Over 10 years after Lorde released her breakout hit, "Royals," its opening line presents a profound sense of irony: "I've never seen a diamond in the flesh."
In the song, Lorde depicts a disillusionment with the lifestyle and status associated with diamonds — one based on excess, ostentation, and a departure from reality. But her scorned sentiment is so relatable that "Royals" itself has become a diamond.
In December of 2017, the single reached the rarely achieved diamond certification from the Recording Industry Association of America for selling 10 million units. The single now has over 1 billion streams on Spotify, and when it was in the throes of release, topped the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks, before earning two GRAMMYs: Song Of The Year and Best Pop Solo Performance at the 2014 ceremony.
"Royals" was the lead single for Pure Heroine, Lorde's debut album, which turns 10 this month. Like its first hit, the album demonstrated Lorde's foresight into the next generation of pop star — so much so that none other than David Bowie had proclaimed her as "the future of music."
In many ways, the title Pure Heroine is apposite to Lorde herself. In the early 2010s, she was a heroine with a pure message — a message of honesty and humanity that resonated with everyone, from fans to her fellow musicians. Even critics were intrigued: "In a moment when too many new artists seem afraid to offend or go off script, Lorde is an exciting contradiction," Pitchfork wrote in their review of Pure Heroine.
Going "off script" permeates everything about Pure Heroine, but it also goes beyond the album and into what Lorde represented for music and humanity at large.
As Pure Heroine turns 10, here are five aspects of Lorde's rise that demonstrate that she helped create the blueprint for the modern superstar.
Defiance Of Industry Expectations
Lorde has been signed to Universal Music Group since she was 12 years old, after being discovered because of a performance at a talent show. However, she didn't let such a grand association play a role in her approach to her music.
"I've been dealing with the world's biggest record company for so long so I've never had that 'Holy Shit' moment with it being a major label or anything," Lorde told Spin in 2013. "It's just something I grew up with."
Even prior to the album, Lorde was prescient in her defiance of the industry when she released her 2012 EP, The Love Club, on Soundcloud for free. Per The Guardian, she told UMG, "Leave it alone — don't promote it, no ads, let it grow organically." This ended up working in her favor when singer/songwriter Grimes reposted Lorde's Soundcloud after "some random" alerted her to it.
And when the time came for Lorde to make her first album, Universal initially suggested doing a series of soul covers, but she refused. "They got straight away that I was a bit weird, that I would not be doing anything I didn't want to do, and they completely went with that," she told The Guardian in 2013.
What Lorde considered "a bit weird" in 2013 is now, rightfully, considered brave and forward-thinking because it was all in service to her simply being herself, regardless of what anyone in the industry expected of her.
That mentality also bled into her appearance. "I'm not the sort of artist that TMZ can write about like, 'She stepped out with no makeup today!' Because 80 percent of the time I'm not wearing any makeup," Lorde told The Fader in 2013.
She also didn't care for the comparisons to other massive artists like her: "I read a piece the other day that said, 'Why Lorde is this generation's Nirvana,' and I was like, PLEASE DON'T! Don't do that to me! They meant it as a compliment, obviously, but what's the point in even making the parallel?" she said to Rookie in 2014.
Lorde has only ever wanted to do things her way, and that not only fueled the magic of Pure Heroine, but her career as a whole.
A Simple One Writer, One Producer Formula
One thing Lorde wanted to do on her debut album was write all of her own lyrics, even though she had never written a song before in her life. And she clearly aimed to have as much creative control as possible, opting to work with only one producer on the album, Joel Little.
Little and Lorde are the only two credits for both writing and production throughout Pure Heroine, a stark contrast to other albums released in 2013 including Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines, Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience, and Beyoncé's self-titled, all of which followed the modern pop standard of gathering numerous songwriters and producers together on an album.
Now, 10 years on from Pure Heroine, some of the biggest artists and albums follow the Pure Heroine approach. For example, on both of Billie Eilish's studio albums, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP WHERE DO WE GO? (2019) and Happier Than Ever (2022) the only credits are herself and her brother, Finneas.
Another is Olivia Rodrigo, who — other than an occasional extra producer or songwriter and a few interpolation credits to artists like Hayley Williams and Taylor Swift — wrote and produced the entirety of her two studio albums, SOUR (2021) and GUTS (2023) alongside producer Daniel Nigro.
A more intimate creative process makes sense given the candid nature of these artists' music, and the central topic of Lorde's honesty in Pure Heroine can be summed up by the pre-chorus in "Royals": "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."
Ten years ago, the de facto motto of pop music was "the bigger the better," emphasized by songs like "Love Me" from Lil' Wayne and Drake, "F—in' Problems" from A$AP Rocky, 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake, and "Suit & Tie" from Justin Timberlake and JAY-Z. Then in comes a teenager from New Zealand who literally says "We don't care." She didn't care about the lifestyle pop music purported — and without a boardroom of writers and producers, her message rang out unimpeded.
Given her rise was in the early 2010s, Lorde was also one of the first stars of her generation to engage in the never-ending battle of social media — and, naturally, she only engaged with it as she saw fit.
"I would get an email from one of the record companies saying, 'Just realized that you're not social-networking to your fullest potential. Here's how! Use lots of hashtags! Only focus on the music, Do 'follow sprees' and constantly reply to fans!'" Lorde recalled to Rookie in 2014. "I was like, 'You've just got to trust me. Everyone will hate me in two months if I do that.'"
Yet another gem of foresight from the young Kiwi, given that numerous Gen-Z notables — from the country breakout star Bailey Zimmerman to the hip-hop/electronic crossover artist PinkPantheress — launched their careers from TikTok by posting DIY clips of their creative processes.
As of late, Lorde's Instagram account is rather bare. There are two posts: the cover of her latest album, 2021's Solar Power, and a carousel of her swimming with a cryptic caption about "a light on inside."
However, there is a highlight on her profile entitled "INSTITUTE" which gives a glimpse into the last year or so of touring. Within these slides Lorde's authentic approach to social sharing is unambiguous. There are numerous high-quality performance shots, of course, but there are also images of "TOUR BUS SHELLFISH" alongside shots of porcupines and her eating sushi in the bath.
In the timeline of Lorde's social media, there are examples that demonstrate even less concern with curation and presentation. She even started an account dedicated to onion rings in 2017 (though it unfortunately hasn't had a post since 2021).
While she was certainly public about her feelings towards social media, there are also hints of that disdain throughout Pure Heroine. Like on the album's second single, "Tennis Court": "It's a new artform showing people how little we care."
Honesty In Lyrics And Beyond
One thing Lorde surely does care about is her audience, which is likely a major reason why the songs on Pure Heroine speak to inner value. She is on their side, and one simple method of demonstrating this is the shift from "I" to "We."
"This dream isn't feeling sweet/ We're reeling through the midnight streets/ And I've never felt more alone/It feels so scary, getting old," Lorde sings on "Ribs," recounting one of the aspects of life she finds most stressful: aging.
As "Ribs" suggests, the 10 songs on Pure Heroine are for real people in the real world — people who are complex and have varying life experiences. One minute, Lorde is celebrating her elevated status ("Getting pumped up on the little bright things I bought/ But I know they'll never own me," Lorde sings on opener "Tennis Court") and next, she's lamenting her declining ability to be carefree as she gets older ("I'm kind of over gettin' told to throw my hands up in the air/ So there/ I'm kind of older than I was when I reveled without a care/ So there," she quips in "Team," the album's third single).
This kind of honesty also extends beyond lyrics for Lorde, who, since the time of Pure Heroine, has been unfiltered in her opinions on topics including her fellow pop stars.
"I think a lot of women in this industry maybe aren't doing so well for the girls," Lorde told Fader in 2013. "She's great, but I listened to that Lana Del Rey record and the whole time I was just thinking it's so unhealthy for young girls to be listening to, you know: 'I'm nothing without you.'"
In that vein, you won't find a single breakup song on Pure Heroine, but instead, honesty in the form of her love/hate relationship with her sudden explosion into fame on "Still Sane": "All business, all day keeps me up a level/All work and no play, lonely on that new s—, yeah."
But even as she acknowledges her rising profile, through "White Teeth Teens" she maintains she hasn't lost sight of who she truly is, that she is still on the side of her people: "I'll let you in on something big/I am not a white teeth teen/I tried to join, but never did/The way they are, the way they seem/Is something else, it's in the blood."
And even when she does broach the topic of heartbreak on songs like "Liability," from Pure Heroine's 2017 successor, Melodrama, Lorde goes deep within herself instead of running back to her ex: "So I guess I'll go home/Into the arms of the girl that I love/The only love I haven't screwed up/She's so hard to please, but she's a forest fire."
Pure Heroine set the tone for the kind of honesty Lorde will always bring in her music — one that's more self-reflective than self-pitying.
A Punk Attitude
Lorde was not concerned with the standards of the music industry when she was making Pure Heroine, and there is a genre of music that is celebrated for this same lack of concern: punk.
While it might seem that a major pop star like Lorde and punk rockers like the Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys have absolutely nothing in common, the ethos of how they approach their music and persona are actually quite similar. Because punk isn't simply not caring; punk is not caring what people tell you to care about.
If Sonic Youth truly didn't care about anything, they wouldn't have written "Youth Against Facism," their scathing indictment of the U.S. government. It's the same reason Anti-Flag wrote the plainly titled "F— Police Brutality." They use music to predicate change.
Lorde's lyrical approach may not be as on-the-nose as punk, but given the state of pop music at the time of Pure Heroine, ideas presented in "Royals" were well against what the general pop sphere was beckoning people to care about it: "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, we didn't come from money."
Here, the "code" is being happy and content without the gold teeth and the Grey Goose. That she and her friends (once again, alluding to her fans) have value that goes beyond money.
Although Lorde's November 1996 birthday technically lands her just shy of the Gen-Z cutoff, her values in standing up for the common person is a central tenet of Gen-Z culture. This generation is being forced to pick up the pieces of a climate and an economy ravaged by generations prior, and Gen-Zers are facing that necessary change head-on the same way Lorde faced the necessary change in the music industry at the start of her career.
Just before Pure Heroine reached its 10th birthday on Sept. 27, Lorde took to email to share a candid update on what's been happening in her life in the last year, denoting everything from hints at new music to health struggles, to laments on the decade past.
"I know I'm gonna look back on this year with fondness and a bit of awe, knowing it was the year that locked everything into place, the year that transitioned me from my childhood working decade to the one that comes next — one that even through all this, I'm so excited for. It's just hard when you're in it," Lorde wrote, according to a Tumblr account called "Lorde's Email Archive."
Lorde considers the last 10 years her "childhood working decade." In that decade, she redefined what it meant to be a superstar — who knows what she may redefine in the next decade.
For The Record: How Taylor Swift's 'Speak Now' Changed Her Career — And Proved She'll Always Get The Last Word