lorde and radio

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Lorde is currently one of the biggest pop stars out today. Her hit single “Royals” has been everywhere the past few months, building an inescapable presence. Alternative radio, pop radio, and contemporary hits/urban radio all feel compelled to play it.  The sparse beat and Lorde’s matter-of-fact cadence stand out, no doubt. What’s beyond such a smash?

By now, you’re familiar with the backstory. Lorde is a 17-year-old recording artist from New Zealand who was signed to a contract at 12 and has taken shots at other contemporaries. Personally, I’m fine with her actually expressing an opinion about something, as opposed to staying kind of silent and boring.

When we’re presented with a wunderkind of a musical act, depth in terms of lyricism is often ditched in favor of shiny production and packaging. Lorde’s debut, Pure Heroinetries to combine both of these.  On songs like “Royals” and “Team” it comes through, perhaps superficially.  Both of those tracks express a similar theme of rejecting typical motifs seen in music-especially rap-which comes out ironic, given Lorde’s situation within the music industry.  Adding to this, the title Pure Heroine is a bit on the nose and the type of thing you would expect from a teenage artist who might have the word “clever” attributed to their body of work.

A video of Lorde’s “Tennis Court”

The rest of the album is filled with songs that take on one of two themes: either Lorde’s dealing with adolescence or gripping with fame.  Her overuse of these ideas can’t be considered too surprising.  At least she manages to add some depth to these topics, attacking them with some complexity in tracks like “White Teeth Teens”. As far as experiences go, she doesn’t have many to write about at the time.

Lorde’s ascension to the top of the charts is good for radio as a whole. It’s been dominated by a lot of sameness recently, in every genre. Something so simple yet effective is a nice antidote for what seems like a wall of the same sound for hours on hours.  The problem is that most pop stations can’t get past  how attractive “Royals” is for their programming. Honestly, this is a problem with rotations on radio.

“Royals” has been replaced with “Team” on my local alt rock station. By doing this, it allows the artist to build their repertoire while managing not to annoy people. Lorde isn’t the only artist this has affected, of course. Take indie rock vets Tegan and Sara. For a bit longer than a decade, they’ve built a steady audience with their smartly crafted albums. They finally made a pop record, with their 2013 release Heartthrob. Heading in that direction, they released their slow-burning single “Closer”.

“Closer” has been building all year, becoming Tegan and Sara’s most popular song. It’s received play outside of college radio and the occasional background in a critically-acclaimed show or movie. Yet, I don’t know if this will bring listeners back to records like Sainthood or the Con. Some bands have seen success with this tactic, like Modest Mouse, whose “Float On” led people to records like The Moon And
Antarctica. 

Tegan and Sara’s video for “Closer”

Radio is a staid format. Whether it’s satellite or terrestrial, the programming is stale and repetitive, in terms of genre and artist. Lorde is a nice change, even if she’s still raised in the traditional music stardom process.  Maybe radio will change a bit.

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