While I have a hard time accepting Macklemore as the best rapper in the universe or Justin Timberlake for supposedly having last year’s best R&B song, there’s something about Lorde’s Grammy win that irks me even more.
It’s not that I have anything against Lorde. She’s unique, talented, and she’s still a kid after all. “Royals”, her chart-topping ode to those who will never live the life of pop music royalty, sounds like the musings of a typical, newly self-aware 17 year-old girl just coming into herself. When I first heard the song last summer, I was taken back by the idea of a pop singer taking shots at mainstream rap’s addiction to materialism, not because she was wrong in her criticism, but because the teenage pop vocalist didn’t strike me as the ideal spokesperson of the “anti-bling movement”. Still, part of me found it slightly refreshing that a song with substance was climbing the charts.
As Royals rose in popularity, Lorde faced accusations of racism as some took issue with her lyrics that were believed to target African American artists. She denied it, proclaimed her love of rap music, and said the song was merely a commentary on pop culture’s obsession with riches and fame. Drama averted. All was well again and the song continued to gain momentum. I generally hop all over this type of story but for some reason, this one just didn’t pique my interest. Being a Hip Hop head, heated discussions about excessive materialism in rap are old news and the pop tune wasn’t breaking any new grounds in my world.
Then the song shot to #1 this month on urban radio stations across the nation, the same ones that promote the kind of music Royals trashes. Well alrighty then. Welcome to Bizarro World! With Justin, Robin, and Macklemore holding top chart positions as well, Lorde was in good company. Coincidentally, Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” poked fun at rappers’ obsession with the finer things in life a few months before Lorde did. Do I detect a pattern here or am I just imagining things?
So the song’s playing all over the place. The video has three quadrillion views on YouTube. Young and old people are singing it. Rappers like Rick Ross and Wale are hopping on official and unofficial remixes. It’s annoying as hell but Lorde deserves her 15 minutes of fame. Then out of nowhere, the Go Go version drops. WHAT THE? Well….good for you Lorde. Keep rising to the top.
Man…this music business is something else.
With all this success, her Grammy win was inevitable. But my problem isn’t with sweet little Lorde who’s just living out her dream. My problem is with this manipulative industry that plays artists like pieces on a chessboard. It ignores the talents of some and promotes that of others to fulfill God-knows-what agenda. It took a 17 year-old girl from New Zealand to bring attention to a problem that’s been plaguing rap music for years while a 1000 rappers who have been trying to do the very same thing for the last two decades have been overlooked, silenced, and even mocked for being relics of a bygone Hip Hop era. Even the mainstream rap industry who’s quick to ridicule conscious rappers for being too preachy welcomed Lorde and her “positive” message with open arms. The moral of the story is that the only way to make music with substance acceptable to the masses is to deliver it in a delicate little package over sparse kick drums and finger snaps. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before Taylor Swift drops an anti-police brutality song. Lorde knows we need it.
But then again, Darius Rucker won a Grammy for best Country Solo Performance so I guess we’re even.
Sebastien Elkouby is a Hip Hop Culture historian, freelance writer, creative consultant, and award-winning educator. Check out his educational program, Global Awareness Through Hip Hop Culture and blog,SebIsHipHop.wordpress.com. For more info about his creative consulting services, contact him [email protected]