Ella Yelich-O'Connor, a.k.a. Lorde, is the New Zealand teen that became an international pop sensation last year on the strength of “Royals,” a single about how unattainable the lifestyle of an international pop sensation seemed. And while TMZ has yet to catch her slurping Crystal with Jay-Z, her meteoric rise has, at least, allowed her to skip the small club phase of touring the U.S.
Endearingly, the 17-year-old singer acknowledged the weirdness of her situation a few songs into her performance Monday night at Seattle's 4,000-seat WaMu Theater. "I feel like a motivational speaker now in this cavernous warehouse space,” she joked, speaking with a slight Kiwi accent. “Is this motivational enough? You can do it."
Thankfully, Lorde's performance had little else in common with Tony Robbins, though it was inspiring in its own way. Her platinum debut album, “Pure Heroine,” was among the most compelling releases of 2013; a collection of textured, goth-pop tunes that resonated with disaffected Millennials around the globe, earning her a pair of Grammys in the process. In the live setting, Lorde did not disappoint, turning in a performance that was stylish yet sincere and sometimes strange (in a good way.)
The elfish pop star emerged alone, easing into things with her foreboding anthem “Glory and Gore.” By follow up, “Biting Down,” she was joined by a keyboard player and a drummer; not that many eyes were on them, thanks to Lorde's magnetic personae. Sporting a witchy, black gown and a wild mane of curls, the singer punctuated her lines with jerky, affected dance moves that - when the strobe lights and faux fog really got going – made me think of one of those freaky phantoms from Japanese horror films.
Lorde's 65-minute set included all of “Heroine” - unless you're talking about the extended version - and a few surprises. Among those was her remake of the Replacements' “Swingin' Party,” a downcast, ambient interpretation that contrasted the original's ironic, breeziness. “Easy,” her collaboration with New York electronic artist Son Lux, was a big hit later on as it built to an explosive, flickering finale.
Between songs, she had lots of praise for Jet City. “I don't know if I told you this, but I love your city so much,” she gushed, before “400 Lux.” “Walking the streets of Seattle is one of my favorite things." And occasionally she took time to remind fans that she's still a kid, something that can get lost given the sophisticated nature of her lyrics.
Later in the set, she explained how her song “Ribs” had been inspired by a huge party she threw a year ago when her parents were out of town, and how doing something so “grown up” later kept her up at night, worrying about growing old, as she sings in the song.
"There's something grown up about that. It feels kind of cool,” she said. “Once you do something adult are you in that world forever or can you still be a kid?"
Perhaps her apprehension is more about maintaining innocence as the demands of stardom grow. And her star's sure to keep growing with pop songs as good as she's delivered so far.
Set list (March 24, 2014, WaMu Theater): Glory and Gore, Biting Down, Tennis Court, White Teeth Teens, Buzzcut Season, Swinging Party (Replacements), Still Sane, 400 Lux, Bravado, Easy, Ribs, Royals, Team, A World Alone