Del Rey, because she's obviously really hip-hop influenced, but all those references to expensive alcohol, beautiful clothes and beautiful cars - I was thinking, 'This is so opulent, but it's also bulls--t.'"
Yelich-O'Connor recalled writing this song to Billboard magazine: "I was just at my house, and I wrote it before I went to the studio," she said. "I wrote it in like half an hour - the lyrics, anyway. I wrote all the lyrics and took them to the studio and my producer [Joel Little] was like, 'Yeah, this is cool.' We worked on that and on two other songs on the EP in a week, and just did a little bit every day."
This song topped Hot 100. On being told news of her coronation by Billboard magazine, Yelich-O'Connor commented: "It feels like a combination of my birthday, Christmas and washing my hair after a month of not doing so."
Lorde was the youngest artist to top the US charts since Tiffany (who was also 16) reached the summit with "I Think We're Alone Now
" in 1987. She was also the first New Zealand act to achieve a Billboard Hot 100 #1 as lead artist (fellow Kiwi Kimbra was featured on Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know
" in 2012).
The numerous Royal-ties arising from this chart-topping satire of material excesses resulted in an ironic situation for Lorde due to the potential riches that might become available. "I get the irony of 'Royals' and royalties," she told Interview magazine. "But I can't pull any money out of my bank account unless my dad okays it, so I think I'll be all right."
Lorde became the youngest solo artist to write and perform a Hot 100 chart-topper when this reached #1 (she was 16 years and 11 months when "Royals" climbed to #1). The record was previously held by Soulja Boy Tell'em, who had just turned 17 when his self-written and produced "Crank That (Soulja Boy)
" reached the summit. However, as Yelich-O'Connor didn't produce the song, (Joel Little manned the boards) the American rapper remains the youngest act to write, perform and produce
a US #1 single.
" by Imagine Dragons, this song eschews an intro and starts right in with the verse ("I've never seen a diamond in the flesh..."). Since the song tells a story, this is a great technique for hooking the listener.
Lorde revealed during an interview with VH1 that the song was inspired in part by a photograph she saw of baseball legend George Brett. The Major League third baseman spent his entire 21-year baseball career playing for the Kansas City Royals, leading them to a World Series title in 1985. "I had this image from the National Geographic of this dude signing baseballs," she said. "He was a baseball player and his shirt said 'Royals.' And I was like 'I really love that word,' because I'm a big word fetishist, I'll pick a word and I'll pin an idea to that. It was just that word and I was like 'This is really cool.'"
This was named the Best Song of 2013 by MTV News. MTV said: "She may never be 'royal,' but Lorde's chart-topping single will forever be enthroned in the collective cerebral cortex of the world."
Lorde starting writing songs in her early teenage years, but one of the lyrics from "Royals" came from even a few years earlier. "I think one of the first lines I wrote from that song," she told Radio.com
, "'We're driving Cadillacs in our dreams' was in a diary that I had when I was like 11 or 12, so young."
This won for Song Of The Year at the Grammy Awards in 2014. "This is the one thing I did not expect most out of tonight," Lorde said in accepting the award. She also took the award for Best Pop Solo Performance for the song, and was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album and Record Of The Year. Lorde also performed the song at the ceremony.
This is a very unusual song and an unlikely hit, but some of the structural elements it employs also showed up in other hits of the time. The prominent finger snaps are certainly different, but hand claps were big at this time, appearing in Pharrell's "Happy
" and Katy Perry's "Dark Horse
"Royals" also gets to the chorus by leading up to it with a line that punches the title as the main instrumentation kicks in. When Lorde sings, "And we'll never be," the music begins to build, hitting full chorus mode when she sings "Royals." Pharrell also did this on "Happy," using "Because I'm..." to build into the title.
The song was used in a global commercial for Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartphone, where it was sung by young children in the streets of Barcelona. The ad agency's music supervisor Gabe McDonough told Billboard magazine: "[The creative directors] had a concept to use an old showtune, but as we were looking, I was like, 'Wait a minute. There's a new tune that's perfect.'"
Bruce Springsteen performed this song on March 1, 2014 to open a show in Auckland, New Zealand. This was a rare contemporary cover for Springsteen, who did it in homage to the Kiwi star. Springsteen played it alone with just harmonica and acoustic guitar, making a few tweaks to the lyrics - "We're bigger than we've every dreamed, and I'm in love with being queen" became "Long ago I was the next big thing. Now I'm in love with being king."
"Weird Al" Yankovic lampooned this song on his 2014 album, Mandatory Fun,
Jamaican artist Demarco released a cover titled "Loyal," which sticks to the melody but reworks the lyrics entirely. His version was done for the soundtrack of the enhanced version of Grand Theft Auto V that was relaunched in November 2014. "[Lorde] heard the song and she was kind enough to approve it, so this is the first time this song will be licensed to any game or entertainment property," music supervisor Ivan Pavlovich told Billboard magazine. "It's a huge deal, you know? For her to be a fan of what we do and be a fan of this cover version that's so kind of different from the original it's a really big deal and it's amazing that she kind of really supported everything and came onboard to cosign."
Otep covered this song on their 2016 album Generation Doom
. In our interview with Otep Shamaya
, she explained why the song appealed to her. "I was a poor kid who lived in poor neighborhoods, so there was violence in the home and violence outside the home. I didn't see any rock stars driving around our neighborhood in fancy sports cars with big-boobed bikini chicks. I didn't see that. I didn't see rappers rolling around in Cadillacs with big gold chains. None of that was happening in my neighborhood. We were poor and hungry, and hoping to keep the lights on. She wrote that song about her friends and how it is OK that we're not those people; it's OK to celebrate who we are and what we're going through, and what we hope to escape, because nobody should want to stay poor. If you do, God bless you, but you shouldn't. I think there's a saying about that: "Staying real to the hood" and all that. I've got friends who still live in those places and they're a little mad at me because I don't live there anymore. Well dude, I don't want to live there. I didn't want to live there when I lived there.
So that song appealed to me, because I was that girl. I wrote a lot of poems, but I never turned it into a song. She did, and I thought that was magical. I wanted to honor her bravery, because man, how easy is it to go along with the flow when you're 15, which I think is when she wrote that song, to just write what everybody else was writing, and how many boyfriends or girlfriends you have, or whatever. Instead, she wrote something that was unique and authentic about her experience, and I thought that was brilliant."