Top 40 Remix: Valuing Thrift with Lorde’s “Royals”

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Mary Rose Somarriba
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lorde royals, song meanings

When the song in your head rings true in your heart…

Sixteen-year-old musician Lorde is making headlines for her hit song "Royals" reaching the top of the Billboard charts. The song, in which she sings a message against a culture of consumerism, has outranked even Katy Perry's "Roar" and Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball."

It's almost ironic considering Lorde's lyrics can read like an outcast's scorn for the popular crowd—a crowd she is certainly joining as she tops the charts.

In the refrain of "Royals," one can taste a dose of cynicism as she sings of the typical pop-musician's lifestyle:

"Every song's like gold teeth, Grey Goose, tripping in the bathroom / Blood stains, ball gowns, trashing the hotel room / We don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams / But everybody's like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your time piece/ Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash / We don't care, we aren't caught up in your love affair."

While some have commented that her song seems to unfairly target the excesses of the hip-hop music scene, others have noted that lyrics like "trashing the hotel room" can just as much apply to rock musicians. I might see a point in the former complaint, if it weren't for the noticeable parallels between Lorde's song and hip-hop singer Macklemore's song "Thrift Shop."

Macklemore's song, which was similarly a breakthrough indie-to-Top 40 song for the artist, famously makes digs against anyone who would pay "50 dollars for a T-shirt," calling it "hella dough" and "having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don't." He goes on to critique those who try to prove themselves "with a brand" as a "hella won't."

The way I see it, "Royals" similarly promotes the long-lost values of thrift and the ability to find joy in the simple things of life—virtues no doubt worth returning to in our current day and economy. It's a lovely reminder of a few things, actually.

1) "No post code envy."

Part of happiness requires accepting the things we can't control in life, and certainly one of those things is our place of origin. While Lorde sings "I'm not proud of my address / in the torn up town" she also notes she has "no post code envy." Not being ashamed of where you've come from, not trying to manufacture a fake identity—one could say these are key to being happy wherever you are.

2) "My friends and I we've cracked the code . . . "

Another great point in the lyrics is this one, highlighting the value of surrounding ourselves with people around whom we can be ourselves. Too often kids Lorde's age are struggling with pressures to be someone or something they're not. But true friends help us be the best, most honest versions of ourselves when we’re together—the kind of friendship that brings a sense of peace and easy joy.

3) "Life is great without a care, we aren't caught up in your love affair."

Here Lorde finishes with a TKO to the consumerist culture that is the "love affair" of her refrain. Media and advertisements everywhere are trying to make us feel insufficient as we are—like we need something extra to be happy. Lorde effortlessly disarms this thinking with her carefree, unfazed, unorthodox vocals. Love of money, brand names, status, image—all these things, while easy to get "caught up in," fall short at the end of the day.

In the end, it's as if Lorde is calling for listeners to take an honest look at what we can and cannot do in life, and to be satisfied with that. Can we all be worldly "royals," surrounded by wealth, and rule over others? Probably not. But can we rule our own choices, our actions, our day? That's where we'll find infinite possibilities within our reach if we just open our eyes to see them.

Brilliantly and paradoxically, Lorde's hit song struck gold by aiming for a simple truth.