Between songs during Lorde’s striking, sparse set just past sundown on Saturday night, the singer paused for a moment to wonder on the year that she’s had.
She’s 17 years old and co-penned one of last year’s biggest anthems, “Royals.” With the first gusts of a looming windstorm rolling in, she explained that this Coachella gig was the first big festival she booked at the onset of her whirlwind 2013.
“I think we booked this in May of last year, and since then we’ve been all over the world. We’ve seen so much,” she said, her voice filled with awe as she looked out on Coachella’s after-dark neon beauty and waves of humans absorbing her every word.
She wasn’t exaggerating. In that time she’s won Grammys, earned critical praise and become a household name. And here she was at another career pinnacle, gigging one of the biggest, hippest festivals in the world, a first circle in the midst of being completed.
That’s a lot of weight for any artist, and she carried it like a champion during her set, flailing and flying, banging her head to the slow-tempo, synthetic pop tracks that put her voice -- steely, convincing -- at the forefront. All those gigs have given her confidence. When I saw her during an L.A. commercial radio show over the holidays, she hadn’t yet gotten used to the fawning and the attention. Dressed in black, she seemed closed.
On Saturday she wore white -- and, as the wind brought in a chill, a gold cape -- and moved like a whole different performer, openly grooving to the tracks her two-man backing group presented behind her.
“Pretty soon I’ll be getting on my first plane,” she sang in “Tennis Court” while steady bass rumbled beneath. “I’ll see the veins of the city like they do in space.” The line offered a reminder of Lorde’s inexperience, but her rendition confirmed the volume of frequent-flier miles she’s since accrued.
Her sonic minimalism was more engaging over the duration of the set, however, than the visual presentation thereof. With her band positioned way behind her and mostly motionless, Lorde was the sole focus, a lot of pressure to put on any performer.
Her dance moves may have been honest and natural, but she’s certainly no Beyonce, and shouldn’t be expected to hold our attention for the entirety. Minus additional visual diversion -- some backup dancers doing Bob Fosse-esque maneuvers, perhaps? -- Lorde’s moves got a little stale after a while, a perpetual jerking of hair, arms and torso.
One of Saturday’s biggest singalong moments was, of course, “Royals,” Lorde’s single about working-class joy and humble pleasures. The song, repeated in perpetual loop throughout 2013, has become its own thing, and the evidence of its ubiquity was immediate. With the first words of the song, thousands did what they’d been doing in showers, while stuck in traffic, while cooking or skating: They sang every word.
Loudly and with great feeling, she and everyone else delivered it: “We’ll never be royals/It don’t run in our blood.”
Never is a long time, and Lorde knows full well that a lot can change in a year. It’s certainly true that most of us will never be royalty. But sometimes a teenager comes along who, against all odds, ascends to a throne. How long she stays there is up to the fates.