Friday, October 23, 2015


by Andy Nowicki

With her new song “Team,” the big-haired, wide-eyed, preternaturally self-possessed 17-year old Kiwi phenom self-named Lorde (birth name Ella Yelich-O'Connor) picks up where she left off with her hypnotic 2013 hit “Royals.” Thematically, the song treads similar territory to its anthemic predecessor: it is at once celebratory and wistful, ferociously sassy and soaked with aching regret.

Abundant hooks aside, what makes “Team” most aurally compelling is the manner with which it both embodies and transcends the youthful enthusiasm of one “wise beyond her years,” expressing simultaneous pleasure and dissatisfaction with what she feels – perhaps perceptively, perhaps rashly – to be her lot in life.
As with “Royals,” the speaker in “Team” heaps massive scorn upon the values of the mainstream, from which she feels profoundly alienated. On the other hand, she does not identify herself as a loner; instead, she is one of a tribe of like-minded people who define themselves by their determined rejection of a ghastly Zeitgeist. But though rebellion is hardly an unusual theme in pop music, the song flouts convention in several crucial ways. Although the speaker and most of her cohorts may be young, age is not the stated reason why she feels herself at sword’s point with the demands of the dominant culture.

Unlike contemporaneous pop starlet Miley Cyrus, whose “We Can’t Stop” reiterates the typical, boringly Manichean, utterly unreflective endorsement of “righteous” youth rebellion against those stick-in-the-mud fuddy-duddy authoritarians who supposedly want to stamp out the spirit of youth with their horribly puritanical fascistic repressiveness, Lorde’s perspective is actually quite powerfully subversive. For Miley, being young means being “fun,” which in turn equates to liking to “party,” an activity which inevitably includes such laudable practices as dancing sluttily and snorting lines of cocaine in a restroom stall, while being old causes one to become unconscionably judgmental of all those righteous nubile twerkers and toilet coke-huffers, who, after all, “can’t stop,” and moreover, “won’t stop” doing exactly what they feel like doing, nor should they stop, because they’re so damn young, cool, nubile and righteous, and after all, “only God can judge them.”

Lorde, unlike Miley, recognizes reckless hedonism as a dead end. Moreover, she realizes that the “party”-lifestyle and “bling” culture that are so relentlessly lauded in youth media outlets are little short of top-down commodified conformity pushed by would-be rulers desirous of getting and keeping social control. In a permissive culture saturated with sex and drugs, such ostensibly “rebellious” behavior is actually sold for the express purpose of keeping kids in line, indoctrinating them into the smelly little orthodoxies of the day, and preventing them from truly rebelling in any significant manner.

Lorde herself seems intensely aware of the full breadth and scope of this scam. In “Royals,” she famously ripped hip-hop video clichés promoting materialism and licentious excess, and declared her independence from such insufferable propaganda, even at the risk of sounding "racist." (“Every song is like gold teeth, Gray Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom… trashing the motel room/ Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash... We don’t care/ We’re not caught up in your love affair.”)

With “Team,” she expresses herself more succinctly to this end, in one exquisite bon mot: “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air,” she announces in a tone that one can only picture being accompanied by a conspicuously teenager-ish roll of the eyes. Ingeniously and refreshingly, her incisive sarcasm is deployed, not against the bogeyman of “repression,” but rather as a saucy riposte to those who keep telling her she’d be happier if she would just party more heartily, or wave her arms in the air with greater fervor.

The two songs also make frequent reference to the solidarity she feels with her mates, who are her con-conspirators contra mundum. “My friends and I, we’ve cracked the code,” she confided in “Royals,” implying a shared secret knowledge of how to undermine the settled order of things, the details of which, however, she does not reveal to the listener. “Team” continues to celebrate this community of outcasts who reject the mores of a decadent age. They may be ignored by the culture at large, but at least they have each other:

“We live in cities you never see on screen
Not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things
Living in the ruins of the palace within my dreams
And you know, we’re on each others’ team.”

Of course, being a bold nonconformist doesn’t mean that one never grows wistful over the pleasures one has been denied. The speaker in “Royals” admits that she and her friends are “driving Cadillacs in our dreams” (Again with the dreams! This chick sure dreams a lot…), implying that she sometimes wonders what it might be like to achieve success, fame, and popularity. In “Team,” amongst the celebratory incantations in her dream palace, there are some signs of dismay, sorrow, division, and heartbreak: “So all the cups got broke, shards beneath my feet… And everyone’s competing for a love they won’t receive.” Honesty compels her not to gloss over or sugar-coat that, even within her prized and treasured tribe, all is not well all of the time.

The really ironic thing, of course, is that Lorde’s sustained musical manifesto against materialism and status-seeking has given her great material success and considerable status as the new “it” girl of indie music. Is it possible to preserve one’s outsider-integrity whilst at the same time fully imbibing the accolades of fulsome praise from the very teat of the bitch-beast that one despises?

One wonders, with a certain consternation. Yet after watching this recent, adorably awkward performance on “Late Night” (see below), I somehow think that Lorde won’t be corrupted by the trappings of glamour and fame. Instead, I suspect that once all of the disconcertingly deafening applause dies down, she will return, like a slightly self-conscious conqueror, again to rule her dream palace, a geeky, quirky Kiwi queen bee, bound and determined to live according to the inviolable dictates of her aesthetic conscience.

(originally published at Alternative Right, January 2014)

Andy Nowicki, co-editor of Alternative Right, is the author of six books, including Lost Violent SoulsHeart Killer and The Columbine Pilgrim. He occasionally updates his blog ( when the spirit moves him to do so.

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