Ella Yelich-O’Connor—aka Lorde—is, in a word, intense. This applies to every facet of the aspiring pop marvel’s being, whether we’re talking about her album, the timbre of her voice or her stage presence. It’s a fitting description for her impermeable gaze that stops you dead in your tracks and draws you in like a tractor beam, regardless as to whether you’re watching her from your computer screen or the back row of her concert. It refers to the scowls, winces, elated grins and downcast glances she throws when she’s behind the microphone, be it in the comfort of a studio or before a slack-jawed crowd in a nightclub. It accurately sums up the gravity of her lyrics, in that Lorde—who’s only 16 years old—touches on depths of love and loss that those who’ve lived a life full of each can’t articulate in such an engaging manner.
In short, Lorde cultivates intensity, and at this point in her career, where she’s on the cusp of her major label debut and a handful of international dates to support it, it’s clear that the depth, the dramatic pauses, the literary dirges and the refusal to become a cog in the pop music machine is working.
If you need a visual that wraps her up in a striking snapshot, look no further than the video for “Tennis Court,” the first single off her debut full-length, Pure Heroine, which drops via Universal on Sept. 30. In it, Lorde, clad in a black fishnet top, braids Heidi would be jealous of and varnished lips, is the only instrument, the only presence and the solitary conduit for her voice and vision. “Tennis Court,” a lush ode to young love set to warm synths and the kind of beat that wouldn’t be out of place on a videogame soundtrack, is a shy smile of a single—one that gives off the impression that she wrote it with the door locked in her bedroom with her headphones on. She didn’t—most of Pure Heroine and her incendiary EP before it, The Love Club, were composed and subsequently and tackled in the studio alongside producer Joel Little, though she did write a song or two in bed or on the train—but that pure, confessionary vibe remains, and speaks to her adopting the studio as her new abode of sorts.
“The studio is where I can be creative,” she says over the phone as she packs for tour in Auckland. “I feel more vulnerable onstage. I’m not a super confident person; I’m not quite a superstar onstage. The studio is kind of my sanctuary, where anything is possible and I can try out anything and no one will laugh at you.”
She throws what she needs in a bag—“I always forget something that I have to pick up at the airport later; I basically just throw everything in a suitcase”—which comes down to a lot of understated, black clothing and a bunch of Throat Coat tea, and she gives her bookshelf a go before flying off to London, or New York, or Tokyo. Lorde, an avid reader and the daughter of a poet, loses herself in words. Currently, she’s reading Battleborn, a collection of short stories that delve into life in the Western United States by Claire Vaye Watkins, which she’ll likely take on the road as she kicks off a proper American headlining tour on Sept. 24 in Los Angeles.
Her lyrics are her proudest accomplishment, and the care that goes into crafting the smart, thought-provoking words of Pure Heroine mirrors these wordsmith leanings and an artistic cultivation in small rooms with a microphone as opposed to Auckland’s stages. She’s still only 16, after all; she’s not of legal age to drink in her home country, let alone in the States, and as such she doesn’t consider herself a fixture in the Auckland music scene as she can’t patronize its venues, technically.
“It’s quite easy for me to be normal here,” she says. “I’ve only released my music quite recently, and I can’t go to the bars or anything. Most people are surprised about my age. I look older than I am, so I’m not like, ‘It’s crazy, she’s making music, she’s so young!’ you know? Maybe there’s a scene here for some types of music, but not for mine. It’s a weird scene here. The scene isn’t the reason why I’m making music or anything.”
These introverted creative tendencies carried over from The Love Club, and ironically enough gave us “Royals,” the explosively popular single that was repurposed for Pure Heroine and is currently looping excessively on Top 40 radio. She may have skyrocketed out of Auckland’s obscurity and into the international public eye, but that doesn’t change what she writes, what she reads or how she approaches either.
“I haven’t compromised being an honest songwriter, which is cool,” she says. “I was like, surely it’s going to be embarrassing, or weird, but I’ve managed to keep my process personal and that was important to me for this album and these pop songs. I don’t think there’s an overarching singular theme, but I have quite a strong voice. Not a physical voice, but a lyrical voice. I think the album offers a pretty good introduction into my world. The Love Club was quite spin on who I am and what my life is like, so with Pure Heroine, I hope people listen to what I say, not just the music. I hope people read the album, as well.”