Sometimes I think I’m not the intended audience for things like pop songs. I overthink them. I start to reflect on the words and the “message.” Most recently, the more I replay Lorde’s “Royals” in my head (and it’s the kind of song one replays in one’s head), the more disappointed I am with it.
I liked it well enough as when I first heard it to play the video for my four-year-old, who went around the house singing “You can call me Queen Bee” for a good week afterward. And I liked that the tenor of the song, which was matched by the aesthetic of the video, amounted to a rejection of the excesses and illusions of the pop star ethos in favor of embracing a modest, working class background. Lorde (along with those two other guys) isn’t going to be seduced by glitter and glam but is apparently content to live in the run-down part of town and to take the bus.
But does “Royals” really reject “that kind of lux” represented in the pop or hip hop lifestyle? I guess I just don’t see it. The song works only by shifting the desire for bling from the material to the fantastic. They still want to drive Cadillacs, they just have to do it in their dreams. And Lorde is still “in love with being queen,” but since she isn’t one (yet), she beckons the listener to join her in imaginative game play that gives her the status she rejects in the rest of the song: “Let me be your ruler,” she says, quite directly, and just as directly asks, “Let me live that fantasy.”
I’m not saying it’s a bad or dangerous or vacuous song or anything like that, just that it is close enough to a really solid song that it’s a bit disappointing that it ends up repeating the same illusions. I don’t expect a 16-yr-old New Zealander to take on any mantles of cultural change that she doesn’t herself want. But it will be interesting to see how fame and fortune affect her. Lorde herself has gone on record saying she just writes “fun pop songs” and seems to genuinely believe she’s rejecting a glitzy lifestyle. If she continues to do so, it will be refreshing and interesting and possibly position her to become something more if she ever wants to be; if she does not, it means she’s just another pop star, which may also be a little disappointing, but can hardly be surprising.