Song of the Day: Lorde, "Team"
I was skeptical of Lorde when she first showed up. Her story—social media-minded New Zealand millennial makes a manic pixie bedroom record, uploads tracks to SoundCloud, blows up huge while still maintaining some mystery—seemed too precious to be possible, and I didn't think "Royals" was anything special (the fact that it was inspired by a photo of George Brett, who was once a real dick to my then nine-year-old brother when he asked for an autograph in a hotel lobby, didn't help). Even when "Royals" was making a seemingly permanent home in the upper echelon of the Billboard Hot 100, Lorde had the air of a one-hit wonder, as initially fascinating but ultimately disposable as her fellow Oceanian Gotye, whose "Somebody That I Used to Know" had only recently been disposed of.
When I finally dug deep into Pure Heroine (I go back and forth about whether or not that is an amazing pun or a sign of the coming apocalypse), I realized that "Royals" is about the seventh-best track on Lorde's debut, and that the real juice was in "Tennis Court," "Ribs," and particularly "Team," which ended up being the record's third official single.
"Team" begins with a weird a cappella portion, with some ethereal high harmonies and haunting echo that rapidly devolves into a record-skip loop that gets slowed down like so many chopped and screwed remixes (this is Lorde at her leanest, if you will). The beat is one of the more authoritative backing tracks on Pure Heroine, though it still retains its minimalist charms (there are so few things going on in this track—outside of the keyboard washes in the chorus, it's almost all kick drums and hand claps). Once the intro dies, it settles into a pretty traditional structure, though that doesn't make it any less weird as a pop song, particularly when it comes to Lorde's lyrics.
Here's a thing that gets me in trouble as a music writer: On the whole, I don't care much about lyrics. A dopey lyric can still ruin a song for me, but I'm more interested in the feel of a song than anything that is actually said. I acknowledge that Kendrick Lamar is a fantastic lyricist who has a lot to say about a bevy of topics, but I'm more impressed by his ability to deliver those words and marry them to his intricate tracks than the actual content. Or, more simply, I would still think Lamar is an essential artist even if he was just rapping about Olive Garden or straight-up spouting gibberish.
But I'm not immune to adroit turns of phrase, and the line on "Team" that gets me every time is "Living in ruins of the palace within my dreams." (Just typing it gave me goosebumps!) On the one hand, that is pretty straightforward teen journal poetry, the kind of thing a junior who has already read ahead in the AP English syllabus writes in the margins of her civics notes. On the other hand, I find it to be an intensely striking image, one that simultaneously evokes wonder and sadness in equal measure. It's tragic and grey, but not hopeless. A once-great empire is no more, but the capacity to imagine remains. What describes heartbreak better than that?