Critique of the Lyrics in Lorde's song "Royals"

Lyrics-critique-lorde-royalsEarlier this year, the song “Royals,” written by sixteen-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor, reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 list. Ella, who goes by the stage name “Lorde,” is from New Zealand and is the first solo artist from her country to achieve such popularity in the United States. When Lorde’s popular song, “Royals,” first played over the airwaves of my car’s radio, I was immediately struck by Lorde’s smooth, rich vocal qualities and her song’s fresh melodic beat. At the same time, perhaps like other people, I was initially a little skeptical about the value of the song’s lyrics. At first listen, lyrics about “jet planes, islands, tigers, on a gold leash” sounded like another shallow line written by another base materialistic hip hop artist, but a closer listen reveals that “Royals” actually contains a not-so-subtle criticism of the MTV glam culture that many of today’s youth aspire to.

Read the lyrics for yourself below, with a few of my thoughts interposed after select lyrics in brackets:

Lyrics from Lorde’s “Royals”

Verse 1
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

But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom

[I love the above line and transition. It seems to say, “Really? The materialistic fantasy promoted in the media doesn’t align with how I grew up, and I’m supposed to want that?” Her choice of what to portray as representative of the pop culture (decadent gold teeth, drunkeness, drugs) highlights just how grotesque these desires are.]

Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.
And we’ll never be royals (royals).

[Equating these desires with a love affair is a perfect metaphor for the covetous and rapturous nature of the materialistic/sex-driven nature of today’s culture. I love that she takes a stand and says that she won’t get caught up in it — I hope she won’t!]

It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.

[Yes! We were created to love life, to love freedom, to crave something different. We don’t need the “buzz” being pushed on us by pop culture, AKA Big Media]

Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

[From what I can tell, here Ella’s turning pop culture’s esteem of ruling in an air of superiority  and turning it on its head, saying “Follow me to something different. I’ll lead you to a different fantasy.”]

Verse 2
My friends and I—we’ve cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,

[The above three lines reveals Ella’s priority: relationships. She and her friends have recognized the lie of consumerism. Instead of taking a “Benz” to the party, they’re riding in a train.]

We didn’t come for money.But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom.
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affairAnd we’ll never be royals (royals).
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

Ooh ooh oh
We’re bigger than we ever dreamed,

[The alternative to “luxe” is so much better.]

And I’m in love with being queen.
Ooh ooh oh
Life is great without a care

[So true — wealth, materialism, coveting riches — all bring bondage.]

We aren’t caught up in your love affair.

And we’ll never be royals (royals).
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

Is the “fantasy” or vision Ella alludes to in “Royals” something  we can encourage other young people to pursue? From what I can tell, Ella’s lyrics contain some important truths that pose a stark contrast to the dark myths promulgated by many of today’s “artists.” The lingering question is does “Royals” really contain a thoughtful critique of culture or is it more a reflection of youthful innocence combined with teenage angst? Only time will tell, but I’ll be praying for Ella and hope that her criticism of popular culture will only deepen as she matures. Our worlds need an alternative, a healthier fantasy than the one offered by MTV.

Ella, thanks for reminding us about the vanity of materialism, that people are more important than things, and that there is an alternative to the dominant message communicated by pop culture.
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Originally posted 2013-11-01 09:48:00.

2 Replies to “Critique of the Lyrics in Lorde's song "Royals"”

  1. When I first heard the song, I thought she was encouraging this type of thing, but I obviously wasn’t listening very closely! I like most of this song, but don’t you think she is trying to be the “ruler” or “Lorde” in the song? That’s what I got from “let me be your ruler, you can call me queen bee” and the name she calls herself. We will see what she means if she has any other hit songs, I suppose! 🙂

    1. Good point Amanda. I’m not exactly sure what she is trying to convey with the name “Lorde” and the idea of being the “Queen Bee.” Perhaps, she is saying that she is seeking to pursue the life she wants, rather than the one culture is dictating. Like you said, we shall see!

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