Call it “Lorde” of the Flies.
In the music video for the “Royals” singer’s latest track “Team,” released this week, the famously young artist finds herself on what appears to be an island of misfit teens. It’s a place that looks like the villain’s lair from Skyfall, where Lorde sings about themes familiar from her breakout single (grills on teeth; being sick of pop music) while a dirt-bike jousting tournament takes place. The message of the story, at least according to the refrain about being “on each other’s team,” is one of togetherness, but the down-tempo track and bleak visuals suggest otherwise.
The young-people-on-an-island literary comparison is easy to make, but it’s also hard not to be reminded of another of this year’s major music-video releases: Miley Cyrus‘ “We Can’t Stop.” The songs similarly walk the line between being empowering and a bit frightening. Lorde has a “we sure know how to run things” to Miley’s “we run things, things don’t run me.” And both videos are set in a mythical settings — a party, an island — where all authority, such as it exists, falls on the shoulders of the young.
Of course, a teenage (or nearly teenage; Cyrus was 20 when “We Can’t Stop” bowed) fantasy of a world without meddling adults is nothing new. But 2013′s vision of that world is a dark one. As pointed out by an insightful Business Insider piece earlier this year, “We Can’t Stop” is both a party anthem and a description of grips of an addiction, whether to drugs or partying or pleasure in general.
Lorde’s team-iness is the only thing that’s left in the aftermath of such a party, when the glasses are broken and the palace — another echo of “Royals” — is in “ruins.” Neither song (especially Lorde’s) is likely to inspire happy dancing. Compare that to, say, The Beach Boys’ vision of adulthood in “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” or even The Beastie Boys fighting for their right to party — that world is one where being older and controlling your own life is, well, nice.
Much has been written about both adulthood starting later than it used to and people being exposed via technology to sex/violence/whatever sooner than they used to — and Lorde, in many ways, has settled in the place where those two meet. Like Miley Cyrus, though much more suddenly, she has been exposed to an adult-sized career at a time when much of her cohort have only seen the first glimpses of what it’s like to not have grown-ups deciding what happens in their lives.
But, in her music, there’s an undercurrent of desire to rebel by staying young rather than by growing up faster. With “Team,” the message she’s sending back from the front lines of adulthood is, despite her confidence that “we” know how to run things, a warning to her teammates. “I’m kinda older than I was when I reveled without a care,” she sings. Being in control may have its charms but being older, it turns out, isn’t all its cracked up to be.