Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants. Been awhile, let’s get this started.
Last time I talked about Lorde, she was in the awkward stage where she had her hit song, but she was this unknown, vaguely-arty foreign entity without much of a presence behind her, so the jury was still out on if she’d be a one hit wonder or not (aka, “The Gotye Zone”). Since then, she’s been fairly active with high profile live performances, good press as the Next Big Thing, and spots at music festivals. She hasn’t done a complete take over, but between “Royals” coming up and now, she’s built up enough commercial and critical clout that she isn’t going to disappear overnight.
I just wish she’d done that with a different song.
This hasn’t come up in any of my writing, but there was a solid two or three months where Lorde’s album Pure Heroine was in my frequent rotation, and I’ve thought that “Team” was one of her weaker songs. It’s the obviously designated single in hindsight (it keeps with her One Word Title streak), but in being such, it’s easy to digest and kind of boring by design. For someone like Lorde who’s best work is a little twisted, “Team” is painfully straight.
For example, I know burnouts with less wasted potential than the drumbeat here. The beat comes crashing in after an admittedly cool acapella intro (the effect on Lorde’s voice when she sings “In chains” is outright badass) with a full drumline’s force behind it, but stays painfully monotonous for the next three minutes. Whenever I hear this beat, I can’t help but think of tUnE-yArDs’ song “Gangsta”, how that song throws extra snare hits and variations into what’s fundamentally the same beat as “Team”, and how desperately I want that same variety here. I realize that “Gangsta” is out to do something wildly different, but still (and I’ll get to that later).
Beat aside, there isn’t much that stands out to “Team”‘s production. There’s a kind-of organ-y synth in the verses that gets joined by a lower one on the chorus, and as always, Lorde’s vocals are multi-tracked, and it’s competently assembled, but nothing daring or particularly memorable by her standards. The sound is a little fuller than “Royals”, but less distinct. Lorde’s vocals are great as always, and her voice remains her strongest asset, but the melody and embellishments here let her down more than anything else.
And the lyrics. Like “Royals”, the lyrics to “Team” hold up fine to great on their own, even if I have no idea what “100 jewels between teeth” means (sidenote: has someone made a drinking game from how often Lorde mentions teeth?). The gist is that the song’s about every day people who…uh, exist, I guess? No, wait, it’s that we’re all on #TeamNormo together, and we’re going against, er, something. I really don’t know. Anyway, Lorde has two favorite lyrics from the song, so let’s look at those.
“We live in cities you’ll never see onscreen”–“I live in Auckland, which is definitely not New York…Coming from a small city, somewhere that feels unimportant, you just wanna get out of there” On one hand, I kinda get it, because I’m from a small city, too, but Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand. The population is over 1 million, and 32% of the country calls it home. It isn’t quite large enough to get wasted in a superhero movie, but she’s not coming from the sticks, either. What’s the other lyric?
“I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air, so there” OH, SHIT. Lorde just called out pop songs for telling people to put their hands up, which definitely isn’t widely known as some shit you use as filler! She’s probably one of people that hates using the word “said”, too. Ok, in her defense, Lorde’s only seventeen, so there were a lot of songs that abused “put your hands up” when her Saturday nights consisted of the local roller rink. But still, being catty about pop songs saying “put your hands up” is like being that person that thinks they’re clever because they point out that every song at sophomore spring dance is in 4/4 (full disclosure: that person might start a music blog in college).
Nearly everything I can’t stand about Lorde comes down to that line and its delivery. Everything she does is steeped in this pretentious “Pop is bullshit” attitude that can’t help but be eye-roll worthy. You know that pop is kind of bullshit. I know that pop is kind of bullshit. Ke$ha and Gaga got their careers started knowing that pop is kind of bullshit. This feeds into the other thing hurting Lorde, which is that I feel like she’s is far less challenging, different, and conscious than she thinks it is. I don’t think I’ve written a blog about her yet that didn’t involve mentioning another artist who one-ups whatever she’s trying at the moment. And I’m weary of anyone who talks at her length about how real they are.
Even with that, “Team” still doesn’t cross into “bad” territory, and I root for Lorde at the end of the day. There are far worse pop culture crimes to commit than acting like a teenager, and I think she’s legitimately talented. Send her off to art school, slip her roommate a stack of glitchy pop records, have her go to a few nightclubs and stagger home while coming down, and I’m sure I’ll love whatever she puts out. There’s a great artist in there somewhere, she just has to find herself, first. Maybe put her hands up sometime, have fun.