Consider my faith in humanity restored when a track as tough as Lorde’s “Royals” makes popular-music airwaves. Top 40 radio is usually reserved for the mindless, mind-numbing summer music one relegates to sub-genres Guilty Pleasure and Garbage.
Lorde – an 16-year-old unstoppable force from New Zealand – is scheduled to release her debut album Pure Heroine at the end of the month. While we haven’t heard the breadth and width of her work, I’m comfortable using “Royals” as a yardstick. That is to say, Lorde appears to be growing and continuing a line of music I’ve only been able to describe unto itself as “Ethereal.”
Lorde has the haunting chiffon lilt that hearkens back to mid-‘90s ground-breakers such as Portishead, Poe and Mazzy Star. Their wispy, sensual delivery laced backdrops that borrowed from Hip-Hop in the way Hip-Hop borrowed from Disco in its infancy. The music was dashed and seasoned with beats that felt both familiar and unique. J Dilla’s production salt-and-peppered Poe’s “Fingertips” the same year we discovered the beat-maker’s genius on Pharcyde’s “Runnin’”. Portishead sampled from Isaac Hayes for “Glory Box” as if it had traveled the land of funk and wound up on a territory previously flagged only by Hip-Hop.
Now we have a young woman in Lorde, born in the era of these artists, who effortlessly builds on the sound and style with modern capitalists of the terrain such as Kimbra and Lana Del Rey. Lana even let everyone know front and center on “Blue Jeans” she “grew up on Hip-Hop.” And though I usually think of the artists in this arena as being deep-feeling, melancholic, powerful women, I’m willing to hear arguments for men-folk such as Toro y Moi, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., and possibly The Weeknd.
Whatever the parameters, these are artists who are done a disservice with a bizarre smattering of genre pigeonholes such as Hip-Hop, Neo Soul, R&B, Pop, and the personally ever-dreaded catchall… Alternative. This all-encapsulating genre, Alternative, is as it suggests: a large padded cell of original singer-songwriters who are merely the alternative to some sister sound that more appropriately befits Blues, Rock, Punk, Bluegrass, Jazz, etc. Alternative is the credibility death knell for someone trying to define a style of mosaic of music they cannot contain.
After 20 years of crafting a sound, this unnamed country of female residents has yet to receive the genre home I believe it rightfully deserves. So I’ve been calling their home state “Ethereal” for a while now. But I recognize genres are usually created within the movement… so for now let Lorde tell it and call it “Royal.”
Edit: Lorde’s 16, not 18.