It’s been interesting to witness the hybridization of indie and pop over the past decade. Considering both genres are nothing more than blanket terms used to describe artists pulling from a plethora of influences, aesthetics and styles, their convergence was inevitable. But any music nerd circa 2008 would scoff at the idea of hearing Portugal. The Man on Top 40 radio, Arcade Fire winning a Grammy for Album of the Year, or giving a Taylor Swift album the time of day.
Yet suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, popular indie songs began sneaking their way onto the Billboard 100. Kings of Leon, Foster the People and Gotye held the titles of “That Overplayed Top 40 Song of the Summer” for back-to-back years. Still, all of these bands fell in an uncertain middle ground, each having only one huge breakout Billboard hit, all attached to albums that weren’t exactly revered by any side of the aisle.
It was right around this time, March of 2013 to be exact, that Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor released her debut EP, The Love Club, under the moniker of Lorde. The single from the EP, “Royals” quickly began to circulate in various indie music circles on the Internet. In this time, a relative few fell in love with a track that would soon launch the New Zealand teenager into global superstardom, and for good reason.
The song structure was so beautifully simple, the melodies so catchy, the vocal layering in the chorus so well executed. Yet Lorde approached the production and writing with an aesthetic that was unlike anything in modern pop music at the time, letting the incredibly ’80s synthpop bass and beats take a backseat to her astoundingly unique voice. Slowly, the single gained more traction, and while “Royals” took over six months to reach its zenith in popularity. But what separated Lorde from her indie pop contemporaries was the cunningly-timed release of an equally magnificent full-length album.
The album, Pure Heroine, proved that the 16-year-old Kiwi had the songwriting talent to propel herself well beyond the one-hit-wonderdom of her peers, not only selling millions of copies worldwide in its first year, but garnering universal critical praise and a dedicated fan base from a wide range of music lovers around the globe.
In terms of blending smart, original writing and production with catchy, pop sensible hooks, Lorde struck absolute gold. Practically every creative choice on the album gives you a sense that she was dedicated to a specific artistic vision. While Lorde may not have invented the concept of the lowkey banger, she proved in just 10 songs and 37 minutes that she had absolutely mastered her own formula. By blending aesthetics of ’80s synthpop and modern EDM, and then stripping them down just enough to let her low, haunting vocal melodies take the forefront, Lorde created a style of music that was consistently danceable yet emotionally volatile, giving her the freedom to use lyrics and subtle nuance to dramatically change the emotional path of any given song at will.
Lyrically, the album is so brilliant and mature that it’s inspired various conspiracy theories claiming Yelich-O’Connor is much older than she claims to be (a theory so culturally prevalent that South Park based an entire season around it). These theories amused me a great deal.
While it’s true that the lyrics on Pure Heroine prove Lorde to be both wise and emotionally intelligent beyond her years, the songs on the album center around relatively mundane themes and experiences: wasting time, driving around aimlessly, partying at the pool… What separates Lorde from other teenage pop stars is not the stories she shares, but the lens through which she views these experiences. She cuts through the frivolousness of high school drama and shenanigans, peeling back the defensive veil of the modern teenager’s I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude to reveal the same insecurity and emotional uncertainty we all felt at such an age.
Pure Heroine was truly a turning point in the culmination of indie and pop music. After its release, more and more indie artists that had been active for years prior were suddenly charting left and right, while simultaneously pop superstars both new and old began incorporating rawer production, more irregular instrumentation, and more offbeat aesthetics into their existing styles.
When Tyler isn’t busy nerding out about new music, video games, beer or some random new coding project he picked up, he can be found writing for, performing with or shamelessly plugging his mathy indie rock band, Becoming A Ghost.