[16 year old] Lorde, who wrote all the lyrics on Pure Heroine and co-wrote the music, has fashioned herself a correspondent on the front lines of elegantly wasted post-digital youth culture and working-class suburban boredom. Her songs capture the drama and debauched regality of being a teenager: their subjects include online gossip, empty bottles, queen bees, and young people who already feel old. “I’m kinda older than I was when I rebelled without a care,” she sings with a languid sigh on the bleacher-stomping single “Team”. Or is she saying “revelled”? It’s hard to tell the two words apart, and maybe that’s the point.
That carefully cultivated ambiguity is precisely what makes Pure Heroine work. “Royals” walks the line between rebelling against and reveling in the trappings of power, luxury, and excess of contemporary pop. The arrangement is economical—just a few finger snaps and a barely-there beat caught in the gravitational pull of Lorde’s charisma—but overall, “Royals” gets to have it both ways. Whether she’s singing about her schoolyard peers or the world’s most famous pop stars (who, as she admits on “Tennis Court”, have just become her new peers), Lorde achieves a tricky balancing act of exposing irony and even hypocrisy without coming off as preachy or moralistic, simply because—thanks to Pure Heroine‘s constant use of the royal “we”—she’s usually implicating herself in the very contradictions she’s exposing.
Lorde’s music is quietly wise to a particular modern irony: Beneath every #DGAF there’s a person who secretly gives a fuck about something, and behind every anti-pop song there’s a singer who—just like everybody else—knows what it’s like to feel happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. — Pitchfork