Artist To Watch: Lorde

Lorde isn't waiting to graduate high school to take the world by storm

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Band: Lorde

From: Auckland, New Zealand

Her Sound: Lorde, the stage name of Ella Yelich-O’Connor, has a soulful voice that stays effortlessly cool even while it quivers with emotion. Her sweetly languid sound is juxtaposed against trip-hop R&B beats for an effect that calls to mind James Blake, Florence Welch, Portishead and Lana Del Rey, but is uniquely her own.

Three-Minute Bio: The first thing you need to know about Yelich-O’Connor is that she’s 16 years old. The second thing you should know is that age is nothing but a number and one listen to Lorde’s smoky, soulful sound is enough to know that she’s no Disney-style singer manufactured in a pop-princess factory. Lorde’s sleek and sizzling style is more Kanye than Miley, marrying a pop sensibility to a rap swagger.

That Lorde does not have a full-length album out yet — the Auckland native is recording her debut album, Pure Heroine, now, for release on Sept. 30 — has been little more than a bump on the road to her success. Same goes for the facts that she has only played a handful of shows as Lorde and has yet to graduate high school (she’s taking a break to finish recording her album). After all, she signed a development deal with Universal when she was 12 years old. Her first EP, The Love Club, was released last November and was given away for free online. On the strength of that release, she’s already started building up a significant global fan club.

Her debut single, “Royals,” was the number one song on New Zealand’s Top 40 chart for weeks, garnering over a million Soundcloud clicks, and for good reason, too. The song seamlessly blends sparse electronic beats with warmly cool vocals and inspired lyrics. While Lorde is heavily influenced by the rap and hip-hop scene, the song calls out the excess and superficiality of that culture. She sings: “Every song’s like: ‘gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom, blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room.’”

It’s a stance that belies her age, swapping youthful bravado for sage seen-it-all-ness. It’s a neat trick that Lorde frequently pulls off as she vacillates between the self-possessed swagger of a much more experienced artist and a youthful enthusiasm more in line with her age (for example, in “Royals,” she adds to her soulful screed, “Let me live that fantasy”). At 16-going-on-17, Lorde’s songs have both levity and depth, something that most pop stars strive for at 20, 30 and whatever age Madonna is now. Lorde’s raw talent ensures that she will have a musical career as long as she wants one.

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