I remember hearing Royals for the first time in 2013, via the music streaming site Spotify. The song had been added to Sean Parker's shared Hipstamatic playlist (Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame – yes, the one played by Justin Timberlake in the Social Network movie). As the soulful ballad hit my ears, I remember sitting up and thinking: "Wow". But it never occurred to me that the deep, wise vocals could belong to a teenage girl from New Zealand.
Ella Yelich-O'Connor was just 15 when she recorded the song in an Auckland studio with music writer/producer and former Goodnight Nurse frontman Joel Little (I used to write for his dad; in NZ, you're only ever two degrees of separation from someone famous). The song was one of five tracks on The Love Club EP, which she self-released for free download on SoundCloud. After 60,000 downloads, Universal released it under their own label.
I wasn't the only person to appreciate Royals. In mid-2013, it hit #1 in the US Billboard Top 100, making Lorde the youngest solo artist to reach that milestone since Tiffany in 1987 (I'm old enough to remember that milestone too), and the song remained at the top of the charts for nine straight weeks. The same year, TIME named her one of the world's most influential teenagers. She won two Grammys, including Song of the Year, four NZ Music Awards, and a Brit award. She gave a haunting performance of Royals at the Grammys in 2014.
Since then she's released her first studio album, Pure Heroine, which included several chart-topping singles. She's compiled the soundtrack for the Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 movie, including her own song Yellow Flicker Beat. She's toured around the world, headlined big-name festivals such as Coachella in the US, and performed with the surviving members of Nirvana as part of their induction into the Music Hall of Fame.
Lorde has been praised for her layered songwriting (she credits her mother, a poet, as one of her biggest influences), her smoky voice and her genre-transcending music, while also sporting a kind of goth/bogan look and not conforming to the fake pop persona adopted by many other young music stars. She's unique, doesn't seem to give a f*** what other people think, is doing things her own way, and is a great role model for teen girls. Go, Lorde!