Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor (born 7 November 1996), known professionally as Lorde (pronounced "lord"), is a New Zealand singer, songwriter and record producer. Taking inspiration from aristocracy for her stage name, she is known for employing unconventional musical styles and thoughtful songwriting. Born in the Auckland suburb of Takapuna and raised in neighbouring Devonport, Lorde expressed interest in performing at local venues in her early teens. She signed with Universal Music Group in 2009 and collaborated with producer Joel Little in 2011 to start recording material.
Lorde performing in November 2017
Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor
7 November 1996
|Residence||Herne Bay, Auckland, New Zealand|
|Parent(s)||Sonja Yelich (mother)|
Universal Music commercially released the pair's first collaborative effort, an extended play (EP) titled The Love Club, in 2013. The EP's international chart-topping single "Royals" helped Lorde rise to prominence. Her debut studio album Pure Heroine followed that year and achieved critical and commercial success. The following year, Lorde curated the soundtrack for the 2014 film The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 and recorded several tracks including the single "Yellow Flicker Beat". Her second studio album Melodrama (2017) garnered widespread critical acclaim and debuted at number one in the United States.
Lorde's music is primarily electropop and contains elements of various subgenres such as dream pop and indie-electro. Her accolades include two Grammy Awards, two Brit Awards and a Golden Globe nomination. She appeared in Time's list of the most influential teenagers in 2013 and 2014, and the 2014 edition of Forbes 30 Under 30. In addition to her solo work, she has co-written songs for other artists, including Broods and Bleachers. As of June 2017, Lorde has sold over five million albums worldwide.
Life and career
1996–2008: Early life
Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor was born in Takapuna, Auckland on 7 November 1996, to poet Sonja Yelich (Croatian: Sonja Jelić) and civil engineer Vic O'Connor. Her mother was born to Croatian immigrants from the region of Dalmatia, while her father is of Irish descent. She holds both New Zealand and Croatian citizenship.
Second of four children, she has three siblings—older sister Jerry (born 1994), younger sister India "Indy" (born 1998) and younger brother Angelo (born 2001). They were raised in the nearby Auckland suburb of Devonport. At age five, she joined a drama group and developed public speaking skills. As a child, Lorde attended Vauxhall School and then Belmont Intermediate School in her early teens. Her mother encouraged her to read a range of genres, which Lorde cited as a lyrical influence. More specifically, she cites the young adult dystopian novel Feed (2002) by M.T. Anderson as well as authors J.D. Salinger, Raymond Carver and Janet Frame for influencing her songwriting.
2009–2011: Career beginnings
In May 2009, Lorde and her friend Louis McDonald won the Belmont Intermediate School annual talent show as a duo. In August that year, Lorde and McDonald made a guest appearance on Jim Mora's Afternoons show on Radio New Zealand. There, they performed covers of Pixie Lott's "Mama Do (Uh Oh, Uh Oh)" and Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody". McDonald's father then sent his recordings of the duo covering "Mama Do" and Duffy's "Warwick Avenue" to Universal Music Group (UMG)'s A&R executive Scott Maclachlan. Maclachlan subsequently signed her to UMG for development.
Lorde was also part of the Belmont Intermediate School band Extreme; the band placed third in the North Shore Battle of the Bands finals at the Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, Auckland on 18 November 2009. In 2010, Lorde and McDonald formed a duet called "Ella & Louis" and performed covers live on a regular basis at local venues, including cafes in Auckland and the Victoria Theatre in Devonport. In 2011, UMG hired vocal coach Frances Dickinson to give her singing lessons twice a week for a year. During this time, Maclachlan attempted to partner Lorde with several songwriters and producers, but without success. As she began writing songs, she learned how to "put words together" by reading short fiction.
Lorde performed her original songs for the first time at the Victoria Theatre in November 2011. In December, MacLachlan paired Lorde with Joel Little, a songwriter, record producer, and former Goodnight Nurse lead singer. The pair recorded five songs for an extended play (EP) at Little's Golden Age Studios in Morningside, Auckland, and finished within three weeks. While working on her music career, she attended Takapuna Grammar School from 2010 to 2013, completing Year twelve. She later chose not to return in 2014 to finish Year thirteen.
2012–2015: Pure Heroine and The Hunger Games soundtrack
When Lorde and Little had finished their first collaborative effort, The Love Club EP, Maclachlan applauded the pair's work as a "strong piece of music and thought", but worried if the EP could profit because Lorde was obscure at the time. In November 2012, the singer self-released the EP through her SoundCloud account for free download. UMG commercially released the EP in March 2013 after the EP had been downloaded 60,000 times, which signaled that Lorde had attracted a range of audiences. It peaked at number two in New Zealand and Australia. "Royals", the EP's single, helped Lorde rise to prominence after it became a critical and commercial success, selling more than 10 million units worldwide. It charted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, making Lorde, then 16 years old, the youngest artist to earn a number-one single in the United States since Tiffany in 1987, and has since been certified diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The track won two Grammy Awards for Best Pop Solo Performance and Song of the Year at the 56th ceremony.
Lorde's debut studio album Pure Heroine containing the single "Royals" was released in September 2013 to critical acclaim; it appeared on several year-end album lists. The album received considerable attention for its portrayal of suburban teenage disillusionment and critiques of mainstream culture. In the United States, the album exceeded sales of one million copies in February 2014, becoming the first debut album by a female artist since Adele's 19 (2008) to achieve the feat. Pure Heroine earned a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album, and has sold four million copies worldwide as of May 2017. Three other singles were released from the album: "Tennis Court" reached number one in New Zealand, while "Team" charted at number six in the United States, and "Glory and Gore" was released exclusively to US radio.
In November 2013, Lorde signed a publishing deal with Songs Music Publishing, worth a reported US$2.5 million, after a bidding war between various companies, including Sony Music Entertainment and her label UMG. The agreement gave the publisher the right to license Lorde's music for films and advertising. Later that month, Lorde was featured on the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, performing a cover of Tears for Fears' 1985 song "Everybody Wants to Rule the World". Time included her on their lists of the most influential teenagers in the world in 2013 and 2014. Forbes also placed her on their 2014 edition of 30 Under 30; she was the youngest individual to be featured. During this time, the singer started a romantic relationship with New Zealand photographer James Lowe.
In the first half of 2014, Lorde headlined various festivals, including the Laneway Festival in Sydney, the three South American editions of Lollapalooza—Chile, Argentina, Brazil—and the Coachella Festival in California. She subsequently embarked on an international concert tour, commencing in North America in early 2014. Amidst her solo activities, Lorde joined the surviving members of Nirvana to perform "All Apologies" during the band's induction ceremony at the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame in April 2014. Band members Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl explained that they selected Lorde because her songs represented "Nirvana aesthetics" for their perceptive lyrics, which contrasted with the mainstream music scene. Lorde also curated the accompanying soundtrack for the 2014 film The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, overseeing the collation of the album's content in addition to recording four tracks, including its lead single "Yellow Flicker Beat". In 2015, the track earned Lorde a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song. Later that year, she was featured on British electronic duo Disclosure's song "Magnets" off their album Caracal.
In January 2016, Lorde ended her relationship with Lowe; she then relocated to Herne Bay, where she purchased a NZ$2.84 million home. At the 2016 Brit Awards in February, Lorde and David Bowie's final touring band gave a tribute performance of his 1971 song "Life on Mars". Her performance received widespread plaudits, including from Bowie's son Duncan Jones, who called it "beautiful". Pianist Mike Garson, a frequent band member for Bowie, explained that they selected Lorde because Bowie himself "really liked Lorde [and] felt like she was the future of music". Later that year, Lorde co-wrote "Heartlines", a song by New Zealand music duo Broods from their album Conscious (2016).
The lead single from her second studio album Melodrama, "Green Light", was released in March 2017 to widespread acclaim; several publications ranked it as one of the best songs of the year, with NME and The Guardian placing it in the top spot on their respective lists. It achieved moderate commercial success, reaching number one in New Zealand, number four in Australia and number nine in Canada. Later that month, she co-wrote and provided background vocals for American indie pop band Bleachers's song "Don't Take the Money".
On Melodrama, Lorde attempted to showcase her maturity as a songwriter and incorporated her post-breakup introspection. The album was released in June 2017 and received widespread critical acclaim; Metacritic placed it second on their list of the best-received records of 2017 based on inclusions in publications' year-end lists, behind Kendrick Lamar's Damn. It reached number one on the US Billboard 200, earning Lorde her first number one on the chart, and on record charts of Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It earned a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year at the 60th ceremony. Two other singles from the album were "Perfect Places" and a remix of "Homemade Dynamite" featuring Khalid, Post Malone and SZA.
To promote Melodrama, Lorde embarked on an international concert tour, the first leg of which took place in Europe in late 2017, featuring Khalid as the supporting act. She later announced the North American leg, held in March 2018, with Run the Jewels, Mitski and Tove Styrke as opening acts. A political controversy occurred in December 2017 when Lorde cancelled her scheduled June 2018 concert in Israel following an online campaign by Palestinian solidarity activists supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. While Lorde did not explicitly indicate her reasons for cancelling, she admitted that she had been unaware of the political turmoil there and "the right decision at this time is to cancel". Pro-Palestine groups welcomed her decision, while pro-Israel groups were critical of the cancellation.
Lorde grew up listening to American jazz and soul musicians Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, Etta James, and Otis Redding, whose music she admires for "harvesting their suffering." She also listened to her parents' favourite records by the likes of Cat Stevens, Neil Young, and Fleetwood Mac in her early years. During production of Pure Heroine, Lorde cited influences from electronic music producers including SBTRKT, Grimes, and Sleigh Bells, impressed by "their vocals in a really interesting way, whether it might be chopping up a vocal part or really lash or layering a vocal." Lorde also stated that she was inspired by the initially hidden identities of Burial and The Weeknd, explaining, "I feel like mystery is more interesting." Other inspirations include Grace Jones, James Blake, Yeasayer, Animal Collective, Bon Iver, The Smiths, Arcade Fire, Kurt Vonnegut, Laurie Anderson, Kanye West, Prince, and David Bowie.
Lyrically, Lorde cited her mother, a poet, as the primary influence for her songwriting. In addition, Lorde named several authors including Raymond Carver, Wells Tower, Tobias Wolff, Claire Vaye Watkins, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, and T. S. Eliot as lyrical inspirations, particularly noting their sentence structures. When writing her second album, Melodrama, Lorde took inspiration from the melodic styles of a variety of musicians, including Phil Collins, Don Henley, Tom Petty, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Robyn. During the recording process, Lorde stated that Frank Ocean's 2016 album Blonde inspired her to experiment with using an "anti-chorus." She frequently listened to Paul Simon's 1986 album Graceland while riding subways in New York City and on taxi rides on the way home from parties in her hometown of Auckland. She cited the science fiction short story "There Will Come Soft Rains" (1950) by Ray Bradbury as inspiration for much of Melodrama's story, relating it to her own realities she faced.
Musical style and songwriting
In an interview with NME in 2017, Lorde declared "I don’t think about staying in my genre lane". AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine, however, characterised her style as primarily electropop. Upon the release of Pure Heroine, contemporary critics described her music as electropop, art pop, dream pop, indie pop and indie-electro. Critics also noted the influence of hip hop on the album's song structures, as well as its unconventional pop sound and minimalist production. Consequence of Sound pointed that the minimal production of Pure Heroine "allows [her] to sing any melody she wants, layering them over one another to create a choral effect". The Guardian compared Lorde's music to that of Sky Ferreira and Eliza Doolittle. Melodrama was a departure from the hip hop-oriented minimalist style of its predecessor, incorporating piano instrumentation and maximalist electronic beats.
Lorde utilises her vocals and does not play musical instruments on her records or onstage, elaborating, "[My] voice needs to have the focus. My vocal-scape is really important". PopMatters described Lorde's vocals as "unique and powerfully intriguing", while Billboard characterised her voice as "dynamic, smoky and restrained". The A.V. Club wrote that Lorde's voice "is the alpha and omega of her talent", detailing it as "mystifying and alluring" that harmonised well with the electronic production. Vice noted that her songs incorporated the mixolydian mode, a melodic structure used in "blues-based and alternative rock" music, which set her songs apart from those in pop music for not fitting a common major or minor chord.
Regarding her songwriting process, Lorde explained that the foundation to her songs began with the lyrics, which could sometimes stem from a singular word meant to summarise a specific idea she had tried to identify. For "Tennis Court", however, Lorde wrote the music before lyrics. She stated that the songwriting on Pure Heroine developed from the perspective of an observer. Similarly, in an interview with NME, Lorde acknowledged that she used words of inclusion (such as "we" and "us") throughout her debut album, while her follow-up Melodrama presented a shift in narrative, employing more introspective lyrics inspired by Lorde's personal struggles post-breakup and viewpoints on post-teenage maturity. Lorde's neurological condition chromesthesia influenced her songwriting on the album; it led her to arrange colours according to each song's theme and emotion.
Lorde's stage name bears her fascination with "royals and aristocracy"; she added an "e" after the name Lord, which she felt was too masculine, to make it more feminine. She described her public image as something that "naturally" came to her and was identical to her real life personality. Lorde is a self-identified feminist. The New Zealand Herald opined that her feminist ideology was different from her contemporaries due to Lorde's disinterest in sexualised performances. However, the singer proclaimed herself in an interview with V as a "hugely sex-positive person", saying, "I have nothing against anyone getting naked. ... I just don't think it really would complement my music in any way or help me tell a story any better".
Critical reception of Lorde is generally positive, with praise concentrated on her maturity both musically and lyrically. The New York Times called her "the pop prodigy" who was not conformed to boundaries and always sought experimentation. Billboard recognised Lorde as a spokesperson for a "female rock resurgence" by introducing her works to rock and alternative radio, which had seen a traditional male dominance. The publication also named her the "New Queen of Alternative" in a 2013 cover story. Journalist Robert Christgau was less enthusiastic towards Lorde's styles, labelling the singer as "a pop property" that was indistinguishable from other mainstream artists.
Lorde's critiques of mainstream culture on Pure Heroine earned her the title "the voice of her generation", a label she dismissed, saying that "young people have never needed a specialised spokesperson". Jon Caramanica, writing for The New York Times, credited Lorde for bringing forth a "wave of female rebellion" to mainstream audiences that embraced an "anti-pop" sentiment. Sharing a similar viewpoint, an op-ed of Vice recognised the singer as the reformer for the teenage pop scene, shifting from Britney Spears' renowned bubblegum pop to modern-day "mainstream melancholy" and "millennial darkness". Rolling Stone and NPR credited her debut studio album Pure Heroine as the foundation of that transformation.
Her onstage persona, particularly her signature unchoreographed dancing, has polarised audiences. Her detractors have described her dance moves as "awkward" in comparison to contemporary stage performers. The Fader expressed that she should be celebrated for her dancing as it is "more freeform and spontaneous" than structured choreography and "speaks an entirely different expressive language". The publication further elaborated that her "stage presence [is] more impactful than the average pop performance". Lorde's works have directly influenced a number of contemporary artists including James Bay, Tove Lo, Khalid, and Nina Nesbitt. NPR placed her at number 12 on their 2018 readers poll of the most influential female musicians of the 21st century. Lorde was parodied in the South Park episodes "The Cissy" and "Rehash", broadcast in October and December 2014, respectively.
Following her breakthrough, Lorde won four New Zealand Music Awards at the 2013 ceremony. The single "Royals" earned the APRA Silver Scroll Award, and two Grammy Awards for Best Pop Solo Performance and Song of the Year. In 2015, she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song as a songwriter for "Yellow Flicker Beat". Her second studio album Melodrama received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year at the 60th ceremony. Lorde has received two Brit Awards for International Female Solo Artist. The singer has also won two Billboard Music Awards, one MTV Video Music Award and three World Music Awards. She has sold over five million albums worldwide as of June 2017.
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