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Graeme Downes on Lorde
April 20, 2014 8:01 PM   Subscribe

Graeme Downes of the Verlaines explains why "Royals" is such a great song.
posted by escabeche (252 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cole Alexander of Black Lips chooses "Royals" for his HateSong on AV Club.
posted by komara at 8:15 PM on April 20 [5 favorites]


I worry that there may be readers who don't know why Downes is an authority on what is a great song. If so, see here.
posted by escabeche at 8:16 PM on April 20 [9 favorites]


I now cannot unhear the Burt Bacharach comparison. Thanks!
posted by neroli at 8:23 PM on April 20


Any summary or transcript for those of us unable to listen in?
posted by mulligan at 8:29 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


My wife and I determined today that Sweet Escape by Gwen Stefani is the last pop song I have awareness of. Except that Hold On song by Alabama Shakes, but she says that's not squarely pop.
posted by jwhite1979 at 8:34 PM on April 20


Of course Puddles does my favorite cover...
posted by jim in austin at 8:35 PM on April 20 [14 favorites]


But Sweet Escape is the last pop song worth listening to, so you're doing OK.
posted by fishmasta at 8:40 PM on April 20


As I posted before, Bruce Springsteen did a pretty cool cover too.

It's a timely song about class, and it's a song against materialism right when people have plenty of reason to agree with the lyrics.

Call me an old fogey longing for the good old days, but I don't feel like I've seen anyone with a major label record deal put out anything this openly anti-establishment since the 90s.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 8:41 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I don't really care for the Springsteen cover. Which is a shame because it's definitely his sort of material.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:45 PM on April 20


Holy crap great link! I LOVE the Verlaines. They were recently re-issued on vinyl too! Amazing amazing band.
posted by wyndham at 8:47 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I'd like to hear Springsteen do a full band arrangement of the song.
posted by tommyD at 9:06 PM on April 20


>Downes is an authority on what is a great song.

HAHAHAHAHAHHHAHAHHA

"authority" on what is a great song. You really just typed that?

I mean, all this time I've been liking songs without proper authorization.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:11 PM on April 20 [9 favorites]


Jesus, the only AV Club Hatesong pieces I've read are the one on this song and the latest one about Macklemore's Same Love, but they both seem like pretty fantastic combos of uncharitable readings and just plain old not-getting-it. However, I'm totally gonna read David Lynch on It's A Small World, cuz that sounds like some high quality (or at least enjoyable) media commentary...
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 9:11 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]


>Downes is an authority on what is a great song.

HAHAHAHAHAHHHAHAHHA

"authority" on what is a great song. You really just typed that?

I mean, all this time I've been liking songs without proper authorization.


I'm not really getting this... Obviously we don't need permission from the expects to think a song is great, but I'm inclined to give an accomplished songwriter with an established interest/knowledge of his/her art form* a bit of extra weight to their opinions.

*Elvis Costello jumps to mind for me, but everyone's gonna have their own example.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 9:23 PM on April 20 [5 favorites]


So, in other words, a box and a stick and a string and a bear, you're "inclined" to turn to people who make pop music that you find aesthetically appealing for their opinions about what pop music to find aesthetically appealing?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:28 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


a box and a stick and a string and a bear

and we don't caaaaaare
posted by EmGeeJay at 9:30 PM on April 20 [10 favorites]


I don't hate it. I do think it's over-hyped.
posted by ovvl at 9:30 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I mean, all this time I've been liking songs without proper authorization.

As with anything else, you are totally allowed to not like something that has been judged by people who know about such things (structure, form, etc.) to be a very good example of that thing. You are also allowed to like things that are not good examples of whatever they are. No need to get so grar about it.
posted by rtha at 9:42 PM on April 20 [5 favorites]


Joseph Girl, I'm inclined to put a little more weight in the opinion of anyone that's passionately followed a muse for a large chunk of their life. It's not like I'm going to just take their word as gospel, but I'm humble enough to know that my own opinion as a dilettante/enthusiast isn't necessarily as valuable as those of people that have devoted decades of their life to the subject. Same goes for science, politics, whatever. Experts are frequently experts for a reason, irregardless of the pitfalls attendant this kind of expert/layman divide.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 9:43 PM on April 20 [6 favorites]


There's nothing anti-establishment about going against something that began as black music appropriating white status symbols, which was then appropriated by the wealthy to market to suburban white boys. It's not even hard to find black interrogations of these contradictions, we have Kanye ffs. Lorde's a teen so she's blameless but I think her and Macklemore's popularity is rather zeitgeisty.
posted by gorbweaver at 9:43 PM on April 20 [16 favorites]


a box...:

He's an expert on writing/playing songs. That is not the same as being an expert in enjoying songs. The former, sure, next time you write a song, take his advice. Calling him an authority on why it's a great pop song, though, is doing the latter.

This really isn't difficult.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:56 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


(and as for the song, I'm with gorbweaver)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:59 PM on April 20


Shit is racist, not a "timely song about class".
posted by Brocktoon at 10:01 PM on April 20 [7 favorites]


> He's an expert on writing/playing songs. That is not the same as being an expert in enjoying songs.

FTA: Dr. Graeme Downes, Head of the Department of Music, University of Otago

Yeah, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on his ability to enjoy music.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:01 PM on April 20 [7 favorites]


I think it's a good song and I enjoyed the analysis.
posted by feckless at 10:04 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Jesus, the only AV Club Hatesong pieces I've read are the one on this song and the latest one about Macklemore's Same Love, but they both seem like pretty fantastic combos of uncharitable readings and just plain old not-getting-it.

You're not joking. I read Al Madrigal's comments on Thrift Shop because Cole Alexander's little throwaway snipe in the AV Club article above was pretty legitimate and I was curious to see a full assessment. Then disappointment hit when, of all the complaints to be levied against that song, Madrigal's beef seems to be....that the lyrics are not okay for his 10-year-old to be reading? For serious? Unless they're pushing the tune on Nickelodeon, how the hell is "not appropriate for 10-year-olds" a legitimate criticism of the song? AGH.

Anyway, the Verlaines are terrific and this was an interesting piece but I could have done with quieter background music 'cause I couldn't really catch a lot of what he was saying.
posted by ZaphodB at 10:05 PM on April 20


[A couple of comments deleted. Let's please drop the derail about whether someone can be an expert in music. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 10:12 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


(from AV Club) I grew up in a decent suburb in Atlanta, but I do think sometimes in hip-hop, you can hear it in his voice. He didn’t have that pain in his voice, but it’s a subtle nuance. I’m sure he has some struggles in his life like everyone does, but I just don’t like Drake. He seems kind of fake to me.

I like my rappers more ghetto and ratchet sounding. Personally, I like more melodramatic, ignorant rap where they’re talking about violence and anger and it’s just evil. I don’t like when it’s too conscious, I don’t like it when it’s too smart.


Aw jeez, now that's just...I mean is this guy really trotting out "I like my darkie singers to be real savage" in 2014?
posted by anazgnos at 10:15 PM on April 20 [31 favorites]


I don't think of "trashing hotel rooms" as being stereotypically hip hop or black. If anything, I think of it as stereotypically, I dunno, The Who or Van Halen or something. Similarly "tripping in the bathroom". When I hear that I think Wall Street first, rock and roll second, raves third. "Blood stains", I have no idea, but to my mind it seems Sex Pistols-ish or some such.

And a lot of the other stuff makes me think vapid reality TV, like, I dunno, of the Paris Hilton or Joe Millionaire variety. Ball gowns, diamonds on your timepiece, jet planes, islands.

Some make me specifically think hip hop, such as gold teeth, but others don't seem so very specific to me, like Grey Goose.

"Tigers on a gold leash" I have no idea. It makes me think of Sigfried and Roy, but I doubt that's what she's going for. It also makes me think Mike Tyson, but I'm guessing that's probably just from the movie The Hangover.

Anyway, I think she wrote a song about conspicuous consumption in popular culture, and some of that conspicuous consumption in popular culture is conspicuous consumption in the rap subset of popular culture.
posted by Flunkie at 10:46 PM on April 20 [28 favorites]


It's weird because while I'm sure Downes is not wrong in what he says, I couldn't help but feel like there was a dancing-about-architecture aspect to his analysis. I'm not totally sure why. I think around the point he was talking about how Royals gives you five musical "ideas" where most pop songs work in pairs, I lost the plot a little bit. Like, what constitutes an "idea"? The specific musical phrases? Because aren't there way more than five, then? Or do choruses and bridges not count towards that total? And are the first two phrases really all that different? How much do they have to change to be considered different ideas?
posted by chrominance at 10:49 PM on April 20


I kinda hated this song originally, but Puddles convinced me that it's a standard. That is how great he is; he revealed the power of the melody and the quality of the phrasing. And as a musician I came to realize that I was being far to hard on Lorde. I guess that's a common temptation, but she's just a person trying to get by, and she is quite good with a melody.

Also, yeah, the stuff that that Cole Alexander guy is saying is just stupid, even offensively so. It's ridiculous, to the point where it feels like a parody of itself, to the point where, in an ostensible criticism of supposedly racist things it veers into racism itself. I guess we white folks have a rich history of this. Mezz Mezzrow was spouting ugly, paternalistic crap about how jazz is awesome because black people have more "soul" than white people and because they "feel" instead of "think." It's exactly the same fucking thing when you make hip hop this awful ghetto that must be "ratchet" and "ignorant" - which is disgusting and condescending because I guarantee that the most "ignorant" rapper in the game is more adept at fitting together words than this dweeb. Ugh. And then Macklemore is a terrible person for being a white guy who uses the word "honky" in a song? This whole thing makes no sense. Is this person who claims to like the more "ratchet" forms of hip hop really not aware that, uh, reappropriation of racial slurs as a token of comaraderie is sort of a thing people do?
posted by koeselitz at 11:17 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]


(Also, I have never been to Memphis, but I have been to Compton, and parts of it are awesome, so his glib opinions about towns are obnoxious, too.)
posted by koeselitz at 11:18 PM on April 20


If you're looking for narrative and thematic lyrical coherence in "Royals" and find it, then you have some truly remarkable skills of self-delusion. It's hummable and catchy, which Downes does a good job breaking down, but whoa those lyrics are just an absolute mess. Whether or not Cole Alexander has some sideways opinions on hip hop, let's be clear - he's spot on in his breakdown of the stupidity in the lyrics.

Lorde's list of "that kind of luxe" in "every song" is, first of all, all over the place. She mixes hip hop tropes (Maybach, Cristal, gold teeth, diamonds on your timepiece, jet planes) with 70's rock tropes (trippin' in the bathroom, trashin' the hotel room, tigers on a gold leash, and probably also jet planes) and then throws in some weird shit along the way (blood stains, ball gowns, islands) because I guess the writers couldn't get the lines to scan otherwise? It's like they just gave up on crafting a coherent argument. It's a shame. There's plenty of great material to mine if your point is "You wanna be rich? You're weird. I wanna be me," except that's not the point she's actually singing. Mostly she's saying "Rich people are dumb!" (the key is in the "We'll never be Royals, it don't run in our blood" and "We didn't come from money" lines) but the people she's attacking (hip hop artists, 70's rock bands, and bleeding Polynesians on the way to the prom?) probably aren't rich and certainly aren't deserving of her "I'm better than you" self-congratulatory ire.

Not that this should be surprising - the idea of class in the song is completely backwards. She's saying "We aren't rich, not like they are" but (as before) the people she's talking about are also struggling, they're also scraping, they're also dreaming, just like she apparently is. They're rapping about the things they wish they could have and the things they want to present to the world as owning. That Lorde and her producer don't understand this isn't a surprise - I'm sure I'd get turned around if I wrote about a specific part of New Zealand culture.

In the end, I read this entire song as being about as advanced as when my mom asks me, "Why do poor people always buy fancy purses? Why can't they manage their money?" and then we have a long talk about the psychological effects of poverty.
posted by incessant at 11:30 PM on April 20 [14 favorites]


a box and a stick and a string and a bear: "Jesus, the only AV Club Hatesong pieces I've read are the one on this song and the latest one about Macklemore's Same Love, but they both seem like pretty fantastic combos of uncharitable readings and just plain old not-getting-it. However, I'm totally gonna read David Lynch on It's A Small World, cuz that sounds like some high quality (or at least enjoyable) media commentary..."

The Robyn Hitchcock one (posted here a while ago) was quite awesome, I thought. If anybody deserves to be skewered, and skewered good for all time, it's Christopher Cross. And Hitchcock does so brilliantly and hilariously, as one who is familiar with him might expect:

"It’s as if you found that you had just become incontinent and soiled your clothing, but you’ve just been given an enormous amount of painkillers so it doesn’t matter...

"Like, who gives a fuck? Why did we even bother to crawl out of the swamps, is this it? It’s not pretending, and it’s not 'Bohemian Rhapsody' or something; it’s not full of Freddy Mercury in his leotard. Christopher Cross is just standing in the corner spilling his drink on his trousers, saying 'Oh well, who cares?'"


It's sad to see that this AV Club feature has gone to shit.
posted by koeselitz at 11:31 PM on April 20 [2 favorites]


We'll never be ROYALS

As in the Royal family. Of England. Are they hip-hop stars? There is no sane, non-trolling-for-easy-page-views world where this song is "racist." No.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:46 PM on April 20 [10 favorites]


I wasn't aware Prince Charles sported gold fronts, tripped in bathrooms, or was, uh, a singer. Because "every song's like ..."
posted by incessant at 11:55 PM on April 20 [6 favorites]


We'll never be ROYALS

As in the Royal family. Of England.


That is an amazingly literal and nonsensical read. Like... to an astonishing degree.
posted by kmz at 11:55 PM on April 20 [12 favorites]


Besides, it's a pop song written by a kid. "My Funny Valentine" has awful lyrics, but it's still a great tune. Ditto for "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and pretty much anything else Jim Steinman has written. Pop songs are not generally treatises, they're pointers to feelings and indicators of common sympathies. Like some of the best pop songs, "Royals" combines a sort of yearning with a kind of solidarity. It does so effectively, certainly effectively enough for the well-wrought melodic structure to shine through, and that's saying a lot for a song written in these latter days of postmodern antistructuralism in songwriting. It has also become interesting to me because it is expressing precisely the same thing most hip hop songs are expressing when they talk about such things: solidarity and a commitment to friendship over ridiculous societal standards.

I know the fact that "Royals" seems to be coming from a completely different direction but ends up expressing that same sentiment - and that the song doesn't seem self-aware enough to know that it's actually making common cause with hip hop - has vexed a lot of people who think the song (and Lorde) ought to be aware of such things before using the imagery. But at this point I feel like she's a really young kid from New Zealand and I'm going to cut her some slack since her heart's in the right place and the song is well-written.
posted by koeselitz at 11:57 PM on April 20 [5 favorites]


BTW, this is what Lorde herself says the song is about:
People seem excited by the criticism of conspicuous consumption in “Royals.” What were you thinking about when you wrote it?

I’ve always listened to a lot of rap. It’s all, look at this car that cost me so much money, look at this Champagne. It’s super fun. It’s also some bullshit. When I was going out with my friends, we would raid someone’s freezer at her parents’ house because we didn’t have enough money to get dinner. So it seems really strange that we’re playing A$AP Rocky. I experienced this disconnect. Everyone knows it’s B.S., but someone has to write about it. There’s typically been a lot of interest in that aspect of the song, but my all my friends are kinda like, “yeah.” They thought it was less profound.
posted by kmz at 11:59 PM on April 20 [7 favorites]


"My Funny Valentine" has awful lyrics

wha
posted by incessant at 12:03 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


>> As in the Royal family. Of England.

> That is an amazingly literal and nonsensical read. Like... to an astonishing degree.

You must live somewhere where the actual, living royals don't command newspaper headlines for their everyday happenings. That place is not the commonwealth, which New Zealand is a part of.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:29 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


Ah, sorry, my mistake... which Windsor is it that's infamous for Cristal and gold teeth again?
posted by kmz at 12:33 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


So Wikipedia says that 'Royals' actually refers to George Brett and the Kansas City Royals TIL.
Lorde had thought of writing a song about the luxury of pop musicians after seeing an image in the July 1976 edition of National Geographic showing Kansas City Royals player George Brett signing baseballs, with his team's name emblazoned across his shirt – Lorde recalled during a September 3, 2013 VH1 interview, "It was just that word. It's really cool." More broadly, historic aristocrats were also inspirational, as she explained during that same interview. She wrote the lyrics to "Royals" in July 2012, at her house in only half an hour. She was listening to a lot of rapping and hip hop-influenced music, especially Lana Del Rey, while writing. Lorde has mentioned that "all those references to expensive alcohol, beautiful clothes and beautiful cars – I was thinking, ‘This is so opulent, but it’s also bullshit.’" Later, Lorde went to show the lyrics to Joel Little, her producer at his Golden Age Studios – he remarked "Yeah, this is cool". Within a week, "Royals" and two other songs were produced there, for The Love Club EP.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:45 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


As in the Royal family. Of England.

Uh, no, as in the Kansas Royals, as in a baseball player.

People complaining about how she didn't pick the exact perfect mix of culture references to make them happy make me roll my eyes. This song wasn't written by an American or with an American outlook, it was written by someone living actually a long way away. And those references, that mess of fragments, is what is presented to us, what we see. There may be some institutionalised racism influencing what gets exported to us of course, but that's not the consumers fault. And yeah, it's absolutely all put forward as being aspirational and what we should be trying to live up to in a way that feels totally weird and alien to someone living in NZ culture.

So what I personally find a wee bit racist - or at least tone deaf - is reading her lyrics through a foreign viewpoint and assigning meanings based on that rather than recognising and acknowledging where they really come from.
posted by shelleycat at 12:46 AM on April 21 [38 favorites]


This thread again? If we put a Captcha on Royals threads to prove people actually read/listened to the latest think piece on this song there would be 5 comments.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:48 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


Calling the song "racist" because a Feministing author looked at it with US cultural eyes, is .... Wow, navelgazing to the extreme.
posted by dabitch at 12:50 AM on April 21 [23 favorites]


it was written by someone living actually a long way away.

Says you. NZ is just across the pond. :)
I can't speak to American issues of race (well, can, but I'm not going to, but race as it is understood in NZ is so totally different, conceptually.
They have integrated the Maori/Polynesian cultures with post-colonial white culture amazingly, and in about 40 years.

If you have issues with her 'race' issues they're probably more to do with issues of Coca-colanisation.
posted by Mezentian at 12:51 AM on April 21


Oh, Graeme Downs is wonderful. I actually took his first-year songwriting class way back in 2000, which if I believe was the first year he taught it. It's wonderful to know that he's still teaching. He was a fascinating character - a wiry old-school rockstar who would show up to class in tight back jeans, lean languidly against the piano and curse a lot while dissecting songs, yet held a PhD on the notoriously difficult classical composer Mahler and was a renowned expert in musical theory and song structure. He would tear both student work and popular songs apart with real passion and insight into their lyrical cohesion and musical structure, drawing on examples from literature and classical music as well as his practical experience writing and singing for The Verlaines. When we workshopped our own songs in class, he was encouraging enough to give a bunch of shy music nerds the confidence to sing and share our roughest of drafts, while also pushing us to reach toward lyrical and musical excellence. The whole class was in love with him.

Sometimes, when no-one had anything substantial to workshop, we would pick apart our least-favourite songs just to understand exactly why they were bad. Remember that dreadful Des'ree song that rhymed "I don't want to see a ghost" with "I'd rather have a piece of toast"? Prof. Downes had a spectacular rant about why perfunctory rhyme is disrespectful to the listener, and how the one-line chorus was lazy and a poor match for the melody, and a number of theory-based reasons why the musical structure was crappy - and then went on to explain exactly how and why it was still catchy enough to be an earworm despite all those faults. To be honest, I actually don't like Royals all that much (I much prefer Team), but the principles I learned in Graeme Downes' class mean I understand exactly why it's a "good song", despite it not being precisely suited to my own personal tastes. Thanks escabeche, this was a great post.

(And yes, chrominance, "musical ideas" are indeed a thing and the way he talks about them makes perfect sense).

posted by embrangled at 1:00 AM on April 21 [21 favorites]


I found the breakdown in the linked interview generally quite interesting by the way. Firstly, holy crap Graeme Downs is now a PhD qualified music professor? So he comes from the same cultural background as the song writer, he teaches and engages with young adults also living in this culture (the interview is in the context of him discussing how he used this song when teaching first year students, i.e. 18-19 year old aspiring musicians), he has the song writing chops and industry experience himself to know what works, and he has the academic background and experience to think critically about then discuss intelligently what he is hearing. Yeah, I'd say he's qualified to comment.

The discussion is a little bit dry and academic in places (discussion of obvious song structure etc) but his enthusiasm comes through in the middle so it's also engaging to listen to.
posted by shelleycat at 1:03 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


me: "'My Funny Valentine' has awful lyrics"

incessant: "wha"

The lyrics are almost literally "I love you even though you're totally ugly." I get the jaunty appeal - I've sung and played it myself on innumerable occasions - but that doesn't change the fact that the basic sentiment makes no sense really. Lorenz Hart was a drunken rambler, and I guess it's to be expected; however, I would hope it was understood that Richard Rodgers was the better half of that team. (Even if I still really do love the song.)
posted by koeselitz at 1:06 AM on April 21


Shelleycat, he started his PhD in 1987. If you listen carefully, you can hear hints of Mahler (or at least, unexpectedly complex key and rhythm changes) in many of his Verlaines songs.
posted by embrangled at 1:09 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


There’s typically been a lot of interest in that aspect of the song, but my all my friends are kinda like, “yeah.” They thought it was less profound.

It's bizarre, because the American equivalent of where Lorde is from (Auckland's 'north shore') is like Beverly Hills, maybe Brentwood. Saying mildly racist things is something I would expect from a privileged white girl from those parts. Why would you think otherwise?
posted by hal_c_on at 1:25 AM on April 21


It's not just Royals. The whole album is riddled with bigotry, apparently.
posted by dydecker at 1:26 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]



It's bizarre, because the American equivalent of where Lorde is from (Auckland's 'north shore') is like Beverly Hills, maybe Brentwood. Saying mildly racist things is something I would expect from a privileged white girl from those parts. Why would you think otherwise?


Yep, this has frustrated me about a lot of the overseas coverage of Lorde. She is not from the impoverished outer suburbs portrayed in her videos. She's from this place, Devonport. It's posh. It's the kind of place that tourists visit when they want an excuse for a ferry trip across the harbour and lunch at a nice cafe. She went to Takapuna Grammar School, which, while technically a public school, is classified as Decile 10, which means the majority of its students come from socio-economically privileged areas. Maybe her parents were stingy with pocket money or something, but she sure as hell did not grow up poor. As someone who actually did grow up in the sort of grim New Zealand suburbia that Lorde purports to represent, I do wish she'd stop pretending otherwise.
posted by embrangled at 1:41 AM on April 21 [10 favorites]


Davenport is nice but it's nothing like Beverly Hills. Or even like Epsom. (as in, it's not even the richest, whitest, or most privileged part of Auckland let alone comparable to any part of US culture.)

And yeah, Lorde isn't poor like many assume but her background isn't rich either. I've never seen her personally pretend to be poor or anything but the upper-middle-class kiwi teen that she is. It's just a music video illustrating one take on the song, not a biography or true life story.
posted by shelleycat at 2:06 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


It's a fantastically well written song filled with brilliant turns of phrases, in service of a somewhat questionable/naive point of view on class and race. Lorde has tons of potential, she just needs to explore the world a bit. She's a seventeen year old kid. I was a bigoted moron when I was 17 and living in the suburbs. People grow up.
posted by empath at 2:21 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Also, it's not really her fault how the mass media is interpreting it as a call out of gangster rap or whatever. I read it more as a call out of pop culture that is just somewhat oblivious about the racial/class subtext of what it's critiquing.
posted by empath at 2:25 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


chrominance: "I think around the point he was talking about how Royals gives you five musical "ideas" where most pop songs work in pairs, I lost the plot a little bit."

What he's dealing with (not all that clearly IMO) is the fascinating subject of phrase length in song, which is linked to the patterns of everyday speech/communication and hence something we're all unwitting experts at manipulating and parsing.

Successful songs often gain some of their power from including deviations from the norm in terms of their structural phrase rhythms, both as how we speak ordinarily and how this is worked into musical units of communication.

Most pop is, as the dude says, ruled by phrases that are evenly divisible. Partly this is because we need time to take breath between each phrase when we sing, and it's natural to impose structure on our phrases by pausing for a regular gap in between. Folk singers needed structured pause time to remember or invent the lyrics as well. Think of Chuck Berry's 'Roll Over Beethoven' as an example: we hear 'I'm going to write a little letter going to mail it to my local DJ' sung over 2 bars, and then the singing pauses while the band plays 2 bars again. So you're setting up a 2+2 prototype that then informs the overall structure of the song, which then repeats this 2+2 unit twice more (with harmonic and melodic variations), to give you a hypermetre of (2+2) + (2+2) + (2+2) for each verse of Chuck Berry's song.

This kind of 2+2 structure that defines a unit and then evenly repeats itself is very common in pop. But subtle variations on it (e.g. bars or longer units of 3+2 or whatever), provided the established norm is understood intuitively by the listener, are often what 'makes' a song. (Beatles songs are packed with this from every stage of their career. Try the verse and refrain of 'We Can Work it Out' and you hear bars of 3+3+2, an irregular pattern that creates urgency to the ear rather than the more predictable structures like 2+2+2+2, which work just fine but don't convey so much passion.)

Singers also often break up the 'monotony of four' with what this dude mentions but does not name, which is 'anacrusis' - the few notes before the main phrase begins. 'Royals' is a classic example.

Lastly, he's also touching on the way her phrases do not seem to follow predictable structures over a longer unit of communication, which we can call the verse.

This is relevant to the fact that a vast number of pop songs use a rhythmic structure at the hypermetric level which is based on 'Statement/Restatement/Departure/Conclusion.' (SRDC). Think of 'Happy Birthday to You':

Statement: Happy Birthday to You
Restatement: Happy Birthday to You
Departure: Happy Birthday dear someone
Conclusion: Happy Birthday to You

So this is really common in pop songs, often disguised/extended/inverted/telescoped/miniaturised/doubled etc, and tricked out with surface effects. E.g. 'Please Please Me':

S: 'Last night I said...' R: 'I know you never even...' D: 'Come on... C: 'Please Please Me Wow Yeah...'.

I haven't analysed 'Royals' but in the clip he seemed to be saying that the song sets up certain expectations with its S section but then twists them - and he comments on how this fits with the lyrics of the song as well as its sound gestures.

He is also astute about how successful singers need to assume different tones and 'personalities' to make a song work. So we have the gently mocking tone of the chorus where she comments on other songs being shallow. Reminds me of Adele's 'Someone Like You', which contains multiple tones from cheeky joke to begging desperation.
posted by colie at 2:28 AM on April 21 [32 favorites]


So what I personally find a wee bit racist - or at least tone deaf - is reading her lyrics through a foreign viewpoint and assigning meanings based on that rather than recognising and acknowledging where they really come from.

Oh, indeed.

/omar_little
posted by Sebmojo at 3:04 AM on April 21


It's a fantastically well written song filled with brilliant turns of phrases, in service of a somewhat questionable/naive point of view on class and race. Lorde has tons of potential, she just needs to explore the world a bit. She's a seventeen year old kid. I was a bigoted moron when I was 17 and living in the suburbs. People grow up.

The gently smug condescension of this is just toothsome.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:06 AM on April 21 [6 favorites]


> If you listen carefully, you can hear hints of Mahler (or at least, unexpectedly complex key and rhythm changes) in many of his Verlaines songs.

The Verlaines album Bird Dog (from 1987) has rousing final-verse crescendos concluding most of the songs, every third song or so underscored with strings and horns. It's a wonderful album that I've listened to more often over the years than most things. But sometimes the unstated premise to the arrangements seems to be, "I've got an orchestra and I'm gonna use the shit out of it."
posted by ardgedee at 4:17 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


"Why aren’t we critiquing wealth by taking hits at golf or polo or Central Park East?" and thereby avoiding racism? Because then beginning the critical verses with "Every song's like" wouldn't make any sense, would it? An honest ignorant question, not just a rhetorical question: Is there a subcategory of pro-conspicuous-consumption music in which the singers brag about things like how much time they spend on the links?
posted by roystgnr at 5:19 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]


I'm American. I was kind of mystified by this song when I first heard it on the radio last summer, but it made a lot more sense when I found out who she was. OK, she's from New Zealand, and she's making fun of American pop culture (and the cult of celebrity in general), and poking fun at herself for picking Lorde-with-an-E as a stage name and her own ambitions of being a pop star.

Obviously, the song resonated with a lot of people. Plus it's catchy. And it's ironic that a song where she's making fun of herself for wanting to be a pop star made her into a pop star.


I liked this bit from Downes radio intervew: "... you get the jolt when it goes to the more nursery-rhyme ... type rhythm, which is – it seems to me to be – making a criticism of normal pop music: 'It goes like' dun-dun dun-dun ditty-ditty dun-dun." Heh. That is clever! I totally hadn't noticed (and wouldn't have thought of) that.
posted by nangar at 5:29 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


you get the jolt when it goes to the more nursery-rhyme

This is a Katy Perry specialty as well. Her music has been the primary influence on female vocal pop for the last few years. 'Royals' is very much like Katy Perry if she tackled a more complex subject and got some credibility for being a little bit 'outsider'.
posted by colie at 5:56 AM on April 21


Lorde had thought of writing a song about the luxury of pop musicians after seeing an image in the July 1976 edition of National Geographic showing Kansas City Royals player George Brett signing baseballs

Oh, it's perfect that Lorde got the inspiration flipping through an old issue of National Geographic because the song treats American culture the way Western pop songs have treated African culture through the years, i.e. as a bunch of disconnected signifiers learned from flipping through National Geographic.
posted by Kattullus at 6:36 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


I thought the "hotel room" might have been a Bieber reference, this list claims that Weiland, Spears, Sheen, Lohan, Winehouse, and Depp have gotten into hotel trouble in the last decade.

It's not a perfect song, but it's not a bad one. Hearing Lorde perform it though makes me think it's one of those songs that would be brilliant in the hands of someone else though, in the same way that Patti Smith nailed "Because the Night" and Cyndi completely owns "I Drove All Night" more than Springsteen and Orbison respectively. That may be Puddles if you can get past the whole clown thing.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:47 AM on April 21


I think it's a well-done song, and I am happy for her success, but it's music that doesn't speak to me at all. It's a credit to her that she wrote something with enough depth and complexity that people are (still!) giving it this much analysis and thought; most pop songs are lyrically, musically, and emotionally much simpler.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:50 AM on April 21


I think the references would have been racist if this song had been written in, say, the early 1990s, but Lorde wasn't even born before upper class white culture had reclaimed pretty much all of the symbols of wealth that she's talking about. Hip-hop is the music favored by, not the golfers or polo players, but their children - i.e. Lorde's peers.
posted by capricorn at 6:51 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


The Burt Bacharach rhythm technique he mentions was awesome. I completely nerd out to breaking down song structures and arrangements. There are 12 notes in the chromatic scale, I'm continually amazed that 50 years after the Trogg's "Wild Thing" songwriters are still coming up with fresh pop music. We should have heard it all by now, but we haven't, and that's wonderful.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 6:58 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


I do agree with Cole Alexander's criticism that to a certain extent (and somewhat understandably, not being American) Lorde also just doesn't understand some of the references, e.g. the mention of "postcode envy".

And embrangled's criticism is entirely more valid.
posted by capricorn at 6:58 AM on April 21


(and somewhat understandably, not being American) Lorde also just doesn't understand some of the references, e.g. the mention of "postcode envy".

One thing I like about Flying Nun (including Graham Downes here) is they don't sing in fake American accents they sing in their real kiwi accent using local vernacular. It's more honest. That hadn't been done before in NZ.

In contrast, Lorde sings in a kind of mannered fake American accent about mannered fake things she's seen on TV. The kind of world where "postcode" is a mistake
posted by dydecker at 7:14 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


It's funny that she writes a song about a lack of 'authenticity' in the lyrics and attitudes she hears and pretty soon people are picking over her postcode and criticising her for lacking 'authenticity'. 'Authenticity' in pop is like a perfect currency: it does not exist yet people are always desperate to acquire it and trade in it.

Nothing has been authentic in American folk music since Alan Lomax dragged a tape recorder around in 1948 or whenever, and even then the dudes who played for him didn't much care for the concept.

It is a fantastic pop song and she probably could have had a mega hit singing any kind of lyric that conferred 'outsider' status on her in its stance and tone - it's just that that's a difficult sweet spot to hit and she made it look easy. The Black Lips guy, who said nothing of any insight at all, wishes he could get a tenth of that into a track.
posted by colie at 7:30 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


(some people talking about musical phrases, especially colie)

Okay, yeah, that makes sense. I thought something like that might've been what Downes was getting at (like, tacking on a few extra words to the second line of the first verse tweaks things just enough to add a bit of a hook) but I wasn't really sure. Maybe it's just something you can't really talk about in an eight-minute clip, especially when the interviewer's got a bunch of rapid-fire questions for you.

re: Lorde and class. I never really got that you were supposed to read the "we" in Royals as really poor or downtrodden people, no matter what Lorde herself says in interviews. The implication I always got was that "we" was a sort of pan-suburban youth, maybe rich and maybe not, but generally a group not predisposed to trashing hotel rooms or drinking Cristal. I'm sure you can criticize her for taking that middle-class existence and making it sound more dire than it actually is (or for unintentionally downplaying the experience of the impoverished), but it's also the reason why Royals became so popular: because a lot of teenagers fall into that middle-class experience and probably sympathize in part with conspicuous consumption fatigue.

As pop music contradictions go, this one's pretty light. And I'm someone who has always been fond of Neal Stephenson's throwaway line about the particular type of singer-songwriter who makes tons of money selling CDs to teenagers who feel like nobody understands them.
posted by chrominance at 7:34 AM on April 21


Sorry if I'm late to the party, but my two cents follow re: the relative authority of Downes.

Songwriting is fundamentally a craft, no different at its core from photography or screenwriting in terms of being comprised of techniques and competencies that allow a practitioner to consistently (or not) produce quality work. When a particular example transcends craft and becomes a bona-fide sensation it is of value to those who practice for that example to be deconstructed to see, perhaps, why it succeeded. This may or may not be a fruitless endeavor but that does not make it pointless. Downes has an established reputation as a high-level craftsman which gives him credibility when dissecting a tune. He's not telling anybody what to like. He's surfacing structural aspects of the song which are likely to have contributed to its popularity. This should be non-controversial.

That said, as a songwriter, I found his analysis lacking.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:40 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


I have struggled to understand the view that Royals is racist. Is there more to the argument than the observation that some of the status signifiers that the song criticizes are drawn from hip hop and rap?
posted by prefpara at 7:44 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


I don't see it either. To me this is an example of a racist songwriter.
posted by johngoren at 7:55 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


"Unfortunately, urban radio embraced "Royals" despite the fact that Lorde's critique of born-with-this wealth quickly devolved into a crude and offensive stereotyping of hip-hop culture, as she came out against decade-old, rap-video signifiers like "gold teeth," "Cristal," and "Maybachs." In a sense, Lorde is singing about a trend – bling-friendly hip-pop – that doesn't penetrate the mainstream all that much anymore, but was at the center of pop radio a decade ago. There's a rubbing-your-face-in-it quality to the song, and along with Macklemore's “Thrift Shop,” it marks the second time this year that a white pop song has appeared on hip-hop radio while framing its anti-materialism message around a critique of hip-hop signifiers. At best, these songs are clueless, and with a little benefit of the doubt they are um, accidentally racist. Coupled with the whitening of the pop landscape, and the twisted "Why ain't there no White History Month"-style logic that black radio stations seem to be employing, Macklemore and Lorde have managed to invade rap and R&B playlists while simultaneously lecturing black artists.[sic]"
-Tracking the Problematic Path of Lorde's 'Royals' to Rap and R&B Radio
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:18 AM on April 21 [6 favorites]


I love this song. Unabashedly.

I think it seems so different because it oozes this defiant, sharp, wit that encapsulates a teenager's unapologetic worldview. How many songs are actually written by 15 year olds?

Not only that, but a 15 year old from New Zealand, who is both an consumer of culture, but simultaneously on the outside as well.

It's awesome.

The racist accusations are ridiculous, as prefpara mentions hip hop and rap are mainstream music, and calling out the conspicuous consumption is no different than bright colored leather pants, big hair, or any other calling cards of previous musical genres.

The thing is, I'm not even sure she's really "lecturing" anybody about hiphop. She listens to it, she's clearly inspired by it. She's a part of it, but she's not a part of it at the same time. Basically she feels like a teenager.
posted by cacofonie at 8:21 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


I think there's something supremely disingenuous about a "class" anthem coming from an upper-middle-class white lady from the suburbs. Whose lyrics are either, um, questionably true ("I'm not proud of my address") or basically a class-based jab at people who grew up a hell of a lot poorer/less-privileged than she did. It's tacky, at best, and I am frankly flumoxxed why so many thoughtful people seem so quick to defend the lyrical merits of the song.
posted by likeatoaster at 8:25 AM on April 21 [8 favorites]


Is there more to the argument than the observation that some of the status signifiers that the song criticizes are drawn from hip hop and rap?

Clickbait controversy manufacturing?

It's a blindingly stupid argument, to the point where I think it's actually more charitable to assume that the Feministing author is just trolling than to believe that it's meant earnestly.

I mean, the song is written by someone from New Zealand, who is receiving and commenting on American pop culture as filtered through international media, and is commenting on its irrelevance to her life. Which is not an especially deep commentary or anything, but it's completely internal to that outsider culture. To find racism in there, you have to insist that someone from New Zealand (or anywhere else who is taking an outsider's perspective on American cultural exports) have a crazy level of appreciation for the nuances of race in the US in order to comment on how they relate to some random media export which is being shoved in their face. That's demanding and imperious. Being concerned about race issues doesn't give you leverage to impose American cultural values, even lefty ones, on the rest of the world at the expense of their own relationship with global media, which is exactly how that Feministing piece comes across.

There are a lot of people who deal with American cultural exports in a very synthetic and decontextualized way; or rather, the context in which they interact with American cultural exports is their own culture. It is not reasonable to insist that they take a backgrounder in American Identity Politics 101 in order for their opinions on their relationship with global media to be valid.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:27 AM on April 21 [12 favorites]


I think there's something supremely disingenuous about a "class" anthem coming from an upper-middle-class white lady from the suburbs.

Yeah. Hip Hop, well... popular music in general... it's something you just have to be born to. If you know what I"m saying.
posted by Naberius at 8:28 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I agree that Lorde's nationality is relevant context, but frankly, I am not sure I even understand why the song would be racist if it had been written by an American.
posted by prefpara at 8:30 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


decade-old, rap-video signifiers like "gold teeth," "Cristal," and "Maybachs."

That decade sure went by fast.

But back on planet Earth, will.i.am and Miley and Whiz Khalifa are currently at number 2 in the UK with a song that is entirely 'champagne and cars and rolexes' throughout.
posted by colie at 8:32 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Yeah. Hip Hop, well... popular music in general... it's something you just have to be born to. If you know what I"m saying.

No, it's just real weird for a relatively rich lady to get famous for writing a song about how she's poorer than a bunch of people.
posted by likeatoaster at 8:33 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


News flash: Mick Jagger was not a poor bluesman from the Deep South. Nor was he the Boston Strangler.

It's just songs and personas.
posted by colie at 8:38 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


I remember a late-night NPR talk show about language and diplomacy (this may have been in relation to the UN), and how French & English were major diplomatic languages, one for historical reasons, the other for economic/power reasons.

The German panel member asked "German is a major language, with millions of speakers, a major worldwide economic powerhouse, and yet German not treated as an official diplomatic language, why?"

One panelist's unashamed response: "The war. There are still people alive who remember living through it, so no. You gotta sit in the back seat for at least another generation on this one. Deal with it."

To me the accusations of racism (either intentional, or just clumsy and casual) against Lorde & Macklemore, come from a similar angle; Still too soon for white people to be criticizing Black culture on how the trappings of (quite recent) success are deployed. We're not in the LEAST bit in a post-racial society, best to shut up and take a back seat on this one.

Because right now, the room-trashing rock star is a bit of retro-novelty item, while Hip-Hop is one of the more dominant force in popular culture today. And these songs come across as Yes, the whole struggle to make it to the top and get somewhere, and you had to go all tacky, Black Folk?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:48 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


If the argument is that it's inherently racist for a white person to criticize "Black culture," then I am sympathetic to the ways in which such criticism can be problematic in our cultural context but reluctant to agree that all such criticism is always racist.
posted by prefpara at 8:53 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


I think the problem is the perception that the room-trashing hip-hop star is a product of "Black culture." To an American, it is, or may be. To a great many people worldwide, it's just "American culture."
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:57 AM on April 21 [10 favorites]


I quite like this song in an "it's on my mind all the time and I object to that less than I might" kind of way. It does sound distinctive, certainly different than other current songs that achieve its level of ubiquity, and I'd been interested in where that distinctiveness comes from - is it the songwriting or the production, or what? This piece makes an interesting case for it being at least in part the song construction - I liked the discussion of the same rhythmic pattern being repeated at different parts of the song on different beats.

Also appreciate the introduction to the Verlaines, listening to Juvenilia now and enjoying very much.
posted by yarrow at 8:58 AM on April 21


The linked analysis is well worth listening to, if you're interested in this track. If you think music's quality is completely subjective and there can be no objective analysis of, e.g., craft, then why bother having a conversation about music, ever? This track works, is "good," in some objective ways that can be isolated and discussed. It takes genuine expertise to notice, understand, and explain such aspects of musical works. How is that controversial? Merely because such analysis disagrees with one's subjective taste?

My confusion, though, is caused by all the talk of class, etc., around the lyrics: I read the lyrics not as critical of class or wealth per se, but of values. It just reads to me that Lorde is pushing back against the shallow values she sees advocated in many pop lyrics, that young people are being conditioned to aspire to hollow pursuits in life, and that she not only can't relate but that she doesn't care--even if she and her friends could afford such things, they don't want them because they are empty pursuits. Read this way, the social commentary is scathingly critical of the values championed by so many pop lyrics of the last two decades or so. (Led by the ascent of hip hop, hence her framing the criticism in those terms.)

(As an aside, I don't think hip hop can legitimately be considered anything niche or even automatically ethnicity-specific at this point. It is the stylistic idiom at the root of most pop music internationally, and has been for some time now, and people of all colors and flavors have actively been making hip hop music for years now. Macklemore is not a white dude making black music; he's an American musician in his 20s making music in the stylistic idiom he grew up with, that is most culturally familiar and salient to him.)
posted by LooseFilter at 9:04 AM on April 21 [13 favorites]


As a producer of music it's just a hustle to make a buck and if you're one in a million who makes it, you can spend your money on what you like. Whether music consumers, nearly all of whom are emphatically not rich, have to indulge you when spending money becomes the subject matter of your music is another matter.
posted by colie at 9:04 AM on April 21


No, it's just real weird for a relatively rich lady to get famous for writing a song about how she's poorer than a bunch of people.

This is such a common trope of popular music (pop, rock, rap, country) that I am having a hard time understanding why this is weird. Also that the song must be in its every word autobiographically true.

(I say this as an American who by international standards is relatively wealthy and yet I am still much, much poorer than a bunch of people, including pop artists.)
posted by rtha at 9:09 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


I don't hear her song as a criticism of a culture, or of a culture's trappings (though, obvs, that's easy for me to say). She's asking: How is this relevant to me and my friends at 42ºS 174ºE, and, if it isn't, why is it being sold to me so unceasingly by rich executives from another continent that I've never met? It sounds to me more like criticism of globalization, cultural or otherwise, using widely recognized tropes from prevailing contemporary culture.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:17 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Proper wealthy people behave like this.
posted by kmz at 9:40 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


It's weird that people are treating it like some kind of mind-blowing social critique. People are willing to embrace the muddled messages of the song as true and valuable criticisms because it's largely criticizing signifiers that white Americans don't feel self-conscious about.

Write a song about how people buy a new gaming system every year; or build houses with a ridiculous number of bathrooms; or treat plane travel as a necessity...suddenly we aren't too keen on criticizing consumption.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:42 AM on April 21 [9 favorites]


Lorde asks to be my ruler but a Lorde is a terrible unit of measurement. Who could possibly use increments of 165cm?
posted by Talez at 10:08 AM on April 21 [6 favorites]


Write a song about how people buy a new gaming system every year; or build houses with a ridiculous number of bathrooms; or treat plane travel as a necessity...suddenly we aren't too keen on criticizing consumption.
We aren't?
posted by Flunkie at 10:13 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


We aren't?

Holla back when that song about gaming systems wins a Grammy for Song of the Year.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:27 AM on April 21


'Imagine' is still extremely popular.
posted by colie at 10:32 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


The idea that something is shown about the social acceptability of criticizing video gaming by the fact that no song criticizing video gaming has won a Grammy strikes me as kind of weird. Criticizing video gaming is very frequent, and pretty much viewed (by society as a whole) as natural or deserved. McMansions are treated as objects of scorn as a matter of course, and as for plane travel, there's this song by Lorde called "Royals" that includes jet planes as one of its targets.
posted by Flunkie at 10:32 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


It's very interesting how when an American borrows or attempts to criticize elements of another culture without fully understanding the deeper underpinnings of those elements, they get roasted alive for their misappropriation or ignorant, privileged outsider status.

Yet Lorde and her song, despite people who are from or do understand the culture she's criticizing pointing out how problematic some aspects of the work are, is defended and excused because, really, how could she have known and of course she only has a surface level understanding of some of those things she talks about because reasons.

Compare and contrast defenses of Lorde to reactions to the "accidental racism" of the upper middle class white romance novel author in this thread. It's an interesting exercise.

I don't think anyone who's criticizing Lorde or the song is saying that she is truly among history's greatest monsters, it's just this is another case where we need to put some thought into the fact that we're enjoying a problematic thing. (For the record, I think Royals is a pretty decent song.)
posted by lord_wolf at 10:41 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


Hip hop culture, along with rock'n'roll culture and hollywood culture, all mentioned in Royals, are marketed to the rest of the world pretty relentlessly. Saying in a song that these products of an economically powerful foreign nation aren't very interesting to the songwriter, and don't reflect her life, is pretty straightforward and uncontroversial.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:51 AM on April 21 [8 favorites]


I'm with Cole Alexander on this one. When he's talking about her inflection, does he mean how a lot of "indie" chanteuses sing like Cat Power? Why do so many of them sing in that same voice? It's weird.
posted by ChuckRamone at 10:54 AM on April 21


'Imagine' is still extremely popular.

For real?

Respected, yes. Well thought of, yes.

Popular?

When was the last time you heard it on the radio. Ask a 12 year old who wrote it or what the first line is. Hell, ask a 22 yo with an apartment and a job.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:21 AM on April 21


Popular?

Yeah, bands are even covering it and shit.
posted by cortex at 11:25 AM on April 21


I think it seems so different because it oozes this defiant, sharp, wit that encapsulates a teenager's unapologetic worldview. How many songs are actually written by 15 year olds?

Kind of a huge amount? Like half the people I knew in high school were in bands, and we wrote and played a lot of music. Some of it was good, and most of it was bad, and a not-insignificant amount was clueless in the exact same way that Royals is clueless: blind to one's privilege and sort of cringe-inducing and coming from a point of view where one is convinced one is smarter than those PHONIES on the RADIO. It's a tremendously Teen song.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:32 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]


Yeah, bands are even covering it and shit.

The meteoric impact on the cultural zeitgeist that is... some random dude with a tumblr.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:32 AM on April 21


In the UK, most children will have sung 'Imagine' in school at around the 6-10 age.

Many also get a lesson structured around the song's lyrics. It's a cheesy old track for sure, but still the 'imagine no possessions' stuff retains some voltage even today.
posted by colie at 11:38 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I think the people claiming racism are hearing dogwhistles that don't exist in a NZ context. Though frankly it uses enough different signifiers of wealth that even in an American context racist seems a bit of a stretch.
posted by tavella at 11:39 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Strangely enough, lord_wolf, Lorde is entirely free to use the impact of American culture on *her context* without any knowledge of the American context. You sell your songs and videos to the world, the world gets to have their own opinions on them without being "problematic".
posted by tavella at 11:43 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


I think the people claiming racism are hearing dogwhistles that don't exist in a NZ context.

It's not just about racist "dogwhistles." It's about her sense of working-class righteousness, which is woefully misplaced considering she didn't come from that rough or poor of a background.
posted by ChuckRamone at 11:47 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


How does her misplaced working-class righteousness make the song racist?
posted by prefpara at 11:49 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


The United States is a force of cultural imperialism. The music that gets exported and "relentlessly marketed" as part of that imperialism is therefore fair game for criticism by those who are the target of those efforts. The artists whose music is exported are, whether they want to be or not, de facto ambassadors for that imperialist effort. The messages they are promoting, when seen as part of the larger American cultural agenda, can and should be dissected and criticized.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:50 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


Why does she gave to be working class to find all that stuff irrelevant to her life?
posted by shelleycat at 11:51 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


How does her misplaced working-class righteousness make the song racist?

It doesn't make the song racist though there's an element of race and class in the criticism of her lyrics.
posted by ChuckRamone at 11:52 AM on April 21


I'm not seeing the racism issue with this song as 100% clear cut, all or nothing, though I'm open to changing my mind. The gold teeth, etc., does seem like a signifier but also a placeholder in a more general litany in which something else not so stereotypical to our ears could have been put in instead to make the point I'm perceiving.

One class issue raised for me by the song and the reaction to it, is the current trend of saying that "Opportunity" only is what is needed to be promoted in our society in which rewards are distributed more unequally than ever. That it's ok if only a few reap outsize rewards, because those are the Randian super-people who deserve it, from whatever background they started with. Whether the "Royals" might have come from humble backgrounds doesn't have to invalidate a critique the song is making, though it would be bad taste for Lorde to knowingly mock those who revel in tasting a good life long denied them.

Not saying similar critiques haven't been made in hip-hop as well...
posted by Schmucko at 11:54 AM on April 21


Why does she gave to be working class to find all that stuff irrelevant to her life?

She doesn't have to be working class but she obviously has a sense of working-class righteousness, criticizing the fat cats or whatever. But a little of the bite is taken out of her attack when you can see she's not from some rough and tumble background.
posted by ChuckRamone at 11:55 AM on April 21


How does her misplaced working-class righteousness make the song racist?

The aforementioned Cristal, gold teeth, etc.

I personally hate the degree to which people play the "Check one's privilege" card, but I think in Lorde's case it applies to this song.

Bc An affluent, suburban white girl from Middle Earth criticizing what she sees in American Hip Hop culture, which arises out of the American as-yet unresolved racial experience that started wtih slavery & is still the original sin that stains this country like a poison thread we'll probably never fully remove from our national fabric...

...that's the problem bit. The misplaced working-class righteousness is just a symptom of why most 15yos need a little more seasoning before being taken seriously when they opine.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:58 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Again: American experience, NOT NEW ZEALAND EXPERIENCE. It's not a problem when someone critiques the culture sold to her by American artists in her own New Zealand context. Stop pasting your own country's guilt on her head.
posted by tavella at 12:02 PM on April 21 [6 favorites]


So a white person who makes a disapproving reference to Cristal and gold teeth is being racist?
posted by prefpara at 12:04 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


no
posted by Greg Nog at 12:04 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


So a white person who makes a disapproving reference to Cristal and gold teeth is being racist?

I'd lay the odds as 5:1 on "dog whistle" over "innocent criticism of a tacky, materialist practice in general (which when looked at in specific is associated w/ Hip Hop)"

Doesn't automatically make one a racist. But it will probably garner one more than a few closer looks with a fair bit "Did they just go off on a racist angle" attached.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:11 PM on April 21


Again: American experience, NOT NEW ZEALAND EXPERIENCE. It's not a problem when someone critiques the culture sold to her by American artists in her own New Zealand context. Stop pasting your own country's guilt on her head.
posted by tavella at 12:02 PM on April 21 [+] [!]


Stop selling racially clumsy, faux-working class criticism outside of NZ in that case.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:13 PM on April 21


OK, so it's suspicious, but not necessarily racist? In other words, it prompts us to ask, is this racist, without being actually racist in every case?
posted by prefpara at 12:16 PM on April 21


Totally agreed, Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey.

I for one always check with my American cultural superiors whether or not any of my own work is acceptable to them before exporting it from my little insignificant country. It's astonishing that more artists don't do this.

Thank heavens you are here to remind us.

Really I don't know what we'd do without you. So grateful.
posted by motty at 12:17 PM on April 21 [10 favorites]


she not only can't relate but that she doesn't care--even if she and her friends could afford such things, they don't want them because they are empty pursuits

What I think makes the song sort of confusing, or at least more complicated, is that she says "We don't care/We're driving Cadillacs in our dreams." There's sort of an ambivalence there - she's asserting a rejection of consumer culture but then also admitting that she fantasizes about being able to participate in it. Or something? I don't know, I haven't quite been able to wrap my head around it.
posted by naoko at 12:21 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Driving a Cadillac is where she is a viking, I believe.
posted by cortex at 12:23 PM on April 21 [5 favorites]


But a little of the bite is taken out of her attack when you can see she's not from some rough and tumble background.

Well, I read that as ad hominem and thus a specious consideration in the context of criticizing the track itself. YMMV. Regardless, I don't read the lyrics as being a class anthem along the lines of Springsteen etc., but rather a rejection of values she sees espoused in much pop music. Anyone can make that criticism, you don't have to be the poorest person in the world to credibly reject materialism as a value. (See also 'no true Scotsman' fallacy.)

criticizing what she sees in American Hip Hop culture

Again, that's a misread of the lyrics, I think--the hip hop-specific references are about pop music in general. American hip hop is a large chunk of pop music internationally, and thus signifies much more than specific parts of American black culture, especially to non-Americans.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:23 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


As a vehicle for transmitting American capitalist ideals, mainstream Hip-Hop seems like a golden egg. On the one hand it packed to the gills with brazen consumerist messaging and on the other it is extremely problematic to criticize due to the troubled history of race in the US. The man wins again.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:24 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


I don't know, I haven't quite been able to wrap my head around it.

I read that line as just 'well, all we can do is dream about those things, they are and will remain unreal to most of us.' But the lyrics are generally muddled and kind of amateur, though catchy (IMO). I give her some leeway on that, she was 15 when she wrote them--her work thus far mostly makes me look forward to her future work, when she's grown and learned and experienced some more. And developed her skills and craft more deeply.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:27 PM on April 21


Well, I read that as ad hominem and thus a specious consideration in the context of criticizing the track itself. YMMV. Regardless, I don't read the lyrics as being a class anthem along the lines of Springsteen etc., but rather a rejection of values she sees espoused in much pop music. Anyone can make that criticism, you don't have to be the poorest person in the world to credibly reject materialism as a value. (See also 'no true Scotsman' fallacy.)

Since we're discussing a pop artist's lyrics, and not debating logic, I don't think a consideration of the artist's background should be dismissed as an ad hominem, especially when that person's lyrics are addressing class. No, you don't have to be poor to write songs about class, but neither does that shield you from scrutiny.

And the more I think about it, the more curious it is that she decided to base her attack largely on black conspicuous consumption, where label naming or flashy displays are symbols of economic and social escape in mainstream hip hop. Why didn't she go after consumers of cronuts, owners of overly pampered dogs, or wearers of selvedge denim, people living on the Upper East Side and their dressed-down affluence? Why Maybach and Cristal? It's easy to say she means pop culture in general but this is a very specific segment of American pop music. Okay, so she finds this flamboyance tasteless. Isn't that a kind of sneering at nouveau riche tastes? Maybe from her perch in New Zealand when she wrote it she saw these as general symbols of a decadent and corrupt world, and she wanted to express her rejection of it, and it's mostly youthful defiance. Fine, I can understand that. But maybe it was misdirected a tad.
posted by ChuckRamone at 12:51 PM on April 21


Did you just seriously complain that someone in _New Zealand_ wasn't criticizing cronuts or the Upper East side? The weird blinders in this thread are alternately baffling and amusing. Clue: cronuts and UES are not terribly relevant in NZ. American pop music and videos are.
posted by tavella at 12:54 PM on April 21 [13 favorites]


Those were just examples. She could have discussed WASP lifestyles or Brangelina or other forms of celebrity excess that are seen.
posted by ChuckRamone at 12:57 PM on April 21


I think she probably just liked the sound and feel of singing "we don't care" kind of there on the melody (as she suggests happens with the title) and that it captured something of an attitude that suggests rebellion, which is as much as better-received songs have done. It also sounds like she immersed herself in some imagery that osmosed itself, in a more or less naive way, into a song that's basically grounded in the rebel-without-a-cause feeling of being teenager at some distance from glamorous-sounding things (whatever they are - shiny, sexy, violent - just, things that resonate with 17-year-oldness). She's probably a little bit implicitly racist, even just cause of odds. The song isn't an articulated opinion, per se - I'm sure she'll take on the critical response in some more considered way and write something more lyrically (and philosophically) coherent in five years.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:00 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Why didn't she go after consumers of cronuts?

Because the song is a comment on other songs and there are no songs about consuming Cronuts but many songs about consuming Cristal?
posted by colie at 1:02 PM on April 21 [7 favorites]


Exactly...The song is not a critique of conspicuous consumption -- it's a critique of songs about conspicuous consumption, and their ubiquity, and their disconnect from the lives of most listeners.
posted by neroli at 1:04 PM on April 21 [9 favorites]


To try and get back to the original article in praise of the song, its huge success is probably because it finds a way to express a teenage 'fuck it' feeling that combines lyrics with musical gestures (mainly phrase length related but also textural/minimalist) that perfectly express the fleeting thoughts of a typical mixed-up teen outsider (NZ is outside and then she's got mini Kate Bush looks).

Getting on to her about race issues looks bonkers to anyone outside the USA, which I accept may not mean her song doesn't have specific resonance in that country.
posted by colie at 1:11 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of other types of conspicuous consumption or excess or inaccessible worlds on display in other types of pop songs too, from which we are just as disconnected as Cristal or Maybach. How about Lady Gaga? Do I relate to her lyrics?
posted by ChuckRamone at 1:12 PM on April 21


Incidentally, there appear to be exactly zero songs of any note mentioning cronuts.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:12 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


As a vehicle for transmitting American capitalist ideals, mainstream Hip-Hop seems like a golden egg. On the one hand it packed to the gills with brazen consumerist messaging and on the other it is extremely problematic to criticize due to the troubled history of race in the US. The man wins again.

Perfect analysis, and another way of stating why we all need to find the vocabulary and the solidarity to understand how cultural artefacts arise under capitalism that can excite us, but then also divide us as much as the police or government or media.
posted by colie at 1:24 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


I don't get what's so hard to understand for people from outside the US that a song written about US pop culture could end up pushing some very loud buttons for American listeners. Lorde wrote a song about American pop culture yet had never been to the US. She didn't understand that this was a cultural landmine area in America.

Of course people who haven't spent much time in the US won't understand how these lyrics sound like to Americans, but it's not that hard to come up with analogies (e.g. every pop song about anything African ever). She wrote a song dealing with another, faraway culture, and it was a good enough pop song to become a hit in the culture she wrote about. There the faraway cultural signifiers she wrote about weren't far away at all and became problematic for a lot of people.

I'm not saying that the song is racist in any easily clear cut way, but that in some contexts it's innocent, in other contexts it's ignorant.
posted by Kattullus at 1:27 PM on April 21 [7 favorites]


It's not just about racist "dogwhistles." It's about her sense of working-class righteousness, which is woefully misplaced considering she didn't come from that rough or poor of a background.

How truly Scottish rough or poor does her background need to be before she is permitted to record such a song?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:46 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


I don't think you have to be any identity to identify with it or criticize it. But your particular identity may be important when considering the ramifications of your critique.
posted by ChuckRamone at 1:53 PM on April 21


While I agree the song is naive and clumsy from a race and class perspective, I think we need to acknowledge that embedded within the claims that Royals is racist are some peculiarly American assumptions about precisely which variety of racism ought to be top of Lorde's mind. I know that within an American cultural context, it seems obvious that the enslavement of African Americans by white Americans and the resulting intergenerational poverty and institutionalised exclusion is THE major racial issue in contemporary society, and it is unacceptable to be ignorant or dismissive of its impact. In a US cultural context, this is absolutely as it should be. Given the global cultural dominance of the US, I think even non-Americans ought to have an basic understanding of the history in order to not be boneheaded about it in the present day.

But at their core, those issues remain American issues, and there is a degree of American cultural imperialism - or at least, cultural myopia - in suggesting they ought to be front and centre in the mind of a middle class white girl from New Zealand. If Lorde has a level of racial consciousness (and I accept that at her age, she may not), it developed in a country where civics class covers things like New Zealand's history as a British colony, the Treaty of Waitangi and its ongoing settlement process, the ongoing life expectancy gap between Maori and Pakeha and the transition from biculturalism to multiculturalism with successive waves of immigration. And layered on top of that education in New Zealand's racial history is a keen awareness of the impact of globalisation and yes, the cultural imperialism of the United States in particular. Honestly, I don't think I learned anything much about African American culture at high school in New Zealand except that slavery happened and it was bad. Since most of the American tourists who visit New Zealand are rich white folk, I had never actually met an African American person as a teen (although I had several New Zealand African classmates). Racism against African Americans and ignorance of African American culture is just not top of mind in a New Zealand cultural context, in the same way that anti-Maori racism is probably not at the top of most Americans' minds. (At least, if the prevalence of culturally appropriative "tribal" tattoos is anything to go by...)

So Lorde is coming from a place of relative ignorance on African American culture and history, and because of her background she's not keenly attuned to exactly where African American hip hop artists are coming from, and yet she grows up seeing a level of wealth and extravagant consumption portrayed in American popular music (by both black and white artists) that is simply unimaginable to her as a New Zealand teen. Even though she appears to be from a relatively upper-middle-class background, what that means in New Zealand is very different to what it would mean in the US. It certainly doesn't mean Cadillacs and tigers on gold leashes. New Zealand is simply a lot "flatter" in terms of income distribution than the US, and even the richest New Zealand teens are probably not flashing diamonds around. For most of her childhood (until the economic crisis), the exchange rate between the the US and New Zealand dollars was so unequal that most New Zealanders couldn't imagine ever having the money to visit the US, and even middle class American tourists seemed to arrive with unbelievable wealth and often, the arrogance to go with it.

So she's making this critique of what she sees as ostentatious displays of wealth and extravagance in American popular culture, because it's coming at her on the TV and the radio and in all the magazines she reads, and it seems so alien to her humdrum suburban New Zealand life that she considers it worthy of exploring lyrically. But since she's a New Zealander, there's no bell in her head going, "*Ding!* Consider institutionalised racism against African Americans and how your privilege as a white person affects your analysis!" It's just not on her radar. As far as she's concerned, she's criticising Rich Americans, and when you're a New Zealander, those Rich Americans are richer than you regardless of whether you're a New Zealander of white or Maori or Asian or African or other background. I'm not saying there's not a wider problem with white musicians appropriating and criticising hip hop cultural tropes, but race is only one of the axes of privilege going on here - nationality is another, and to ignore that is to fundamentally misunderstand what it means for Lorde to be a non-American in a globalised cultural marketplace.
posted by embrangled at 1:57 PM on April 21 [35 favorites]


Exactly...The song is not a critique of conspicuous consumption -- it's a critique of songs about conspicuous consumption, and their ubiquity, and their disconnect from the lives of most listeners.

My thoughts on the lyrics zoomed in on tabloid and paparazzi culture myself, since things like diamond-encrusted telephones, red-carpet gowns, and bathing suit accidents on exclusive islands are a feature of my weekly shopping trip. A few of the lyrics hit "Bieber" for me, but the connection is probably a happy accident if the song was in production when his alleged episode of pot smoking on a private plane hit the news. Fashion models with big cats seem to be a thing as well, which has a whole history behind it going back to classic film. Blood stains were a lurid feature of one of the hotel stories I dug up earlier.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:20 PM on April 21


Yeah, given she's from NZ, it's more important to know how she stands on hobbits, dwarves, and elves...
posted by Schmucko at 2:21 PM on April 21


Yes, very well put, Kattullus, and I think that's accurate. That's a bit of a ways from the 'she's a bigotted moron' stance a couple people are expecting all of us to agree with here, though. (And I don't even think most Americans are reading it that way.)
posted by nangar at 2:24 PM on April 21


> Yeah, given she's from NZ, it's more important to know how she stands on hobbits, dwarves, and elves...

That probably wasn't intended as a dig at embrangled's comment, but just in case it was, the Maori and immigrants to New Zealand aren't "hobbits, dwarves, and elves".
posted by nangar at 2:33 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Royals is anti-consumerist, but in a very narrow way. It's anti-conspicuous-consumption-marketed-to-teenagers, or even anti-conspicuous-consumption-marketed-to-New-Zealand-teenagers.

Q: WHY OH WHY doesn't Lorde criticize golf/polo/cronuts/wall street/brooks brothers suits/bankers/the executive board of Merrill Lynch/etc?

A: Because those aren't part of the conspicuous consumption marketed to New Zealand teenagers.

Q: WHY OH WHY does Lorde criticize the trappings of wealth commonly associated with rap music?

A: Because those are part of the conspicuous consumption marketed to New Zealand teenagers.

This doesn't seem difficult to me.
posted by Myca at 2:40 PM on April 21 [14 favorites]


No, it was not intended as a dig at embrangled's comment, more trying to lighten the mood, although that apparently didn't work.
posted by Schmucko at 2:43 PM on April 21


That probably wasn't intended as a dig at embrangled's comment, but just in case it was, the Maori and immigrants to New Zealand aren't "hobbits, dwarves, and elves".

What about King Kong, though?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:47 PM on April 21


I'm sorry, Schmucko, I realized your it could have been intended as completely humorous, but the way this thread's been going it was hard to tell...
posted by nangar at 2:48 PM on April 21



No, it was not intended as a dig at embrangled's comment, more trying to lighten the mood, although that apparently didn't work.

Actually, the assumption that films like Lord of the Rings and King Kong somehow represent New Zealand culture (hint: they don't, at all) is a pretty great example of my point that national and cultural myopia can sometimes cloud discussions about race and class, especially when it comes to international discussions critiquing globalised popular culture. Let's leave it there, shall we?

posted by embrangled at 2:54 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


So she clearly says she listens to a lot of hip hop and was criticizing the material/consumerist vibe coming out of the music, the problem is that she listens to hip hop without taking any time at all to understand the history of the music or even listen to the words beyond grills, diamonds, and Grey Goose.

I mean, maybe I'm not listening to the same hip hop, but it's kind of hard to process the work and not get a hint at the larger picture. I mean, references to African American treatment at the hands of White authority figures are in the majority of hip hop songs, even if they're by white dudes. I listened to a lot of British pop as a teen, and even in the pre-internet days I had methods of finding out what the cultural references in the songs I liked were about.

It's not that I think she's consciously racist, it's just that I don't really want to give someone massive props for being that obtuse and underinformed about what she's calling out.
posted by teleri025 at 3:07 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


> Ask a 12 year old who wrote it or what the first line is

I did and he said "I think... no, I was thinking of 'Imagine Dragons.'"
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:09 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Stupid 12 year old. Actually it's somebody once told me the world was gonna roll me.

h/t koeselitz on Facebook
posted by Kattullus at 3:41 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


So she clearly says she listens to a lot of hip hop and was criticizing the material/consumerist vibe coming out of the music, the problem is that she listens to hip hop without taking any time at all to understand the history of the music or even listen to the words beyond grills, diamonds, and Grey Goose.

Sure, and a lot of people here are criticizing her lyrics without really considering that a white teenager from New Zealand may have a very different kind of engagement with American music than one from New Jersey.

ChuckRamone notes that > your particular identity may be important when considering the ramifications of your critique without acknowledging that his particular identity has ramifications of his critique of someone who is not from the US.
posted by rtha at 3:46 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


My critique is much more aimed at American fans of the song who treat it like this amazing, insightful criticism of American class issues. They really should know better, they aren't 16 or from NZ.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:03 PM on April 21 [7 favorites]


I don't like this song, and I think it's precisely because it sounds like it's aiming for "standard" in an uncanny way I can't describe. Don't agree with a lot of that Black Lips singer's opinions but the singers do sound like they're trying to be "singers," and it all comes off wrong to me.

My critique is much more aimed at American fans of the song who treat it like this amazing, insightful criticism of American class issues. They really should know better, they aren't 16 or from NZ.

Thank you! It's just a facile read of class in mass media, with catchy (maybe classic?) musicality. Lorde seems like a cool talented person (and dresses great) but I'm just not getting it.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:09 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


What I think makes the song sort of confusing, or at least more complicated, is that she says "We don't care/We're driving Cadillacs in our dreams." There's sort of an ambivalence there - she's asserting a rejection of consumer culture but then also admitting that she fantasizes about being able to participate in it. Or something? I don't know, I haven't quite been able to wrap my head around it.
I don't know, but the way that I tend to think of that line is that a Cadillac is a pretty nice car that you picture an upper middle class guy driving, or a middle middle class guy vaguely thinking ("dreaming") hey, maybe I'll get one of them some day. It's no Maybach. A Maybach is almost literally an order of magnitude more expensive than a Cadillac.

So, again, I don't know, but my impression is that that line is saying something like "Yes, I'm affected by this sort of thing too, and yes, I dream of having a nice car, but a Maybach? Come on, that's just ridiculous."
posted by Flunkie at 4:16 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]



Sure, and a lot of people here are criticizing her lyrics without really considering that a white teenager from New Zealand may have a very different kind of engagement with American music than one from New Jersey


Yep. And if we accept that nationality can sometimes be an axis of privilege in the same way that race and class are, then both black and white Americans on the basis of nationality alone are in a similar position to white folk and rich folk, in that their privilege (as Americans in a world dominated by American cultural products) influences their view of the world in ways which aren't necessarily visible to them but are glaringly obvious to outsiders and can sometimes come across as a little boneheaded, even if that's not the intention. In the same way that discussions of race and class tend to go better when rich folk and white folk do a bit of introspection and self-education first, and then step back and listen to the lived experiences of working class people and PoC rather than assuming they know the whole story, it would be wonderful to see more Americans acknowledging that maybe they don't know exactly where Lorde is coming from as a middle class white New Zealand teen, and maybe seeing that as an opportunity for them to learn something new about the world and the many different ways in which American popular culture is being perceived through the eyes of non-Americans, rather than to reflexively criticise the song through their own American cultural lens. I mean, yes, the song itself has exactly level of the conceptual sophistication you would expect from a naive suburban teenager - that is, not much - but those of us discussing it are intelligent grown-ups who should be capable of understanding the place of nationality as well as race and class when discussing the song's origin and the relevance of the references it makes.
posted by embrangled at 4:25 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


My critique is much more aimed at American fans of the song who treat it like this amazing, insightful criticism of American class issues. They really should know better, they aren't 16 or from NZ.

That seems like a bit of a straw man. Aside from some hypothetical teenagers (I guess), I haven't really noticed anyone being blown away by some sort of incisive cultural critique. Most people that like it seem a bit more like "Hey, catchy song and an obviously precocious kid. Cool. Hope she grows into her potential well."
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 4:28 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Good christ I read this whole thread
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:34 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


You just have to Google "lorde class royals", or scroll up
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:45 PM on April 21


The Singles Jukebox on "Team", the follow-up single. Relevant quote:
(I guess what I keep coming back to is that, if she’s savvy about how a writer dropping in a detail about truffle fries can add weird class implications, why is it so much of a stretch to notice how a writer dropping in a detail about gold teeth or Cristal can add weird racial implications?)

[snip]

I feel like if someone has a nuanced enough understanding of media culture to know about Lynn Hirschberg’s profile-writing techniques by name (I mean, like, I probably know more about this sort of thing than anyone and the Megan Fox thing was news to me), it’s not much of a stretch that they may have a nuanced understanding of racial issues? -- Kathryn St. Astaph
posted by pxe2000 at 4:54 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


people were really expecting a social treatise from a pop song?

it's about her feelings and the feeling of her audience as they wistfully consider the hollywoodish pop scene they're flooded with and realize that they'll never be a part of it and wonder if they can come up with anything on their own that will make them feel as cool

the brilliant part of the song is her plea to "let me live that fantasy" - she knows that what she's been presented with isn't real and anything she comes up with to compensate for it will be a "fantasy"

it's not just about hip hop culture or american culture, it's certainly not about race and it's only about class in a narrow, shallow way

it's about the spectacle and how those who are subject to the spectacle feel about it and how they try, unsuccessfully, to cope with it

and the overwise lefty SJWs who are complaining about her song are simply telling her to accept the spectacle as some kind of inevitably understandable expression of the downtrodden and she shouldn't feel anything about it until she's thoroughly examined her privilege and can express herself correctly as a proper part of the spectacle

but that would be a social treatise and not a pop song - and it also wouldn't be poignant, questioning and emotive
posted by pyramid termite at 5:08 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


I don't know, pxe2000, I think the interviewer has it right, it just shows which websites Lorde reads.
posted by Kattullus at 5:09 PM on April 21


So NZ artists can criticize excess in American pop but Americans can't comment on those artists' assumptions because they're from poor, out of the way little NZ where people are exposed to a very limited slice of America. Further, these NZers are incapable of digging further or developing more sophisticated viewpoints because the flow of culture is totally unidirectional even when the artist in question has scored a worldwide hit. And that's not a cop out because ... we're not Australia, dammit!
posted by ChuckRamone at 5:10 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]



Flunkie: "I don't know, but the way that I tend to think of that line is that a Cadillac is a pretty nice car that you picture an upper middle class guy driving, or a middle middle class guy vaguely thinking ("dreaming") hey, maybe I'll get one of them some day. It's no Maybach. A Maybach is almost literally an order of magnitude more expensive than a Cadillac.

So, again, I don't know, but my impression is that that line is saying something like "Yes, I'm affected by this sort of thing too, and yes, I dream of having a nice car, but a Maybach? Come on, that's just ridiculous."
"


My take on the use of Cadillac in the lyrics is not that it's that finely calibrated; maybe it's because I just finished rewatching season 4 of The Wire, but it brings to mind the very opening scene of that season (NSFW but no spoilers) where a middle-aged white hardware store worker sells a top-of-the-line nailgun to Snoop with the description that "These two are my Cadillacs". When Snoop gets back in the car with Chris and is describing the nailgun, she says "the man said if you want to shoot nails this here's the Cadillac, man; he mean Lexus but he ain't know it".

I think that the most likely interpretation of it is as a generic type of luxury car, and that if there is a deeper meaning, it's more in terms of universalizing the lyrics - Cadillacs have had resonance from literally the first minute of rock and roll music, through the generations. In the same way that jet planes and hotel room trashing are more classically rock and roll conspicuous consumption.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:15 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I don't know, but the way that I tend to think of that line is that a Cadillac is a pretty nice car that you picture an upper middle class guy driving, or a middle middle class guy vaguely thinking ("dreaming") hey, maybe I'll get one of them some day. It's no Maybach. A Maybach is almost literally an order of magnitude more expensive than a Cadillac.

That's my thought. Cadillac is just above the family compact or minivan, but not quite in the same class as a mass-produced European sedan or sports car.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:17 PM on April 21


That's my thought. Cadillac is just above the family compact or minivan, but not quite in the same class as a mass-produced European sedan or sports car.

to an American audience. Most New Zealanders drive either very old locally made clunkers, or mediocre second-hand Japanese imports, which are brought into the country in bulk because there's no resale market for them in Japan. Both classic American cars and luxury European cars are astonishingly expensive, especially when you factor in the exchange rate and the freight cost involved in getting a heavy hunk of metal to the arse-end of the world and then ordering replacement parts when it inevitably breaks down.

Again, you guys really need to take a moment to actually see the American cultural lens through which you are analysing this song by a New Zealand girl. How the fuck is she supposed to know precisely which social strata of American would drive a Cadillac? Do you know precisely which social strata of New Zealander would drive a Honda? Of course a Cadillac doesn't mean the same thing to her as it does to you. To her, every single one of those references means little more than "Rich, extravagant, American, and not at all relatable to my dull suburban New Zealand teenage life". And that's okay.
posted by embrangled at 5:33 PM on April 21 [8 favorites]


> So NZ artists can criticize excess in American pop but Americans can't comment on those artists' assumptions because they're from poor, out of the way little NZ where people are exposed to a very limited slice of America.

What is this? Why do you demand that she must consider how her identity informs her perspective but you don't have to do the same, I guess, when it comes to your critique of her? No one's saying you can't criticize her at all. But for chrissakes be honest about what your own perspective brings to the party, and don't ask more of her than you're willing or able to bring yourself. You're allowed to not like the song and to think it's problematic in various ways and still acknowledge that someone from New Zealand is going to look at American culture differently from an American, and that that perspective may have validity.
posted by rtha at 5:45 PM on April 21 [6 favorites]


Eh, but the Cadillac reference is distinctly different than the bunch of references that include the Maybach reference. The Maybach etc. references are all directly talking about what "everybody's like" and "every song is like"; the Cadillac reference, on the other hand, is explicitly aligned with the idea that she and her friends don't care about the Maybach etc. - "We don't care; we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams." And it is paired, lyrically in another part, with "We don't care; we aren't caught up in your love affair."

And besides, it's not some unimaginably difficult thing for a New Zealand teenager to go to Wikipedia and see that a Cadillac costs like $35,000, $45,000 or whatever, while a Maybach costs ten times that.
posted by Flunkie at 5:45 PM on April 21


ChuckRamone: "Why didn't she go after consumers of cronuts"

What are cronuts?
posted by Bugbread at 5:56 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Further, these NZers are incapable of digging further or developing more sophisticated viewpoints because the flow of culture is totally unidirectional even when the artist in question has scored a worldwide hit.

Um, yes. The flow of popular culture from the United States to the rest of the world almost entirely unidirectional, in precisely the same way that racism in the US is almost entirely about white people enjoying privilege at the expense of PoC. Yes, there are exceptions, and yes, bringing up notable exceptions to the overwhelming trend as though they somehow prove that privilege isn't a problem is every bit as tacky when discussing nationality as it is when discussing racism. The fact that black people sometimes hurt white people does not erase institutionalised racism as a problem, and similarly the fact that a New Zealand kid has an international hit that's popular in the United States does not mean that US cultural imperialism is not a real thing that impacts the lives of millions of non-Americans.

Look, I'm even not saying that racism isn't a relevant factor here - I think the song has interesting implications when viewed through an American cultural lens, and I think that's worth discussing. I'm saying nationality is a factor as well, and the Americans who don't even realise that they are interpreting the whole thing through American eyes and that being American is a position of privilege are being just as boneheaded and myopic as white folk who fail to understand that they are privileged by being white.
posted by embrangled at 6:08 PM on April 21 [10 favorites]


I like the song. I don't think it's racist. I do, however, think the lyrics don't make a lot of sense. But now embrangled and Flunkie have me wondering about something:

I think a lot of the lyrics are contradictory, and one that jumped out was the "We don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams" line, which seemed like a statement of not caring about fancy stuff, followed immediately by a statement showing that she dreams of fancy stuff. But now I'm thinking perhaps it was meant more like "Y'all sing about really expensive cars like Maybachs, but even in our dreams we only go up to Cadillacs." Like "I wear a $20 watch. You sing about $1,000 dollar watches. I wouldn't even want one of those. However, I would like a $100 watch. That would be nice." Is this interpretation totally off-base?
posted by Bugbread at 6:12 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Right, Bugbread, that's what I've been trying to say. I really don't think it makes any sense to try to shoehorn the Cadillac reference in with the other references. It's lyrically aligned with not caring about the other references, both immediately (where it's paired with "We don't care" (about the Maybach and so forth)) and in analogous parts of the song (where it's paired with "We aren't caught up in your love affair" (with the Maybach and so forth)). Add to that the fact that a Cadillac and a Maybach are two very, very different beasts, plus the fact that the other interpretation is essentially "IT DOESN'T EVEN MAKE ANY SENSE! SHE SAYS SHE DOESN'T WANT EXPENSIVE THINGS AND THEN SHE SAYS SHE DOES!", and the $100 watch but not $1000 watch interpretation seems like the obvious one to me.
posted by Flunkie at 6:21 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Is this interpretation totally off-base?

Unless you have reason to believe Lorde has a peculiarly keen interest in the vagaries of the international luxury car market…probably, yeah.

To a New Zealand teen (at least, the kind of NZ teen I was, and admittedly I am of a different generation from Lorde), they're all just things that Rich People have and that - at least at the time she wrote the album - seemed far-off, foreign and completely unattainable to her and her suburban friends, despite them being relatively privileged compared to other New Zealanders.

I'd interpret it more along the lines of: "Me and my friends don't have [crazy rich people $tuff]. You guys are always on my TV and radio singing about [crazy rich people $tuff]. Screw you, we don't care about actually having [crazy rich people $tuff]. But we admit we do sometimes dream about having [crazy rich people $tuff], because hey, we're swimming in popular culture that keeps telling us we ought to aspire to have [crazy rich people $tuff] and hey, we're only human, so give us a break, you crazy rich people with your [crazy rich people $tuff]."

To my ear, all the references to diamonds and tigers are just placeholders for a level of wealth and conspicuous consumption that seems unattainable and foreign and yes probably a little tacky to the average middle-class suburban New Zealander.
posted by embrangled at 6:23 PM on April 21 [5 favorites]


$35,000 vs. $350,000 is not a vagary, and again it's not unimaginably difficult to check Wikipedia.
posted by Flunkie at 6:25 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


My critique is much more aimed at American fans of the song who treat it like this amazing, insightful criticism of American class issues. They really should know better, they aren't 16 or from NZ.

Two things about this, a sentiment running through the thread:

1. Other than outright incendiary work, an artist cannot be held accountable for how her work is received, it is beyond her control. This critique has nothing at all to do with the track or Lorde as author.

2. Moreso, this post is about the track as musical composition, not the social implications of the lyrics. Early in the the thread, posters derailed it by asserting that objective, expert analysis of music is literally not possible (comments were deleted), and after briefly steering on topic, it's been one big, sociological derail about the lyrics and mostly off-topic from the FPP.

Which happens a lot in music threads. I think it's because many people are not comfortable and simply don't know or understand enough to discuss music qua music, so people start talking about stuff they're more comfortable about.

I'm always disappointed at how Metafilter does music threads, but I don't think it's a Metafilter thing: I think most people don't know much at all about music itself (meaning, the mechanical nuts and bolts of how it is conceptualized, created, and rendered), so the conversations end up being about issues around music, or opinions about whether or not one likes a given example, rather than musical works themselves. I don't fault or blame anyone for this widespread ignorance, it's been about a century since "making music" required people to do more than press a button or two. (Believe it or not, before the phonograph and radio, average musical literacy was quite high, and it was unusual for a person not to play an instrument to some degree.) But it does mean that thoughtful, informed conversation about actual musical works themselves is hard to find.

These kinds of secondary talks about a thing are always contentious and rarely informative. I guess what I'm saying is that I had hoped that a post of an actual, educated analysis of this track would be more about the track itself, and less armchair sociological debate.
posted by LooseFilter at 6:34 PM on April 21 [7 favorites]


Yeah, but Flunkie, if you believe that Cadillacs are expensive, why would it occur to you to check Wikipedia in the first place? Like, do you think she Googled the prices of diamonds or private jet planes or Maybachs on the odd chance that maybe they were less expensive than she thought? If that seems ridiculous, then what makes Cadillac any different? The only reason you'd Google prices on something you were putting in a song about ridiculously expensive things is if you already thought there was a chance that it wasn't actually that expensive, and you wanted to double-check.

I mean, honestly, I think your interpretation makes more sense — or, rather, makes the lyrics make more sense. Maybe, as embrangled points out, it's a generational thing. Maybe to embrangled's generation, Cadillacs have an image of being super-luxe. If that were the case, there would be no reason to double-check prices. But maybe for her generation, there's more awareness of the fact that Caddies are relatively inexpensive. Like, for my grandpa's generation, "Made in Japan" meant shitty and likely to break, while for my dad's generation it meant reliable and well-built.
posted by Bugbread at 6:37 PM on April 21


I look forward to the release of your international hit pop song that incorporates a detailed comparative analysis of international luxury car prices, flunky. I'm sure it'll be super catchy. Meanwhile over here in the real world, teenagers will continue to be simultaneously entranced and repulsed by the extravagances of consumer culture, and maybe some of them will be moved to write songs about those feelings without first running to Wikipedia to ensure they don't accidentally irritate an American car nerd.
posted by embrangled at 6:39 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


Yeah, but Flunkie, if you believe that Cadillacs are expensive, why would it occur to you to check Wikipedia in the first place?
Well, two things here:

(1) I don't think it's all that unreasonable to think that a person bombarded with popular culture references to certain things that they don't really know anything about might at some point in their lives look them up out of curiosity, regardless of whether they're writing a song about them or not.

(2) I don't think it's all that unreasonable to think that a daughter of a poet, who is herself attempting a career as (in part) a lyricist, might put a bit more thought into the words she uses than the typical teenager would. Also along these lines, I have heard one interview with her, and she seemed quite cognizant of what she was saying to me.
posted by Flunkie at 6:44 PM on April 21


LooseFilter: "Early in the the thread, posters derailed it by asserting that objective, expert analysis of music is literally not possible"

Maybe that comment was deleted, because all I saw were statements that asserting the objective quality of music is not possible. There's a big difference between objective statements like "This song is unusual for a pop song in that it uses the minor pentatonic, and is in 5/4" (objective) and "This song is good, because it uses the minor pentatonic, and is in 5/4" (stating objective facts and claiming that they are evidence of the subjective statement that follows).

I love to hear about the nuts and bolts of music, but it drives me crazy when people start saying that since you can make all kinds of objective statements about composition and the like, that you can therefore talk objectively about the quality of music. As annoying as this thread (and my own participation) may be for talking about lyrics instead of the actual music, it's 57.6 times better than one of those threads about whether Tool is objectively good because it has few songs in 4/4.
posted by Bugbread at 6:45 PM on April 21


embrangled, I guess I'm going to stop responding to you, because you seem to be getting kind of weird about this, but Cadillac vs. Maybach is not "incorporating a detailed comparative analysis".
posted by Flunkie at 6:45 PM on April 21


Ok, wait, Flunkie and embrangled. Am I really to take it that you, embrangled, refuse to entertain the possibility that maybe Lorde, being from a different generation, or listening to different music, or having different friends, or the like, maybe knew that Cadillacs aren't that expensive? You're willing to go to the mat that she didn't? And Flunkie, you refuse to entertain the possibility that despite Wikipedia being easy to use, and her dad being a poet, that maybe Lorde just assumed Caddys were expensive and didn't double-check? You're willing to go the mat that she did?

Because from where I'm standing, you're both giving perfectly reasonable hypotheses regarding the meaning of that lyric, and it seems like you should be going, "Huh, okay, maybe. I guess we'd have to ask her to know for sure," instead of this escalating anger thing I'm seeing.
posted by Bugbread at 6:51 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I did not claim to be correct. I've frequently said things like "I don't know" and "it seems to me" and so forth.
posted by Flunkie at 6:53 PM on April 21


Okay, good to know I was misreading you. Sorry.
posted by Bugbread at 6:54 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


oh, he drove up in a kia
and i said, "sorry baby see ya"
then he came up in a jeep
and i just called him a creep
when i saw him in a cadillac
i said, maybe you'll be back
he got a mercedes benz
and i said baby let's be friends
then he got a maserati
and i called him my sweet hottie
but when he got that maybach car
i knew me and him would go real far

doo lang doo lang doo lang, ronda poppa poppa lang lang etc
posted by pyramid termite at 7:09 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure she used Cadillac because it scanned well.
posted by empath at 7:10 PM on April 21 [6 favorites]


I mean, honestly, I think your interpretation makes more sense — or, rather, makes the lyrics make more sense. Maybe, as embrangled points out, it's a generational thing. Maybe to embrangled's generation, Cadillacs have an image of being super-luxe. If that were the case, there would be no reason to double-check prices. But maybe for her generation, there's more awareness of the fact that Caddies are relatively inexpensive.

Sure, maybe. But the present-day Cadillac brand (which seems to be producing moderately nice large cars for the upper-middle class American consumer, I think?) is really not a player in the New Zealand car market, at all. Any New Zealander who went to the trouble of importing one would most likely be doing so for reasons of status and conspicuous consumption, not because it's the best car in their price range. Even as an adult who has a reasonable grasp on a large range of American cultural references, when I imagine a cadillac, I think of something like this. I think of Hollywood road movies and smooth leading men driving down dusty roads with the top down, and elegant women clutching scarves around their hair in the breeze. Those images are fictions, of course, but they're what the word "Cadillac" signifies when seen through my raised-in-New Zealand eyes. And since I'm not all that much older than Lorde, I imagine she might be seeing much the same thing, although I concede it's possible that maybe she is significantly more interested in the present-day American car market than I am. I don't know any New Zealand teenagers who are, but sure, I suppose it's possible.

To be honest, though "not that expensive" is a relative judgement, on both a class level and in terms of international buying power. A car that costs $35,000 in the US is going to cost a whole fuck of a lot more than that in New Zealand, and to a teenager whose friends probably saved for years to buy their own rusty second-hand Japanese hatchbacks, any kind of US or European luxury car is likely to sit firmly in the "more expensive than I can realistically hope to afford" category. I just don't understand why either of you are trying to read so much into those two lines about particular kinds of car, while simultaneously failing consider that as signifiers of wealth, they might mean something entirely different to people who look out on the world from somewhere other than the United States.
posted by embrangled at 7:11 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


These arguments sure assume a lot about the singer. Given she is a teenager in New Zealand, the song may not even be about American pop culture at all. Perhaps it is about all the hyper-rich young Chinese immigrants she is seeing drinking Cristal, driving Maybachs, and listening to Asian rap music. So it might be about class and race and yet have nothing to do with America or by extension African-American culture. It might simply be another nativist complaint about immigrants.

Personally I doubt there is that much thought in it, I think it is just another fun, angsty, teenage, pop song.
posted by wobumingbai at 7:31 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


embrangled: "I just don't understand why either of you are trying to read so much into those two lines about particular kinds of car, while simultaneously failing consider that as signifiers of wealth, they might mean something entirely different to people who look out on the world from somewhere other than the United States."

When you say "either of you", I'm thinking you're talking about someone other than me. Like I said, my original interpretation was the exact same as yours, "Cadillacs are luxury cars". The lyric just didn't make sense. Flunkie's interpretation is appealing because it makes that lyric make some sense. Your interpretation is appealing because you know more about how things are in NZ than I do. Maybe my statement, "you're both giving perfectly reasonable hypotheses regarding the meaning of that lyric", was not clear enough, so I'll say it more explicitly: embrangled, I think that what you're saying, that Cadillacs may be seen by young kiwis as signifiers of wealth, is a totally reasonable, possible, and cromulent statement.
posted by Bugbread at 7:32 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


wobumingbai: "These arguments sure assume a lot about the singer. Given she is a teenager in New Zealand, the song may not even be about American pop culture at all. Perhaps it is about all the hyper-rich young Chinese immigrants she is seeing drinking Cristal, driving Maybachs, and listening to Asian rap music."

It's not an assumption, so much as she herself said:
I’ve always listened to a lot of rap. It’s all, look at this car that cost me so much money, look at this Champagne. It’s super fun. It’s also some bullshit. When I was going out with my friends, we would raid someone’s freezer at her parents’ house because we didn’t have enough money to get dinner. So it seems really strange that we’re playing A$AP Rocky. I experienced this disconnect. Everyone knows it’s B.S., but someone has to write about it.
(Discovering trivia like this is one of the many advantages of reading the comments in a thread before commenting yourself)
posted by Bugbread at 7:37 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Of course Puddles yt does my favorite cover...

He also does a lovely cover of Team.
posted by homunculus at 10:39 PM on April 21


I can't think of another brand of car that would scan as well as "Cadillacs" does in that line. You can almost shoehorn "Mercedes" in there, it has (sorta) the right number of syllables, but it doesn't have the right consonants in it.

I think it's likely it was picked from a mental Mad Libs list of "American Cultural Shit, Subsection: Expensive Cars" and it worked. Although the fact that it's a less-expensive car than a Maybach certainly works on a separate level (i.e. Bugbread's thought) and seems plausible to the point where I don't think you can necessarily rule it in or out.

But really, the lyrics are probably the weakest part of the song. I think it's the musical construction of the song that really carries it; the lyrics don't hold up well to a close reading, but just happened to hit a timely nerve for enough people to be relatable, which is a necessary thing if you want to have a successful pop song.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:56 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I've just listened to the whole album for the first time -- it's really nicely put together -- I think her producer doesn't get enough credit -- it's really well produced and restrained electronica that nicely showcases her voice. There's very little midrange in the tracks besides her voice -- no guitars or big upfront synthesizers. It's mostly just bass kicks and snares/claps and delicate hi-hats. There aren't even a lot of big basslines. When it does open up a bit in tracks like Team, it feels a little bit like a teeny-bopper take on m83.
posted by empath at 12:24 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


It's true — her backing tracks are assembled in a very minimal yet very intelligent and musical manner. Nice job.
posted by Wolof at 12:47 AM on April 22


I'm pretty sure Lorde wrote this song, and the rest of her songs, with a New Zealand audience in mind. Claiming she has some kind of moral obligation to bone up on the relative prices of automobiles and other consumer goods in the US, or what might or might not come across as a dog whistle within the intricacies of American racial politics, before writing or recording something, least some American be confused by her references, is pretty ridiculous.
posted by nangar at 1:09 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Just so you know, Cadillacs are also the stereotypical luxury car in French culture, at least for someone born before the 1980s. More ostentatious than Rolls Royce, even. Maybe that's because only the expensive models were exported to France, no idea. This thread is mind-boggling; it's not only cultural imperialism if it's someone you don't like doing it, you know.
posted by Spanner Nic at 3:33 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


There, I checked: in the 1930s and 40s, Cadillacs were the quintessential luxury car. They haven't bothered exporting to Europe much since then.
posted by Spanner Nic at 3:50 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid, I only knew one person with a Cadillac: a luxury car dealer. They weren't sold here in Australia, so it was a special import and was presumably specially altered to comply with our regulations. It simply oozed opulence, in my imagination.

Are Ugg boots still a thing? Here in Australia, where they come from, they're associated with people who wear tracksuit pants and flannel shirts for an evening out. I understand that they are or were a fashion thing in New York. Ha ha, silly Americans, why don't they learn more about Australian values.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:52 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


Um, yes. The flow of popular culture from the United States to the rest of the world almost entirely unidirectional

Yeah, but we're talking about New Zealand here. It's part of the British Commonwealth and a developed nation that punches well above its weight culturally. Rugby, Flight of the Conchords, some famous actors, writers, and athletes, etc. They're not a big-time player on the global scene but they're not as much of a backwater as people say they are.
posted by ChuckRamone at 7:01 AM on April 22


Trust me, most reasonable Americans loathe Uggs too.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 7:02 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


It's not even a matter of knowing the list prices. The brands signify different things WRT to class in North American popular media. An upper-middle-class professional character will get a Lexus, Cadillac, or mid-range European import (Audi, Mercedes, Saab, BMW). A multi-millionaire, a "royal" in the language of tabloid print and TV is going to be paired with something much more expensive.

I'm catching up on Continuum and remembering a scene earlier this week between the filthy rich sneak and the young inventor. How do we know the sneak is filthy rich? Because he locks his Lamborghini at the start of the scene.

The argument isn't that she should be aware, the argument is that she is aware. The song works on the contrast between three different levels of privilege. Who the character is (A), the impossible "Royals" who have multigenerational privilege (B), and a compromise (Cadillacs and queen to one person) (C). So the song is nicely structured:

A-B-C-B-C-C A-B-C-B-C-C

Grouping the Cadillac reference with the Maybachs and diamond watches doesn't make sense because they're in lyrically opposed stanzas. It's not great poetry, but there is more structure to it than throwing words against the wall.

There are multiple lines that to me more strongly evoke the tabloid culture of Kardashian, Hilton, Sheen, and Cyrus than pop music in general: "we didn't come from money," "we aren't caught up in your love affair," and "it don't run in our blood." The "Royals" of the song are beyond Cadillacs.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:07 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


What is this? Why do you demand that she must consider how her identity informs her perspective but you don't have to do the same, I guess, when it comes to your critique of her?

I've been giving her more than the benefit of the doubt. But people are getting all defensive and saying she can't possibly know anything about American culture beyond shallow references to Cristal. Yet she has access to ASAP Rocky? A lot of Americans don't even know who that is. She's obviously a savvy and precocious and insightful person, and it's kind of an insult to her intelligence to paint her as some provincial rube from NZ. Nobody's completely condemning her, only saying that maybe Cole Alexander's criticism of her lyrics has some validity, which it does. When an artist puts their work out there, they're opening themselves up to interpretations and criticisms of it.
posted by ChuckRamone at 7:07 AM on April 22


Criticism in my opinion works better when it's treated as, "gee, this is interesting, let's do a closer read" instead of "it's bad and you should feel bad."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:17 AM on April 22 [3 favorites]


Slightly off topic here: Am I the only person who had no idea what a Maybach was until this thread? I thought, who knows, maybe she was singing "maybacks", like "a million dollars", coming from "greenbacks", or something.

Maybachs and cronuts, my big discoveries.
posted by Bugbread at 7:17 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Criticism in my opinion works better when it's treated as, "gee, this is interesting, let's do a closer read" instead of "it's bad and you should feel bad."

Who said she should feel bad? Geez. Maybe this is just bringing out people's sense of chivalry or something, because she's a young woman. I don't think I've seen this level of defensiveness for discussions of other artists.
posted by ChuckRamone at 7:23 AM on April 22


ChuckRamone: "Who said she should feel bad? Geez."

Well, there are claims that she's racist, which is something I think most MeFites think people should feel bad about.
posted by Bugbread at 7:25 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I had to look up Maybach.
posted by nangar at 7:26 AM on April 22


Who said she should feel bad?

I wasn't disagreeing with you, just pointing out a problem that generally comes up in a lot of these discussions.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:32 AM on April 22


When was the last time you heard it on the radio.

August 2012 when it reentered the charts at number 18 in the UK.
posted by Talez at 8:08 AM on April 22


dydecker: It's not just Royals. The whole album is riddled with bigotry, apparently.

You do get that the article you linked is mocking the idea that Lorde's lyrics are racist, right?
posted by IAmBroom at 9:37 AM on April 22


The song works on the contrast between three different levels of privilege.

No, the lyrics do (maybe). This thread stopped being about music way up the page, and as a really knowledgeable musician, I think the lyrics are the least interesting part of the track.

I already vented about this upthread, but seriously, arguing about the how effective a social signifier "Cadillac" is, comparing list prices....wow, I'm sorry, and I really try always to be civil here (to a fault), but this is a pretty stupid conversation.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:58 AM on April 22 [4 favorites]


There's a big difference between objective statements like "This song is unusual for a pop song in that it uses the minor pentatonic, and is in 5/4" (objective) and "This song is good, because it uses the minor pentatonic, and is in 5/4"

It's not quite as black and white as that IMO.

There is a third type of statement that works well regarding pop music, and that would be something like: "this song uses the minor pentatonic and is in 5/4 and also combines its poetic text, sound gestures and textures, plus the implied persona of the singer, into a very tightly unified overall experience, and that therefore is what makes it 'good' in comparison to songs which do not achieve this, because this magical blend is a constantly moving target, is a key part what makes a song instantly accessible yet prodigiously original, and is very, very hard to pull off."

Which would partly describe why 'Royals' 'works', and is 'a good song'.
posted by colie at 11:16 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


I didn't mind Royals as a dumb pop song but ultimately Lorde has fallen short of the two-song rule for me.

The two-song rule was established when everyone I knew was going nuts over the Dresden Dolls. I happened upon hearing two songs by the Dresden Dolls, and they were both about how interesting the singer for the Dresden Dolls is, and my interest evaporated.

I have now heard two Lorde songs (Royals and that we live in cities one), and they are both about how Lorde is over this fame shit, and that is that and I am done with Lorde.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:34 AM on April 22 [4 favorites]


Oh, I thought your two song rule was going to be "If an album only has two good songs..."

I liked "Royals" and have done since the first hearing. It's going to be one of those songs that can be played ten years from now in a movie, and people will instantly connect it to this era. There's a lot of songs that I like that are like this, my bubblegum for the moment, that will stand the test of time even though I might not usually like the genre. The rest of the album didn't quite excite me as much but as I'm an old school type I bought the whole thing anyway, even though it only has two songs I like. (Tennis court too)
posted by dabitch at 11:50 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Maybe this is just bringing out people's sense of chivalry or something, because she's a young woman. I don't think I've seen this level of defensiveness for discussions of other artists.

As a young woman, this itself is super annoying.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:52 PM on April 22


colie: "There is a third type of statement that works well regarding pop music, and that would be something like: "this song uses the minor pentatonic and is in 5/4 and also combines its poetic text, sound gestures and textures, plus the implied persona of the singer, into a very tightly unified overall experience, and that therefore is what makes it 'good' in comparison to songs which do not achieve this"

And I think you would just end up having another objective listener say "it's restrictively unified, lacking the sense of spontaneity and unexpectedness which makes a song good". In any of the countless "objective" discussions of art and music I've read, I've never read an objective explanation of quality that wasn't soon countered by an objective explanation of lack of quality. And that's not how objectivity works. That's how using objective facts to support subjective conclusions works.
posted by Bugbread at 3:50 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


ChuckRamone: "Maybe this is just bringing out people's sense of chivalry or something, because she's a young woman. I don't think I've seen this level of defensiveness for discussions of other artists."

We'd have to compare this with the last time we were all talking about whether a pop song was racist; I don't remember when that was, but I bet you'll find much stauncher defenders of any given tune in those previous threads. Here, nobody's even tried to claim she doesn't come off a little tone-deaf to American ears. I don't think "maybe not racist" counts as "defensive" in this case.

I mean - this is the third or fourth thread we've had specifically about whether "Royals" is a racist song. Understand that if there's some weariness about the whole thing, it likely comes from that. I was in the "song is racist" camp last time around, and while I disagreed with them I don't remember anybody being "defensive" about the song at all. We just disagreed. I've since come to feel as though it was all about shades of meaning which I have no right to demand that every songwriter of every age from every country be aware of - and that I was being a bit of a dick (my habit of being snarky didn't help) in treating her so harshly. Not saying anybody else has done that, that's just my own experience with this topic on this website. I'm only pointing out that a number of us here have a history with the subject.

Lastly, I want to say that the notion that people might be too easy on pop stars just because those pop stars happen to be young women feels a bit odd, considering the larger world. I could argue the point, I guess, but I feel like all I really need to say is that "being too nice to young women who are pop stars" is not a sin I would ascribe to the English-speaking world.
posted by koeselitz at 3:55 PM on April 22 [5 favorites]


And I think you would just end up having another objective listener say

But the point is, the guy in the FPP is not 'just another listener,' he's a musical expert with the training, credentials, experience, and work to prove it. His opinion is far more informed and objective than most, and expertise does make a difference in one's ability for discernment in and evaluation of creative works. If an opinion consists of the nonsense verbiage in your hypothetical counter example, I could agree with you, but the opinion in the FPP is informed and specific, and actually quite substantial. Certainly smarter than anything said in this thread, my own comments included.
posted by LooseFilter at 5:13 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


I don't see how being an expert with training, credentials, experience, and work makes you able to prove a subjective statement. What it does enable you to do is say really, really, really interesting objective things about music. To elucidate, to educate, to fascinate. This post could easily have been "Graeme Downes of the Verlaines explains what makes "Royals" so unusual in the pop world."

Going through Graeme's actual commentary:

Dukka dukka starts on beat 4, but next comes in on beat 3, then beat 1 = True. Interesting. Something an expert is more likely to notice than a non-expert. Not an objective statement of quality.
The lyric is a great piece of writing, and is punk rock = Subjective statement.
The video shows unglamorous life = True. Kinda obvious. Not an objective statement of quality.
The melody is anarchic, because it seems like it will repeat, but varies, then switches to new ideas. Five ideas in total, unlike standard pop. True. Interesting. Not an objective statement of quality.
Jolt before nursery rhyme-like section = True? I don't feel jolted, but I'll accept this on authority. Not an objective statement of quality.
Chorus has resolution, which is standard technique in songs = True. Not an objective statement of quality.

And that's it. Some interesting stuff, but nothing which is an objective statement of quality. Which is fine. I'm not saying that musical or art criticism is invalid because it doesn't objectively prove quality. And nobody else (that I can recall) has asserted that objective, expert analysis of music is literally impossible. The derail, as you put it, was just a statement that objective analysis of quality is impossible.
posted by Bugbread at 5:48 PM on April 22


I think you and I are defining 'quality' differently. I think one can make objective evaluations of, e.g., craft. If you are looking for some sort of empirical, provable objective demonstration of quality or excellence in creative work, then no, obviously there can be no such things. But I take that as read.
posted by LooseFilter at 6:16 PM on April 22


Ok, that may be true. Keep in mind that the other commenters (Joseph Gurl, etc.) discussing the "authority on good songs" may also be using different definitions.
posted by Bugbread at 6:22 PM on April 22


Not an objective statement of quality.

What definition of quality are you working from?
posted by rtha at 6:38 PM on April 22


Oh, man, that's a good question. I don't really know how to define "good". I mean, moral goodness, sure, that's somewhat definable, but "good" like "cilantro tastes good" or "this is a good song"...I guess "pleasing, in a Platonic ideal sense, such that a failure to recognize that inherent pleasingness represents not a difference of opinion in the perceiver, but indicates a neurological failure or the like on the part of the perceiver"? Something like that?
posted by Bugbread at 6:46 PM on April 22


"But the point is, the guy in the FPP is not 'just another listener,' he's a musical expert with the training, credentials, experience, and work to prove it."

He's just one guy with one guy's opinion. I mean for fucks sake this has to be the most over analyzed song in a decade. Like it? Don't like it? Whatever. MeFites have put far more thought into "Royals" than Lorde ever did.
posted by MikeMc at 6:50 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


MikeMc: "MeFites have put far more thought into "Royals" than Lorde ever did."

In truly meta fashion, I think MeFites have also put more thought into how much thought has been put into Royals than Lorde ever did.
posted by Bugbread at 6:58 PM on April 22 [6 favorites]


I guess "pleasing, in a Platonic ideal sense, such that a failure to recognize that inherent pleasingness represents not a difference of opinion in the perceiver, but indicates a neurological failure or the like on the part of the perceiver"? Something like that?

See, but this seems to be to be quite subjective as well, because how do we define "pleasing" and according to what/whose standards? (I am not trying to fight with you, just to be clear - this is very interesting! So I'm kind of thinking out loud, too.)

I will concede right now that I know so little about music theory, and from so long ago, that it might as well be nothing. I know less than that about writing lyrics.
posted by rtha at 7:14 PM on April 22


Well, that's what I'm saying, rtha: that "good" is a contradictory word and only really useful as short-hand for "I like it" or "I and many other people like it" or the like. It's fine in day-to-day use, "Wow, mom, this lasagna is really good!", but when a disagreement about whether or not something is good comes up, it's best to step back and realize that it's shorthand - if your brother says the lasagna is bad, because it has too much thyme, and you say it's good, because it has the great taste of thyme, it's not that one of you is wrong (which it would be if there were an objective good), but that you're actually saying "I like it because it has a lot of thyme", and he's saying "I don't like it because it has a lot of thyme".
posted by Bugbread at 7:37 PM on April 22


I don't know. There are certain principles like consistency and performing well within the framework you establish for the audience in the introduction. That doesn't mean you can't break the rules, but if you do so often and arbitrarily it might look like you're just lazy and ignorant about putting the work together.

It's a bit of a difficult thing to judge with mass media. Unless you've struggled with your own work or engaged in the sausage-making of production, you're unlikely to encounter much that hasn't been put through a gauntlet of selection, rehearsal, design, and polish. Dr. Downes likely has the dubious privilege of supervising and attending countless performances by students who don't quite have it.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:08 PM on April 22


Well, that's what I'm saying, rtha: that "good" is a contradictory word

Ah, sure, yes, but I was asking specifically about what definition of "quality" you (and Downes, and all the rest of us) might be using, because (to me) that can be quite a different word from "good." In your breakdown of his analysis, you talked about whether something was or was not an objective statement of quality.

I think that something can have quality - it can have value, it can exceed the standards by which its category of things is judged - and still not be "good" in the sense that not everyone is going to like it. I think a lot of people easily drift into deciding that because they don't like something like a song, that that song is not good. It may still be a quality song in its genre.

I am possibly not being very clear. Apologies!
posted by rtha at 8:27 PM on April 22


Yeah, it looks like I've been drifting all over the place on those words. It started out with the post being about what makes it a "great" song (which I interpret to mean "really really good"), and then Joseph Gurl ridiculing the concept of objectively proving something is great, then I used the word "quality" to mean "how good something is" (perhaps because "goodness" sounds like morality and "gooditude" sounds silly).
posted by Bugbread at 8:52 PM on April 22


Yeah, I had to look up Maybach.

Me too. Until tonight I thought it was a brand of fancy stove.
posted by thivaia at 8:57 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


I was in the "song is racist" camp last time around, and while I disagreed with them I don't remember anybody being "defensive" about the song at all. We just disagreed.

I think it counts as defensive when people are basically coming up with excuses for her. She's young. She's from New Zealand. She's just a pop star. She's female. They're just dumb lyrics. Etc. Instead of explaining the possible meaning and intent of her lyrics, it's the ignorance defense. People are giving her too much credit on the one hand - the musical track - and not enough credit on the other - her lyrics. So she's simultaneously an amazing composer and can't be bothered to consider her lyrics deeply. The defensiveness also seems to come in part from that loaded word "racism" being thrown around. To me, she's obviously taking on the stance of I'm a real artist who appreciates real artistry, unlike the crass materialism, superficiality, and artificiality of mainstream hip-hop, which is evident in her obsession with rock 'n' roll and rock stars, e.g., her Nirvana worship, her Cramps t-shirt. It's basically a sense of working-class and artistic righteousness. There is a racial element to this, inherently. I don't think of her as being a vile, ideologically destructive racist.

But the point is, the guy in the FPP is not 'just another listener,' he's a musical expert with the training, credentials, experience, and work to prove it.

Is Cole Alexander's breakdown of her song any less from a position of musical authority than this Graeme Downes guy? Anyway, it doesn't matter. You don't have to be an artist to be a critic.
posted by ChuckRamone at 6:45 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Am I the only person who had no idea what a Maybach was until this thread?

I (the person who introduced the Cadillac issue into the thread in the first place - sorry!) had to look up what a Maybach was after hearing the song. Also, I thought Cadillacs were a lot more expensive than they apparently are, and I'm an American.
posted by naoko at 7:16 AM on April 23


I'm American, and I guess I have a fucked up image of Cadillacs, because the previous Royals thread was the one that first introduced to me the idea that Cadillacs were fancy cars. The only Cadillac I've ever been in was the old, old, shitty, broken down family car of a friend. I would have described Cadillacs as "big like an American car, shitty like an American car, and with soft fake velvet seats like a run-down 70s bar". I thought the whole "X is the Cadillac of Y" thing was a callback to the Cadillacs of the 1950s or something, and had been completely inverted in the intervening decades, in the same way as "Made in Japan" meant "shitty, cheap, and easily breakable" back in the 1950s, but by the 1980s that image had been completely inverted. So one Royals thread changed me from thinking Cadillacs were shitty low-end cars, and another Royals thread changed me from thinking Cadillacs were really fancy high-end cars.
posted by Bugbread at 7:27 AM on April 23


So even among Americans, there's a range of what thinking about what class marker Cadillacs represent, but there's an expectation that a teenager from a different country is supposed to know exactly that.
posted by rtha at 7:31 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]


In her song, she's obviously referencing the references to them in modern hip hop.
posted by ChuckRamone at 8:09 AM on April 23


ChuckRamone: “Is Cole Alexander's breakdown of her song any less from a position of musical authority than this Graeme Downes guy? Anyway, it doesn't matter. You don't have to be an artist to be a critic.”

Doesn't it matter at all that Cole Alexander is espousing a position that is itself clearly racist?
posted by koeselitz at 8:25 AM on April 23


"Lorde and Macklemore, Jennifer Lawrence and Miley Cyrus; Are We Nearing Peak White Mediocrity?"
posted by Eideteker at 8:41 AM on April 23


Doesn't it matter at all that Cole Alexander is espousing a position that is itself clearly racist?

Which position? The stuff he said about Lorde or about hip-hop in general? I don't think his comments on Lorde are racist. He's talking about her poor comprehension of her economic position and status vis-a-vis the actually poor and rough upbringing of the artists she's lampooning in her song. When he starts going off on a tangent about hip-hop, I kinda stopped reading because it didn't make sense and contradicted or weakened his earlier argument about Lorde.
posted by ChuckRamone at 8:54 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Is Cole Alexander's breakdown of her song any less from a position of musical authority than this Graeme Downes guy?

Are you serious? First, Alexander offered an opinion on the lyrics, Downes an analysis of the track. Those are not the same thing (even if you call them both a "breakdown"). Second, yes, expertise matters. Downes' education, credentials, experience, and creative and scholarly work in music very obviously surpass Alexander's, and the respective content of their comments on this track bear out that difference.

Your dismissive tone toward earned authority in a field is awfully anti-intellectual in sentiment.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:35 AM on April 23


Cole Alexander was barely coherent, and not in a cool way.
posted by colie at 1:01 PM on April 23


Your dismissive tone toward earned authority in a field is awfully anti-intellectual in sentiment.

It's the exact opposite of anti-intellectual. You see that kind of attitude in Internet comments all the time: "You're not an expert, so you just keep your opinions to yourself."

Or even among musicians or other artists who get criticized: "Well, these critics aren't artists themselves so their opinions mean nothing."

All I'm saying is you don't have to be an expert or an artist to voice your criticisms. And just because you are an expert or artist doesn't make your opinion more right or better than other people's.
posted by ChuckRamone at 1:35 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Doesn't it matter at all that Cole Alexander is espousing a position that is itself clearly racist?

> Which position?


Cole Alexander wrote, "I like my rappers more ghetto and ratchet sounding. Personally, I like more melodramatic, ignorant rap where they’re talking about violence and anger and it’s just evil. I don’t like when it’s too conscious, I don’t like it when it’s too smart." That's obscenely fucking racist. I don't give a fuck how this bigoted fucking jackass likes "his" rap and "his" rappers. And I don't see any point in trying to engage in any kind of conversation with people who don't see any problem with it.
posted by nangar at 5:58 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Maybe I should explain a little bit for the hard of comprehending: Saying you don't like it when black people act intelligent isn't maybe a dog whistle, it's straight up, blatantly racially bigoted.
posted by nangar at 6:22 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


nangar: "Saying you don't like it when black people act intelligent isn't maybe a dog whistle, it's straight up, blatantly racially bigoted."

No, it's just really highly statistically likely to be racist. He could be talking about shit like ICP and Eminem. Or he could like his hip-hop to be ignorant, but like his drum'n'bass to be intelligent.

"Hip-hop" doesn't mean "all black people", but it's often used to mean "all black people". "I don't like it when black people are too conscious, I don't like it when they're too smart" That is straight-up, blatantly racially bigoted. "I don't like it when hip-hop..." is pretty much the textbook definition of a dog whistle.
posted by Bugbread at 6:46 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


I think it's racist in the sense that orientalism is -- it's kinda fetishizing his perceived idea of black culture.
posted by empath at 7:19 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


I'm certainly not saying that it wasn't racist. It sure came across to me as racist. I'd be really surprised if it weren't racist. But there's a difference between "seems racist/probably is racist" and "is straight-up, blatantly racist".
posted by Bugbread at 7:39 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


I mean, that's why we have terms like "dog whistle" and "cryptoracist" in the first place, right?
posted by Bugbread at 7:40 PM on April 23


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