Over the past couple of years, a fascinating musical mini-trend has emerged. Last year, “Somebody That I Used to Know”—a memorable duet from Australian singer Gotye and his New Zealand-born vocal accompanist Kimbra– became a surprise hit in America. A somewhat odd, eerily haunting, emotionally-pitched, at times tonally dissonant, yet still supremely catchy little ballad with the sweep and grandeur of an epic poem, the charm of “Somebody” was in part its utter absence of irony. Somehow we all felt Gotye’s pain when he mournfully shrieked, “You didn’t have cut me off!” to his lost love. Jaded and cynical as we are, this tune managed to elude our post-modern impulse to smirk and make mocking, deadpan quips in response to intimate revelations of pain and loss; instead, we were drawn into the heart of the song’s maelstrom of turmoil by its honest and forthright presentation of the heartache and bitterness of a breakup.
Now a new Kiwi has taken possession of the American charts: a 16-year old ingénue phenom named Lorde. Her new song “Royals,” while lighter on the Sturm-und-Drang, nevertheless shows certain marked similarities to Gotye’s bruising ballad. There is an aura of exoticism, mystery and intrigue, and a defiantly pared-down sound which stands in marked contradistinction to the ultra-sophisticated, overproduced quality of most what’s heard on the radio today. The instrumentation is spare, but the vocals are lush and full… and once again, it’s catchy as hell.
I’m not sure what it is about the New Zealand milieu that has managed to produce two such fresh and original songs as these. (And let’s not ignore the formidable duo of comedic pop craftsmen Flight of the Conchords, also born and nourished on the lonely shores of the far flung Kiwi republic.) But one thing it’s almost impossible not to notice is the extreme and unabashed whiteness of these performers. No effort is made to made on their part to imitate the common vocal stylings of black American urban rhythm-and-blues crooners, nor to crib the “ghetto” affectations of hip-hop moguls. Moreover, there is an altogether refreshing absence of the conspicuous ethnomascochism so often found among melanin-challenged American singers, who so often feel such shame in their racial identity that they instead try to look, act, and sing “black.” (This proclivity is evidenced most balefully in the recent antics of Miley Cyrus, but it is also plainly detectable in the adopted vocalizing manner of Demi Lovato, who seems to want to sound exactly like Rihanna these days, not to speak of Christina Aguilera’s obvious aping of Whitney Houston throughout her career, as well as Justin Timberlake’s Michael Jackson-and-Prince-centric vocal fixations, just to cite just a few examples.)
Perhaps the colonial remoteness of their setting has shielded performers like Gotye and Lorde from some of the more baleful side-effects of the anti-white cultural jihad currently being waged by depraved, deracinated elites against the disposed majority in Western Europe and North America. In that regard, it is interesting to note that Lorde’s scathing take on materialistic “bling” culture has ruffled some feathers. Not everyone takes well to a white girl dissing the big-pimpin’ lifestyle so fetishized by many hip-hop artists and their fans. One blogger has even gone so far as to say Lorde’s a straight-up racist, simple and plain.
What has ignited this controversy?
In “Royals,” the speaker contrasts her humble but proud origins with the decadent, glitzy, high-rolling lifestyle held up as a kind of perverse ideal by the media. She and her friends, by contrast, have “never seen a diamond in the flesh”; they live thriftily, “count (their) dollars on the train to the party,” and are “fine with this,” since they “didn’t come from money.” Meanwhile every music video they see promotes “Gold teeth, Gray Goose, tripping in the bathroom/ Bloodstains, ball gowns, trashing the motel room,” and everyone around them seems to want to live the life of a debauched celebrity, complete with “Crystal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece/ Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.”
But Lorde and her friends aren’t fooled or taken in. “We don’t care; we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams,” she announces, sounding quite content indeed. As for the drama of celebrity relationships, flings, infidelities, and breakups, which keep the credulous masses glued to their ridiculous glossy magazines and unseemly gossip and tattle websites, she dismissively quips, “We aren’t caught up in your love affair… We crave a different kind of buzz.” Though she and her ilk will never be “royals”—i.e., pimps, playas, and divas who “live large” and indulge all of their base, carnal, and rapacious whims without consequence– that’s perfectly okay with her.
It is precisely this disdain with largely black-accoutremented celebrity culture (most explicitly mentioned in the “gold teeth” reference) which is so subversive, which thus explains the censorious panic surfacing from certain sectors in response to Lorde’s song. After all, if Western youth everywhere decide to reject the excesses of luridly oversexed “bling”-centric tackiness, might they next opt to reject the sexual revolution as well as multiculturalism and other sacred cows of the present order?
The video, like the song, refuses to conform to cliché or prescribed formula. In it (featured above), we see Lorde, quite a lovely lass, nevertheless presented in a non-sexualized manner, wearing a chaste top and sporting an unruly, un-teased mane of hair. Pretty though she is, she isn’t what you’d call “glammed up”; you might see this girl poking through the clothing rack of the Gap at your local mall; she’d definitely catch your eye, but at the same time she wouldn’t look out of place.
Interspersed are artsy shots of a group of an extremely ordinary-looking spotty white boys doing rather everyday, masculine, sporty things: they hang out at the gym, they swim in the rain, they box, and afterwards laugh as they contemplate their bleeding teeth. There is a certain implicit affirmation of manliness, monoculturalism and white racial solidarity (“It’s okay to be white, and to have friends who are white.”) that is nothing short of revolutionary in today’s climate of relentless, repressively PC arm-twisting and guilt-tripping against every vestige of Caucasian identity.
Could “Royals” forecast or presage the start of a new trend in pop culture? At the very least, the success of the song– and its growing number of enthusiastic adherents–would seem to suggest that many out there, like Lorde’s protagonist, are tired of the same ol’ same ol’, and find themselves craving a different kind of buzz.
(originally published at Alternative Right, August 2013)