Lorde featured in TEEN VOGUE: ‘Hilary Duff? Are you freaking serious? Hilary Duff was there last night? This is what dreams are made of! Was she vibing it? Was she bobbing her head?’ Lorde, after I reveal that the former Disney star stood next to me during the singer’s private performance the previous night. ‘This is the most insane thing that’s ever happened to me. That’s my childhood right there. Hilary Duff is a fan—that freaks me out!’
‘There are a lot of expectations in this industry about looking a certain way and having a certain kind of appeal. I am feminine, but I really love dressing in boys’ clothes too. I guess that’s why I get labeled as ‘the grumpy girl,’ because I don’t play into that.’ Such self-awareness, humility, and, yes, even awkwardness are usually seen as a PR nightmare, but they’ve proven to be the very things that set Lorde apart from other breakout artists. “Believe me, it’s not lost on me. This time last year, I had never put new music out,” she says with a smirk, as if she, of all people, is most surprised by her sudden household-name status.
I first saw Lorde last summer at an intimate concert in a modest Manhattan basement club near New York University. It was Ella’s first trip to America, really her first trip anywhere. The New Zealand native left her make-it-or-break-it jitters at the door and took to the stage with a nonchalant confidence—and by midway through the opening song, she had fully bewitched the small crowd before her. The room chirped with support; we were already rooting for the unknown chanteuse as she sang the lyrics, “Pretty soon I’ll be getting on my first plane.” Little did any of us know on that balmy night that she’d quickly be upgrading said plane to a rocket ship and shooting right to the top of the music industry.
While most pop stars rely on provocative and well-calculated schoolgirl-uniformed antics or giant hot dog–straddling ways to announce to the world that they’ve arrived, Ella put on a dark plum-colored lip and quietly sauntered up from the back of the class. She garnered critical acclaim and commercial success with her genre-bending debut album, Pure Heroine, which spawned legions of fans, ranging from the misfit teen to the frat boy to the indie snob. Everybody is welcome to hang out in Lorde’s court.
Ella, the daughter of a renowned poet mother and a civil engineer father, grew up in an Auckland suburb as one of four kids. “I was friends with all the boys and kind of bratty, nerdy, and quiet. I was probably really obnoxious to hang out with,” the songstress says of her early teen years. She found an outlet in songwriting when she was just 12, and was discovered when record executives saw a video of her performing at a school talent show. But true adolescent boredom—dreamily looking at the world from the outside and writing about it in a brave, evocative, and wry way—is the root of Ella’s musical success.
With her catchy global hit “Royals” (which she wrote a few years ago on a school holiday), she pokes fun at the excesses of fame and fortune that characterize the jet-set life. But now, with shiny accolades of her own, dibs on any straight-from-the-runway fashion, and a passport that’s actually full of stamps, it’s unclear whether Ella wanted life to imitate art all along. In any case, she’s just trying to take it all in. “Living in New Zealand, you don’t get these experiences. I spent so much time in my room before,” she admits. “My life is so wild right now. For me to be able to do something I really enjoy and for that to get me out in the world—to South America, to here, to London—every day I kick myself, I’m so lucky.”