Why Lorde really appeals to middle-aged men…

22 06 2014

Admittedly I sometimes have reservations about writing articles on this blog. It happens about as much as Rolex tends to come out with a new model watch, yeah, not very often. I also have a confession to make, I kind of like cinnamon donuts. AHA! caught you out didn’t I? You fell right into my trap! Though yes, I admit that I very much enjoy the music of young New Zealand born prodigy, ‘Lorde’ (born Ella Marija Lani Yellich-O’Connor). Actually, her proper name sounds a little like the entire team of a private school cross-cultural debating team, so a monosyllabic and cryptic moniker was obviously a shrewd marketing choice. Having said that, I suspect that her song-crafting and style had quite a lot more to do with her success than a cool name.

 

Yep, I get the tension that is already palpably evident in your head at present.. “Where the hell is he going with this article?” and “Why is a middle aged man listening to, let alone writing about, a pop sensation not even finished high school yet?” or possibly “Why do I never get sick of tacos, no matter how many times I eat them, when I get sick of every other meal that I eat a lot?”. Ok, maybe YOU weren’t thinking that but I was and man, I am gonna have to write me an article about THAT very, very soon, but not now.

 

The reason I like Lorde is very simple. Her music is characterised craftsmanship, intelligence and genuine talent, not sex. I think it is no accident that fathers across the world find themselves listening to Lorde, even when their daughters or sons are NOT in the car. Her age puts her right at the age at which many forty years old men conceivably have daughters. Therefore, Lorde’s parents are similar in age and, allowing for some quirky variations in musical taste, Lorde may well have grown up in a milieu of music in a garden which might not necessarily be sound nor savage (couldn’t resist a bandy pun or two there!) but certainly not unlike that of most men listening to her music. There is the ambient grooves and basslines reminiscent of the heady days of early trance and house, lyrics that tend to be provocative and cryptic like the work of the Smiths, U2 or coldplay but not derivative of them and the melodies are pared back and haunting, almost a little like Robert Smith, of the Cure (who possibly seems to be giving make up advice to young Kiwi songwriters as well, these days!).

 

 

One of the hallmarks of a truly good musical artist is the ability to sell more than the ’empty carbs of the pop world’ which is sex wrapped up in the plastic of riffs better left in advertising jingles. Instead, despite her modest years and relatively limited experience in what is fast becoming the most competitive era ever for the sale of popular music, she is carving up the pie with some genuinely good material in a manner that established artists like Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Beyonce are finding increasingly hard to emulate. Lorde-RS So middle aged-men get Lorde because the musical style is eclectic, whilst reminiscent of a lot of things they half remember from their youth, which they half-remember wasn’t half-bad, back in the day. So about 12.5% association with something vaguely good in the past. What is great is that Lorde has so much more to offer than the shell that we all walk around in. Not so for artists such as Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga who each left nothing to the imagination when strutting out of highschool into packed arenas in their late teens/early twenties. There is, most certainly, something a little ‘pedo’ in a middle-aged man’s interest in the ‘music’ of any of these artists when the product being sold is both so young and so obvious.

 

Typically, such artists are “unit puppets”, just flogging their latest cheap, tacky fads to plump ailing record sales for a little girl who has grown up and lost core fans distracted by the musical equivalent of Sizzler Salad Bars as such fans have also grown up. Not so with artists like Lorde. It is perhaps a little naive to suggest that she, and artists like her, thrive because of authenticity and free reign to write precisely what they like, wear what they like and have control over how that ‘brand’ is developed. What she does have is, however, genuine product which is not dependent on her age, her body and her gender. Instead, along with other successful artists like Alannis Morisette, Avril LaVigne and Alicia Keys, she is a song-writer not just a singer. Sure the content does involve the usual pop themes of love and love lost, but not a whole lot. Instead, we get lyrical poetry (perhaps an unsurprising observation given that her mother is an acclaimed New Zealand poet but kids don’t always follow their parent’s day jobs!). Nevertheless, we hear class contrast, generational angst, concerns about superficiality in social interactions and the influence of mammon on man. Intelligent, philosophical, thoughtful writing and ambient, trancy and layered vocals with pitch-perfect harmonies (possibly worked on in the mixing and editing but still beautifully done) and, the hallmark of successful female artists: a different voice.

 

So why the appeal to middle-aged men, specifically and why should this be important in any way to those who direct this juggernaut of a musical phenomenon? Primarily because it represents generational change. We have the first glimpse of our millenial/Gen Z music, almost like a time trip into the near future. Arguably, the music reaching our ears through whatever media we choose to consume is the last flickers of Gen Y artists, that are sounding tired, stretched, over-evolved, like some actress that has been poorly advised to pay too much for cosmetic surgery that ¬†creates more beasts than beauties.Typically, the generation consuming the music has it delivered by the generation above, but here we see a wonderful window into what could be the future of millenial artist pop. That’s exciting.

 

 

Generation X is characterised by its cynicism, search for authenticity and obsession with relational depth (as opposed to Boomer/Gen Y focus of relational breadth). Likewise, their children seem to have inherited these values. Millenials question superficiality, generally have drive, focus and ambition that is tempered with acceptance of honest feedback about their ability to achieve such goals. Unlike Boomers, whose suspicion of ‘the establishment’ was near universal, which often led to “plugging in and dropping out” in search of a new utopia (almost universally disappointed with the outcome..when human nature is involved), Millenials see the inevitability of the establishment and work within it, breaking and shaping it when needed (and allowed to). In an almost Frankl-esque dedication, these Millenials understand that the ‘Matrix’ is something that we need to work with but we choose how much it changes our sense of self. Digital natives yes, but not the mindless slaves we thought they’d be. Using technology to find relational depth, make their brains more alive, more creative, more rich not less rich. The games they play tune their brains, build creativity within boundaries like lifting weights at the gym, using their networks to study seriously and faster than their older natives, now in employment.

Lorde at Madame Jojo's, London Lorde seems emblematic of a generation that their parents can’t help but get excited about. True, many Gen Ys don’t know what to make of these younger ‘upstarts’. This is not, however, die to the fact that Millenials are so enigmatic but more a function of the fact that Gen Y tend to be so self-absorbed or, now, running around on minimal sleep now they are breeding, that they simply don’t have the time to care. Of course music artists, particularly female artists trying to share this consumer-space with artists like Lorde are not happy in the slightest, and the knives are out. This guest is, in their opinion, unfashionably early and they are not happy about the way the party might change.

 

Now the fathers of Millenials who listen to the haunting melodies ringing through their homes in wireless convenience also find tracks on their own devices feeding these melodies they find themselves humming. Daughters going to Lorde concerts may find their Dads not only footing the bill but offering to come along. In doing so, these involved ‘Neo-Dads’ far from experiencing the derision common in earlier generations at this kind of cultural invasion or cringeworthy example of an uninvolved Dad trying to ‘get hip and be cool’ to be-friend his distant daughter, is often greeted compassionately by such gestures. Dads and daughters these days have a lot more to do with each other than they once did. Dad is not trying to be a friend, he will always be the ‘daggy old dad’.. but he is there and that is, for the meantime at least, cool. From the Dad’s point of view, this is a damn-sight more tolerable to sit through for $100 a pop than, say Britney Spears or Taylor Swift or even Pink, for that matter.

 

The music is cool, accessible and it is about the talent, intelligence and concert atmosphere of an artist and work, not a piece of female flesh teasing the men and causing the women to covet mimicry of that blatant sexuality to get the same attention from men. Again, there is more than enough evidence that marketers are way ahead of the curve on this one (money is that most powerful motivator!). Even the clips selected for this blog post contained advertisements for Joe Satriani concerts (1989 Surfing with the Alien, anyone??) and Rolling stone arguably bought into this phenomenon with Lorde in a Cramps shirt and a nod to early Gen X punk with both their cover and headline.

 

Yep, this young lady is for youth and their dads (with a possibility that more than a few Mums might also want to ride this train!!). Economically, nothing could be smarter for Lorde than continuing to push boundaries of music and stage performance whilst remaining decently (if esoterically) dressed and not dipping her feet into the superficiality of carnal hedonism as she ages. In an age where profitability from music sales is bottoming out and album sales contribute paltry revenue for even the most popular artists, sales of concert tickets are a coveted stream of income. Having on board the fathers of fans as benevolent benefactors of entertainment coin is very, very savvy. Deep pockets and an appreciation for the art is driving a medium which simply can’t be pirated: the live experience. Much like the glory days of stadium rock and pop concerts that were the staple of bands in the 1980s, such fathers are keen to support this once again. A format long in decline to the chagrin of performers as music became diverse and democratised in the age of the internet, good concerts are slowly, but surely experiencing a resurgence with artists such as Lorde and, just like a feudal system that young Ella Y-O is often enamoured with in her lyrics, we are seeing a new generation of Pop royalty rise among the ashes of a cacophony of peasants. Long live the Queen, then eh? Mickovich

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