The year of our Lorde, 2014: How a wise 17-year-old from New Zealand ruled pop music in just over 12 months

In just over a year, Lorde has taken over the pop world, primarily on the coattails of her chart-topping single "Royals." Brian Cassella photo
In just over a year, Lorde has taken over the pop world, primarily on the coattails of her chart-topping single “Royals.”
Brian Cassella photo

Just over a year ago, Ella Yelich-O’Connor, the 17-year-old New Zealander known as Lorde, dropped her first single, “Royals,” into the swirling maelstrom of pop culture. Maybe it was the song’s minimal aesthetic matched with its gospel-like chorus, maybe it was the critique of pop music itself contained in the lyrics, or maybe it was because it was so damn catchy — using the most basic of chord progressions — but overnight Lorde was everywhere, and she hasn’t really misstepped yet. She appears at the Santa Barbara Bowl this Thursday, and if audience videos of her tour are an indication, the scene will be one of teen hysteria. In lieu of that, let’s quickly examine how Lorde dominated the charts and pop culture in the short span of a little over a year, while hovering above the excesses of the Mileys, Iggys and the Nickis out there.

Her manager Scott Maclachlan discovered her at age 12, covering Duffy’s “Warwick Avenue” at a school talent show, and started to work with her on material. Four years later, this thoughtful, well-read goth team had produced “The Love Club EP,” a collection that came out fully formed, with no fumbling around trying to find an identity or in thrall to obvious influences.

That came out in November 2012 and was free on Lorde’s Soundcloud page, racking up 60,000 listens, and then officially released in March 2013. “Royals,” the EP’s second song, was about to blow up, and in June 2013, it did. It topped Billboard’s Top 100 for nine weeks, and was ubiquitous. YouTube flooded with covers from bedroom-cosseted teenagers to a seven-foot-tall clown called Puddles.

Two months later in January, Lorde sang her hit on the Grammy Awards, introducing her to an even larger audience. In an evening of twerking, Lorde’s mesmerizing performance, a stage presence that combines mystic Stevie Nicks and the channeling energy of Joe Cocker, stood out. She took home Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance awards.

In March, Lorde was chosen by the surviving members of Nirvana to sing the lead of “All Apologies” for their Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame gig. Which is pretty good for somebody who was born two years after Cobain’s death. (Nirvana member Krist Novoselic had also been heard covering “Royals” earlier in the year, on accordion no less.)

In that same month, the “Boss” Bruce Springsteen covered “Royals” when he played a concert in New Zealand. He did, however, change the lyrics from “You can call me Queen Bee” to “King Bee.” This came at the same time “Pure Heroine” sales topped a million units, making it the first debut record by a female artist to sell a million copies since 2011, according to Billboard.

In July, Lorde received the greatest tribute an artist can get: “Weird Al” Yankovic released his parody of “Royals,” called “Foil,” with a hilarious video that featured Patton Oswalt and poked fun at conspiracy theorists. It would go on to rack up 17 million views on YouTube.

At the beginning of this week, the end of September heading into October, Lorde released a new song, “Yellow Flicker Beat,” written for the “Hunger Games: Mockingjay” soundtrack. Not only is the song sung from the point of view of Katniss, the film’s heroine, but Lorde is curating the entire soundtrack, essentially making her own mix CD for the immensely popular film franchise.

And all before her 18th birthday in November.

On her tumblr account, Lorde summed up her year, and we’ll print it with her idiosyncratic spelling and punctuation intact:

“the past year of my life has seen everything around me multiply in size and number — the stamps on my passport, the number of people i have to ask before i ride on the ferris wheel after my set at a festival, the decibels that follow me when i walk around in public. the other thing that’s grown is me — my fitness, my mental stamina, my ability to think clearly and make decisions — but most of all, my capacity for love. the thousands upon thousands (wait, millions(?!!)) of you who bought pure heroine truly feel like friends to me.”

Lorde
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Santa Barbara Bowl, 1122 N. Milpas St.
Cost: $45-$70
Information: (805) 962-7411, www.sbbowl.com

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