Lorde, for those of you who live under rocks different than the ones I live under, is a teen pop music sensation from New Zealand. Her song “Royals” topped the Alternative Music charts awhile back, a thing that a solo female artist hadn’t done since months before Lorde was actually born. The last song by a woman to hit #1 on that chart? “Mother, Mother” by Tracy Bonham.
I am going to put aside the ridiculously sexist bullshit fact that only two women have topped the alternative music charts in sixteen years, because I want to, instead, talk about the NPR article that made quite a splash in my Twitter stream yesterday before Nelson Mandela died.
Before I begin to explain how very much Lorde is not the “Nirvana of now” I want to say three things. First, she probably is the “sound of teen spirit” as the headline proclaims. That’s quite different from being the Nirvana of now.
Second, a few weeks ago at Family Dinner, Sister #2 gave a scathing, frothing, and hilarious diatribe about how she was so sick of people touting Lorde as some sort of class warrior that she was going to blow a gasket. This diatribe involved lyric quoting, song playing, and many utterance of the word bullshit. Also, crap.
Shortly after that diatribe, Barb Abney a DJ at The Current made a rather droll comment after playing “Team” about Lorde being over getting told to throw her hands in the air. Barb’s comment was something to the effect of, listen honey, I’ve been told to throw my hands up in the air for a bajillion years and that shit never gets old, because it is fun. So there (I may have exaggerated some that).
It’s hard to know where to start with Ann Powers’ mess of an argument for Lorde being Nirvana of now.
Before you get to the Nirvana argument you have to get past the sexist language. Powers tosses around words like ingénue and compares Lorde and her popstar compatriots to various Barbie Dolls. Gross. Then there’s just the illogical nonsense blah that attempts to sound intellectual but means nothing. “Textbook bohemian nonconformity” being one of them.
Then she tries to draw parallels between Nirvana and Lorde, those being that both acts are, geographically, far from “pop’s power centers.” Both had had guidance from seasoned music producers. And, they both displaced more popular popstars on the charts. Nirvana with Michael Jackson, and Lorde with, I guess, Miley Cyrus, though really how can you even begin to compare Miley with Michael? Unseating the King of Pop is quite different than unseating the Momentary Queen of Pop Culture. That right there, kind of shoots her argument in the foot, don’t you think?
At this point, Powers tries to argue that “Royals” suggests pop can have deeper layers while Nirvana changed the face of Rock & Roll.
I’m not a Nirvana person. I’ve made that claim a million times. I’m Team Pearl Jam forever, not that you can’t be both, but back in 1993 it didn’t seem like that. However, personal feelings aside, you can’t deny that Nirvana changed things. They changed things in a big way, not just musically, but culturally. Grunge was more than a new subsection of rock & roll, it was the sound of sea change in our culture and how we viewed the world. It infected everything — fashion, music, movies. Even if you hated the music the zeitgeist it soundtracked was inescapable.
Is Lorde having that same moment? Is she disrupting all that came before? Doesn’t feel like it. It doesn’t feel like things are changing. It doesn’t feel as if we’re on the cusp of a whole new way of seeing things, hearing a voice that is saying something new in a whole new way.
And it seems as though even Powers’ doesn’t wholly believe her own argument. She uses phrases like “she has potential to make more complex statements;” “a self-possessed poise that feels game-changing;” “A little time will tell. . .”
And that right there is the difference and why Lorde is not the Nirvana of now. Nirvana changed things. They did it. It’s in the past. Lorde might change things. She has the potential. Time will tell. But until she does, she’s the Lorde of now and nothing else. Which is, as far as I can tell, an okay thing to be.
P.S. I didn’t touch any of the cultural appropriation and racism issues that make up roughly 1/2 of Powers’ article. She has some smart, thought-provoking things to say about that. However, I don’t think the Nirvana claim and the appropriation stuff hang together well. It’s like she jammed two separate pieces into one sort of messy article.