A taut-bodied 17 year-old cooing "there's nothing that I wouldn't do" while wearing a sports bra and sweatpants sounds like the foundation for an episode of Law and Order: SVU. That same description also sums up pop music's 1998 approach to the high school girl. Britney Spears asked listeners to "hit me one more time" during her famous first single, suggesting a promiscuity that electrified sons and terrified fathers. Spears and then 19 year-old Christina Aguilera may have been incredibly forward with their sexualities, but that forwardness was matched only by its immaturity.
The maxim "sex sells" dominates popular music. Hence why Lil Wayne goes platinum describing his bizarre treatment of female genitalia, and Miley Cyrus will inevitably go platinum after hosting this summer's colloquium on twerking. Such songs revel in actions, particularly sexual ones, that bear no consequence. No hangover, no heartbreak, no children, no venereal disease. But as fun and catchy as these pipe dreams can be, they typically carry the same emptiness as the standard one-night stand. Kinkiness passes as a crutch in place of worthwhile songwriting. Adele's "Someone Like You" delivered a shot to the gut of happy-go-lucky listeners because the vocalist reminded them, on her appropriately-titled album "21," that adult situations are complicated.
Ella "Lorde" O'Connor, 16, serves a startlingly mature commentary on the dynamics of human relationships during her debut album, Pure Heroine.
Startling at first because of how blatantly the New Zealand songstress avoids what listeners want. Britney threw herself at the boy and her listeners, nothing-to-talk-about-just-do-it. Lorde would rather chat down by the tennis courts, ride the bus through town, "dance in the world alone." She takes the passing kiss more seriously than puppy love and less aggressively than animal instinct. She encapsulates the fickle nature of her age, turning from petty disdain to anxious trepidation mid-bar. She explores the highs and lows of youth with the firsthand perspective absent from most pop music. It's as if Lorde took an Advanced Placement course on adulthood.
But "Heroine" doesn't just trump the wisdom of the average teen; Lorde embarrasses elder competition with her grasp of emotional honesty. Seventeen year-old Britney can be forgiven for producing sexy, yet impotent records. The act has grown tired on 31 year-old Britney. R. Kelly can produce sequels to his upcoming Black Panties album (confirmed tracks: "F-----' With The Lights On," "Show Ya P---y") for the rest of his life, sell plenty, and move no one.
It comes down to two seperate approaches to carpe diem: their "indulge now and die if we have to" versus her "smile now, things will get better later."
Producer Joel Little helps to make tracks such as "Royals" hugely marketable, even if the lyrical themes defy trends. Bass synth, drum machines and chill-wave tempos keep heads bobbing without stealing the vocalist's spotlight. If Lorde needs background harmonies, she records her own. Her voice doesn't pack punch (yet) but with minimalist beats like this, it doesn't need to. Sales emphasis will still be on whether kids can dance to it. They can, but they're more likely to glean meaning from this than the other noise at the club.
We can't proclaim Lorde the future of pop yet. Some stars began their careers with sharp singles before getting bogged down in cliche, and some began as cliches before finding an identity. Pure Heroine marks the best pop debut since Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere, however. If fame allows Lorde to keep her clarity, we're in for a treat.