Under the cover of darkness, our genius of a local heroine has announced she has new music on the way. Emma Clifton writes about why Lorde’s modus operandi is a breath of fresh air
Towards the end of Lorde’s brand-new, worldwide email, announcing she had new music coming soon, she wrote this sentence that I loved so much I might just tattoo it across my heart. There are two characteristics that make me – I can’t think of a softer way to put this – mentally aroused when it comes to professional females and they are: strategy and confidence. I love them because they feel like the opposite of what we are supposed to expect from women.
In her landmark book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown discusses the characteristics that researchers had discovered were most associated with femininity. These were: being nice, pursuing a thin body ideal, showing modesty by not calling attention to one’s talents or abilities, being domestic, keeping sexual intimacy contained within one committed relationship, and using resources to invest in one’s appearance.
I mean… there’s a lot to unpack there.
But the characteristic that stands out to me the most is showing modesty by not calling attention to one’s talents or abilities. I feel like we are swimming in this, all of the time. Imposter Syndrome, the feeling that you’re not good enough and will be discovered as a fraud, is often quoted by successful women. Heck, when I interviewed Jacinda Ardern over the years and lightly badgered her about “Please could she become Prime Minister one day?” it was something she referred to then. Sometimes I still wonder if she had openly courted the role of Prime Minister, would New Zealand have been as welcoming of her as it was? I’m not sure if I like the answer to that. But showing Imposter Syndrome? Well, that we can get behind. It’s a phenomenon that affects all levels of women, to the point where I wonder… is it something we actually require of females? It’s far more reassuring and relatable of a women to go, “Oh, look, thank you so much but I’m just not quite sure I’m up to the challenge, but thank you!” than it is to listen to a woman go “Oh yes, I’ll be perfect for that.”
Singer/songwriter Taylor Swift got years of shit from people for her allegedly fake, “Oh my god, me???” reactions when she won awards, to the point where she basically became a meme. But she was just playing out what we expect nice girls to do: never assume you deserve anything. If she had punched the air and yelled, “I did it!”, we would have hated her for that even more. A woman, showing confidence and assurance in her abilities? Burn her at the stake! Remember how Eleanor Catton made one small comment about politics and then Prime Minister John Key basically told her to stick to writing? And then one of our many god-awful male radio DJ’s referred to her as an ungrateful hua? Cut that (talented, extraordinary) poppy down, immediately!
Which brings me to Lorde. Lord, do I love this artist. There was a brief moment in my years working for Creme Magazine where I was on track to be the first journalist interviewing her. My friend Alex came to work one day and said, “My brother is working with a student from Takapuna Grammar, I think she’d be really good for an interview.” Turns out, Alex’s brother was Joel Little, and that Takapuna Grammar student was Lorde. I never got that interview, because a week after I requested it via Universal, Lorde’s SoundCloud dropped and suddenly she was, rightfully, the biggest new act on the planet. (Lorde, I will wait forever to speak to you).
I saw the influence she had almost immediately in the young people I saw around town, right down to the smallest details. When Royals came out in 2013, it was at the height of hair-straightening. Poker-straight locks at every corner, all curls squished down. But then there was Lorde and her mane and suddenly, I started seeing young girls with their hair big and powerful. She wore black and she stomped and she was the perfect blend of teenage angst, combined with the slightly mad, extraordinary emotional energy of Stevie Nicks. At the time, Lorde was super active on Twitter and was disparaging and off-the-cuff about a range of things and initially I judged her for it, wrote her rants off as a complaining youth. Then her full album came out and I realised she was, in fact, just a goddamn genius who happened to also be a teenage girl (these things are not mutually exclusive, but I thought they were back then, because I was probably jealous). Even though I was 10 years older than her, it was me who needed to grow into Lorde’s music.
When David Bowie died, Lorde, aged 20 at the time, was asked to headline the tribute performance, singing Life on Mars with his band. Bowie had said that Lorde was ‘the future of music’ and of course he was right. Four years after her debut album, she released Melodrama, which was nominated for Album of the year at the Grammy’s. Her lyrics were sexy and romantic and emotional and hard and soft and funny and vindictive and grandiose and intimate and she was completely confident in all of them. There has never been any, “Aw shucks, I somehow tripped over and made this platinum record, whoops, silly me,” pretence about Lorde. She arrived, fully formed, as an artist. These days, she disappears for a while and then she comes back and basically says, “I’ve delivered something perfect, again. Enjoy. I’ll see you in four years.” And then wraps herself in a velvet cloak and vanishes into a cloud of perfumed smoke (I imagine).
At the end of her email – which felt, spiritually, like a witch releasing a carrier pigeon of news into the air – Lorde told us to be patient about when her upcoming music will find us. “The greatest treat I can give you is work that will last ten, twenty, thirty years,” she writes. “I want to use my gift and watch it grow.”
It feels perfectly right that Lorde should be a New Zealander, home of the tall poppy syndrome; sent to us, on and off, as an example of what can be possible when a) you’re really good at your job and b) you fucking know it.
“The work is so fucking good, my friend. I am truly jazzed for you to hear it.”
*Yells in feminist triumph*