In an age where every twerk seems calculated and every hit single seems to be the product of a meticulous marketing campaign, young Lorde (the "e" is silent) and her smash hit "Royals" (Lava/Republic) is a true surprise. The moody pop anthem -- which champions regular folks instead of the ultrarich and powerful, while maintaining a cool, detached vibe -- jumped from her native New Zealand to the United Kingdom and finally to the United States this summer, where it is currently challenging Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry for the top of the pop charts.
("Royals" already rules the alternative charts, where it has been No. 1 for seven weeks, the longest reign ever for a woman on that chart, passing Alanis Morissette's 1995 run with "You Oughta Know.")
Lorde, aka 16-year-old Ella Yelich-O'Connor, is in many ways, the anti-Miley. She shies away from the spotlight and the bling-filled trappings of the music industry. She says she wants her music to represent herself and her friends in New Zealand, regular people she feels aren't generally seen much in pop culture, due to their location and their economic status. It's a sentiment she captures in "Royals" -- which includes the lines "That kind of luxe just ain't for us, we crave a different kind of buzz" -- and in other songs on her debut album "Pure Heroine," which arrives in stores Tuesday filled with new potential hits like "Tennis Court" and "Team" that she wrote herself, not with a bunch of songwriters and producers for hire.
She's clearly not interested in building a big pop persona, focusing instead on life as a suburban teen and keeping a lot of the details of her life to herself.
Lorde says the success of "Royals," which she wrote in half an hour, has taken her by surprise. "It's weird, because, obviously, when I wrote it I had no idea it would be a big deal or anything," she told Billboard. "I just wrote something that I liked and that I thought was cool. . . . It's strange, particularly with my lyrics. . . . People are sitting in their bedrooms, covering it on YouTube. It's been awesome, though."
Don't look for Lorde to be mounting a months-long tour or a massive publicity blitz any time soon. She declined to be interviewed for this article and has said she isn't a fan of this age of tell-all pop stars.
"In a perfect world, I would never do any interviews, and probably there would be one photo out there of me, and that would be it," she told
Billboard. "I just feel like mystery is more interesting. People respond to something which intrigues them instead of something that gives them all the information -- particularly in pop, which is like the genre for knowing way too much about everyone and everything."
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, Webster Hall, 125 E. 11th St., Manhattan, and 8 p.m. Thursday, Warsaw, 261 Driggs Ave., Brooklyn
Other teen hitmakers
Given her deep, Fiona Apple-esque voice and mature writing style, Lorde surprises a lot of people with how much she has accomplished by age 16. Of course, she's not the only music prodigy to exert so much control at a young age. Here's a look at some other teenage dreams:
BIO The Merrick native wrote nearly all her own songs (and still does). She remains the youngest female artist ever to write, produce and perform a No. 1 single, a feat she achieved in 1987 with "Foolish Beat" when she was 17.
FIRST HIT "Only in My Dreams," released at age 16
BIGGEST HIT "Lost in Your Eyes," No. 1 for 3 weeks in 1989
BIO "Little" Stevie Wonder was only 13 when his hit "Fingertips (Part Two)" hit No. 1, making him the youngest solo artist ever to top the charts. In his early days, he was mainly a singer for the songwriters of Motown, but as he grew older, he began taking on more songwriting duties until he was in full control of his groundbreaking "Talking Book" and "Songs in the Key of Life" albums.
FIRST HIT (THAT HE
CO-WROTE) "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," released at age 15
BIGGEST HIT "Ebony and Ivory," with Paul McCartney, No. 1 for seven weeks in 1982
FIRST HIT "Tim McGraw," released at age 16
BIGGEST HIT "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," No. 1 for three weeks in 2012