I first heard Lorde‘s song “Royals” the same way I hear a lot of music for the first time – at the skating rink, on a CD made by one of the younger skaters. I remember being struck by the unusual lead vocal, and by how the song was so stark and sparse – with only drumbeats and snapping fingers as instrumentation – but also so rich, with the chiming backing vocals. However, as with many CDs at the rink, that particular CD had no label, so I couldn’t find out who did the song. I tried to describe it to one of my friends, and she said, “Oh! That’s Lorde! Her record is phenomenal, you really have to get it.” So I bought Pure Heroine, and my friend was right – it is phenomenal. And “Royals” has since won Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards, and has charted all over the world.
One of the signs of a great song is that it doesn’t only work when the original artist performs it. A good song is one that stands up to being covered by someone else. And other musicians – some professional, some amateur – have done great versions of “Royals”. Here are some of my favourites.
This is Lorde’s original version.
Here’s a version by fellow Canadians Walk off the Earth, who make really fun videos as well as doing very clever musical arrangements.
The Florida State University Acabelles, an a capella vocal group, bring beautiful depths and dimensions to the song.
Here’s a choral version, from the student choir at Garin College in Lorde’s home country of New Zealand.
Bruce Springsteen covers “Royals” at a concert in New Zealand, and the audience goes nuts.
And, no doubt inspired by “Royals”‘ success, the Kansas City Royals baseball team made it through the Major League Baseball playoffs to compete in this year’s World Series. Kansas City fan John Long rewrote Lorde’s lyrics to cheer on the team:
(The Royals lost the World Series to the San Francisco Giants, but it was a great World Series nevertheless.)
And finally, the sure sign of a song’s success: a parody by Weird Al Yankovic. Foil!
Lorde just turned 18, and after the success of “Royals”, there is undoubtedly a lot of pressure on her to create an equally successful follow-up. Second albums can be challenging for a lot of new artists, especially young ones – as someone in the music business once told me, you have seven years to write your first album, and then you only have seven months to write your second one. That pressure can derail a lot of promise. But Lorde clearly has a vision, and a very strong idea of how she wants to develop as an artist – her newest single, “Yellow Flicker Beat“, is weirdly intriguing and spooky, and goes in some very interesting directions. I suspect that “Royals” will be the first of many great Lorde songs.