In today’s music industry, survivalism is a feat most artists fail to accomplish. With each year’s influx of Top 40 trends and waves of popular, innovative genres such as dubstep and crossover country music, an artist’s staying power is often tested by his or her ability to be a chameleon. Despite the ever-fluctuating nature of the music business, so many artists fail to stand the tests of time and memorability. In 2013, a new voice called everything the industry stood for into question by slyly—and catchily—satirizing music’s most domineering giants and the extravagant lives they lead. Ella Yelich-O’Connor, more famously known as Lorde, stormed into the ears of eager millennial music lovers, and while the song “Royals” leaves a lasting impression, it is the artist herself who makes the true statement. Lorde is a survivor of the carnivorous music industry and most importantly, she represents us millennials.
Pop artists tend to come and go due to the damaging “one-hit wonder” phenomenon. Only few artists, especially female ones, maintain top chart status with countless numbers of hits; within the last decade, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Katy Perry have all dominated pop music and have broken numerous records previously held by their male contemporaries. These artists have sung their way into the hearts of listeners, whether it is by way of genre crossover or extravagant stage shows that sell out within minutes. However, in 2013, two new genre-bending artists made notable headway into mainstream radio. Both artists were indie in their roots, and neither typical to the then standardized extravagance attributed to female performers; these women ingeniously introduced a new phase in pop music. Lana Del Rey, a deep-voiced, sultry songstress from New York, and Lorde, a wunderkind hailing from New Zealand, both achieved commercial success towards the end of 2013 with “Summertime Sadness” and “Royals” respectively. The beginning of a new era in pop music had arrived. With both Del Rey and Lorde’s voices, pop radio welcomed a darker side represented by women who understood the various struggles of Generation Y. It is Lorde, however, who reigns supreme; where Lana Del Rey bemoans the tribulations of her own existence, Lorde embraces the margins of teenage error she and her fans must face.
Lana Del Rey’s career and public persona are shrouded with controversy. Despite the commercial success of “Summertime Sadness” and her debut album Born to Die, Del Rey did not always saunter with the air of a bored siren. Before the birth of her moniker, Del Rey was Elizabeth Grant; according to the many rumors that surround the artist, an article on the singer from NPR states Grant was once a teenaged alcoholic and then an unsuccessful singer-songwriter struggling to make it in the Manhattan night club scene. With the Internet as her biggest tool, Grant transformed into Lana Del Rey, a less shy and far more sensual, but still mysterious, extension of herself. What is most interesting about Lana Del Rey is not her music—which is indeed as tantalizing as it is entertaining—but the persona she so effortlessly outputs. In an interview after the recent release of her studio album Ultraviolence, Del Rey said that she wished she were already dead. Lana stands as a polarizing force of macabre with a dedicated legion of fascinated youths behind her. As a generation cursed with tragedy running through its veins, from 9/11 to the economic crash of 2008, Del Rey seems more like a stunning vision of the dying American dream than a beacon of hope for young people. In an America where it is easier for young adults to find friends in drugs and alcohol than with their own peers, Lana’s understanding of a world of teenage despair oftentimes hits too close to home.
In contrast to the new queen of darkness comes a New Zealander, equally as obscure and fascinating as her contemporary, but offering something more than a dark glimmer of familiarity to the younger set of millennials. Lorde—despite the slight disconnect with the American youth’s major lifetime events as she is from the Southern Hemisphere—offers an alternative to being born to perish; Lorde mandates a sense of togetherness within her age group and urges a will to survive. The follow-up to Lorde’s first smash hit was the single “Team,” the ultimate anthem for teenage misfits. The song encourages rallying together, just as so many of Lorde’s youthful rhapsodies suggest. Most importantly, however, is the survivalist aspect of Lorde’s persona and music. While Del Rey laments on the sorrows of life, Lorde powers ahead, embracing every adolescent high and low. The singer herself never aims to hide behind walls of mystery, but openly self-deprecates to her adoring Twitter public with tweets about awkward moments and acne flare-ups. Although Lorde did not go through the major crises in the US that her American fans faced, she is the paragon for survival through the not-so-drastic life events. She has the same fears about growing up like the rest of us do, as so eloquently described in her song “Ribs” and understands the thrills of the not-so-scary things like falling in love for the first time, as musically illustrated in “400 Lux.” Lorde, not only an excellent example of a young feminist, is also the type of voice the younger set of the millennials needs. Her power comes from her vulnerability and her mistakes. Lorde, as cheeky and candid as she can be, is actually just like the rest of us.
While we all may want to be Taylor’s best friend to knit scarves and talk about cats or Miley’s party pal or even Katy’s gossip partner or run the world with Beyoncé, Lorde is truly the girl in the room who is worthy of getting a second glance. Lorde will survive in pop music today because of her originality, but also because of her unconventional optimism for the people her age and their futures. While Lana Del Rey will remain a stagnant force in the music industry, no doubt with many bewitched fans in her wake, it will be Lorde who will stay in the corner where she needs to be: ours.
Walters, Barry. “Darkness Comes Alive: The Paradox of Lana Del Rey”. National Public Radio Music. National Public Radio, 20 June 2014. Web. 25 August 2014.<http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2014/06/20/323943849/darkness-comes-alive-the-paradox-of-lana-del-rey>.
Image Credit: Kirk Stauffer via Wikimedia Commons