Lorde was 2013’s biggest new pop sensation, sending her single “Royals” to #1 in August and releasing her album Pure Heroine in September. Both were NPI favorites. We were particularly taken with her voice and her lyrics so, as we are wont to do here, we decided to rank our favorite lyrics from her songs. Here are our 18 favorite lyrics of hers:
18) “All work and no play / Keeps me on the new shit, yeah” —Still Sane
(Tim’s rank: 17/John’s rank: 18/Josh’s rank: 18)
17) “Let me in the ring, I’ll show you what that big word means” —Glory and Gore
(Tim: 16/John: 15/Josh: 17)
16) “But this is summer, playing dumber than fall” —Still Sane
15) “In all chaos there is calculation” —Glory and Gore
14) “I won’t be smiling but the notes from my admirers fill the dashboard just the same” —White Teeth Teens
T12) “And you can watch from your window” —Tennis Court
T12) “I’m sitting pretty on the throne / There’s nothing more I want, except to be alone” —The Love Club
T10) “I don’t ever think about death / It’s alright if you do, that’s fine” —Glory and Gore
T10) “The way they are, the way they seem is something else” —White Teeth Teens
9) “Only bad people live to see their likeness set in stone” —Still Sane
8) “Maybe the Internet raised us, or maybe people are jerks” —A World Alone
7) “We live in cities you’ll never see on screen” —Team
T5) “All my fake friends and all of their noise / They’re studying business, I study the floor” —A World Alone
T5) “We’re never done with killing time” —400 Lux
4) “I’m not proud of my address, in the torn up town / No postcode envy” —Royals
3) “Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?” —Tennis Court
2) “I’m kinda over getting told to throw my hands up in the air / So there” —Team
1) “It’s a new art form showing people how little we care” —Tennis Court
John S: First off, I think it’s interesting that Tim and I both ranked the “Royals” lyric so low. For me, it’s probably a function of having heard that song so much that I take for granted how good it is. It was, of course, the first Lorde song I heard, and consequently the first I really loved, but once I started listening to the album, I kind of moved on. But that shouldn’t minimize how good a song it is, or how clever the lyrics are. Can you believe she wrote that in half an hour?!
Josh: I, on the other hand, ranked the “Royals” lyric number 1. Why the difference between us? For one, I wasn’t exposed to “Royals” first; I listened to the whole album multiple times before hearing any singles in isolation. And, two, I just love the phrase “postcode envy.” In general, I found it difficult to weigh two metrics for assessing lyric quality in this ranking: (a) the quality of the words and phrases of the lyric itself; and (b) how much I enjoy the lyrics musically—how much I enjoy the sound of them in the context of the song. The “Royals” line wins on (a) and places pretty high on (b), securing its place on the top.
Tim: I mean, “no postcode envy” is a nice turn of phrase, but let’s not make it out to be something revolutionary. I ranked “We live in cities you’ll never see onscreen” because it’s a much more singable line: It’s part of the refrain, and it isn’t broken into three parts the way the “Royals” lyric is. (I would actually say it’s the catchiest single line in the album.)
While I find it hard to believe Josh listened to the whole album before realizing “Royals” was a single that was being played ad nauseam on the radio, I am happy he at least recognized the genius of the “Maybe the Internet raised us, or maybe people are jerks” line. I’ve read a few different reviews of Pure Heroine that quote the first half of that lyric, and they always leave out the second–which is, they buy into the same lazy rationalization that Lorde critiques. That the Internet purportedly raised us is no excuse for some of our behaviors.
John S: Definitely. While I didn’t rank that specific lyric as high you, Tim, I think you get at something I really like about Lorde generally. Namely, that there’s a subtlety to her singing that adds to the meaning of her lyrics. So many people forget the end of “Maybe the Internet raised us…” because she sings the second half like a throwaway, even though, as you point out, it changes the whole meaning of the line. That’s something I really like in lines like “I’m sitting pretty on the throne / There’s nothing more I want, except to be alone” and “I won’t be smiling but the notes from my admirers fill the dashboard just the same.” It’s also why the distinction Josh draws between lyrical content and its musicality is tough to draw with Lorde, as it is with all great lyricists. I know it sounds silly to claim Lorde is underrated, but I think a lot of people do miss that subtlety.
Josh: Ever since parting with my car, I only listen to the radio on the infrequent occasion I’m in another person’s car. Perhaps if I were following the New York mayoral election closely, that could have been another avenue for overexposure, but alas . . .
My biggest divergence from Tim and John is “And you can watch from your window,” which I ranked second. I love the lyrical content and the reflective, rebellious tone of “Tennis Court,” evidenced by the fact that three of my top four ranked lines come from the song; the “window” line maintains that rebelliousness — especially when she repeats it after a chuckle, which I also love musically — while at the same time reflecting her vulnerability (I’m falling apart and, fuck it, you can watch). I, along with John, also ranked “Don’t you think it’s boring how people talk?” quite high; I love how boldly it leads off “Tennis Court” and sets the tone for the rest of the song. Also, are either of you willing to give me 4 to 1 odds that a Girls character dances to “Royals” this season?
Tim: What is Girls?
And Josh, I love “Tennis Court.” I think John introduced it to me by being like, “Hey, did you know Lorde is actually really good?” The “Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?” sets the tone not just for the song but for the entire album. The “And you can watch from your window” line is aight, but “It’s a new artform showing people how little we care” is the line that makes the song and the album for me. It captures so much of what teenage life is like–this performative nonchalance that even seeps into your private moments.
This goes back to the point made prior about the Internet/jerks line. If Pure Heroine were comprised only of lines like “I’m kinda over getting told to throw my hands up in the air / So there” — you know, the ones that lob grenades at different genres and the like–it wouldn’t be all that different from the false bravado it targets. It’s the introspection it possesses that truly sets it apart.
John S: Don’t act like you don’t know what Girls is, Tim. You’re not THAT above the rest of us.
And yes, “Tennis Court” was the song that made me appreciate Lorde as something more than a one-hit wonder. There are lots of pop songs with good lines and hooks, like “Royals,” but few maintain that consistency for a full album. Which partially explains why some people found “Royals” racist or antagonistic—they didn’t consider it in the context of the whole album. That cohesion also makes this list somewhat incomplete. A song like “White Teeth Teens” might be the best on the whole album, lyrically speaking, even if it doesn’t have as many great single lines as “Tennis Court.”
Josh: I guess at this point I should hedge and note that what I most like about Pure Heroine is the sound of the music. As far as lyrics go, when assessing whether I like an album, I mostly care about the second factor, their “musicality,” as John aptly put it. The meaning of the lyrics adds some value after reflection but, rightly or wrongly, really doesn’t have much influence on my overall assessment of the album, which happens after my first few listens. “Team” is a great example of this; I love the song, but I didn’t rank either lyric on this list particularly high. Upon reflection, I actually quite like some of the other lyrics in the song, notably Lorde’s colorful description of girls with braces (“A hundred jewels between teeth”) and boys with acne (“Their skin in craters like the moon”), but I loved the song before coming to that realization.
John S: Interesting how this discussion of Lorde’s lyrics has turned into a discussion of lyrics in general. I’m definitely a much bigger lyrics guy than Josh, but even I acknowledge that excellent lyrics can’t redeem a crappy song and that there are great songs whose lyrics are essentially gibberish.
Lyrics are generally not what makes a song good or bad. But what lyrics CAN do is help establish mood (especially in pop songs, where the level of melodic complexity is generally constrained), and Pure Heroine has such a beautifully established mood. And the lyrics contribute to the cohesion of the album (the very first line is “Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?” and the very last line is “People are talking, let ’em talk”). By my count, 10 of the 19 lyrics we ranked – and all of the top six – have a jaded, unimpressed vibe that fits with the sparse arrangements throughout the album. This partly explains why the media likes to portray her as some gothic nerd outcast. But that narrative sort of misses how much fun the album is, and songs like “400 Lux” and “A World Alone” that are really sweet and earnest. The lyrics contribute to that mood of individualism that is missing from a lot of pop music. Maybe Lorde is just way cooler than the rest of us?