Why Lorde Doesn’t Think Her Most Famous Song Is Her Best

When New Zealand-born singer/songwriter Lorde (born Ella Yelich-O’Connor) released “Royals” in 2013, she was only 17.

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“Royals” became a global smash hit, receiving a Grammy Award for Song of the Year and reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It’s one of the biggest-selling singles in history and is, by far, her defining song.

But what happens when you outgrow your biggest hit?

Writing a Hit Song at 15

According to Billboard, “Royals” spent nine weeks at No. 1, and Lorde’s only other single to crack the Top 10 was “Team,” also from her 2013 debut album Pure Heroine. However, she hasn’t matched the success of her first single, now three albums into her career.

In 2014, she told Australian magazine The Music, “I definitely don’t think ‘Royals’ is my best song.” Lorde acknowledged why it worked but felt she’s grown so much since she wrote the song at age 15.

She added “Royals” “feels like a bit of a relic now.”

Unexpected Success

Lorde hadn’t planned on a global pop career. At least, not yet.

“Before I put The Love Club EP out I was just planning on releasing EPs and messing around and putting stuff on the internet until I finished high school, and then I would kind of look at it more seriously,” she said. “But obviously, things went kind of crazy and what happened to the music once it left my hands was, like, just this insane thing.”

I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I’m not proud of my address
In a torn-up town, no postcode envy

It’s interesting to hear her thoughts from a decade-old interview while she was riding the momentum of “Royals.” But in 2021, as she released her third album Solar Power, did she feel any different?  

Retreating from the Spotlight

Following the success of Pure Heroine, Lorde retreated for four years before releasing her follow-up Melodrama in 2017. Though critics praised the album, it didn’t have a hit like “Royals.” But it did receive a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.

More importantly, Melodrama reset expectations for her career.

Lorde and old-soul-tinged singers like Adele and Duffy rose to fame during the post-Amy Winehouse Back to Black years. Moreover, Lorde created a new space for introverted pop singers like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo.

But she retreated again. She told The New York Times, “I went back to living my life.”

Eventually, Lorde returned with her third album, Solar Power, in 2021.

Less Screen Time and No More “Royals”

She also explained to the Times’ Joe Coscarelli that, during her hiatus, she dealt with her sprawling internet addiction.

“I would see my screen time go to, like, 11 hours, and I knew it was just looking at the Daily Mail,” Lorde said. “I remember sitting up in bed and realizing I could get to the end of my life and have done this every day. And it’s up to me to choose right now. So I just sort of chose.”

She found her greatest commercial success with a dismissive song about economic privilege and celebrity culture. Nevertheless, she admits her ability to turn off the internet results from a similar privilege.

Lorde answered her (younger) self in Solar Power’s “The Man with the Axe.” She sings, I thought I was a genius, but now I’m 22. Later in the song, she admits to a kind of royal-like lifestyle: I’ve got hundreds of gowns / I’ve got paintings in frames.

Lorde said she’s not under any illusions of having another hit like “Royals.” She told the Times, “That was a moonshot.” She’s also making no attempts to create another song like “Royals.”

For her last two albums, Lorde said she found freedom away from the spotlight. Though “Royals” is her most famous song, Melodrama and Solar Power showcase her most dynamic songwriting.

Pop Nobility

Noel Gallagher said it would be impossible for him to write another working-class anthem like “Live Forever” or “Supersonic” after Oasis became a stadium band. Lorde would find it equally challenging to write another underdog-class anthem like “Royals.”

Like Gallagher, she doesn’t need to. Her success has afforded her the luxury of creative control while she touched the same heights she once rebelled against.

“Royals” was born from the exaggerated lifestyles Lorde heard in hip-hop songs and early Lana Del Rey albums. Like a good royal, Lorde has sold enough records to live up to the noble title she uses for her stage name.

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