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'Sometimes known as Lorde'

Monday 5th May 2014

There are plenty of valid reasons to criticise Lorde. The lyrics about wealth and hip hop in her debut hit Royals reveal a naivety about race, a naivety that perhaps isn’t surprising for a song written by a sheltered, white, fifteen-year-old New Zealander. Nevertheless, it’s a naivety that seemed a lot like racism when the song exploded outside of New Zealand last year, as blogged about by Veronica Bayetti Flores on Feministing.

Other writers have noted that her brand of feminism often involves calling out and putting down other artists, and that putting down other women can be political. Personally, that line in Royals about having never seen a diamond in the flesh has always annoyed me. “Get real Lorde, I always think, “I’m pretty sure every New Zealander has at least walked passed Michael Hill Jeweller.”

But there are also plenty of reasons to love Lorde. I love her style. It’s both fresh and knowing at the same time, with those moody purple lips and that ginormous mop of hair, which has inspired young women across the world to finally break up with their hair straighteners. Her friendships with other famous young women are also completely delightful, with my personal favourites being these images and interviews with Eleanor CattonTavi Gevison and Taylor Swift (one of the women she was construed to have put down).

With two Grammys under her belt, her musical talent is almost old news at this point, but when you’re reminded of it, it can be gobsmacking. I get shivers listening to this Triple J recording of her performance at Splendour in the Grass in early 2013, where she filled in for Frank Ocean with less than 48 hours’ notice, after adorably asking her dad if she was allowed to go. Live, her voice is raw and powerful. She more than rose to the challenge of playing the main stage of one of Australia’s biggest music festivals. Then, it was by far the biggest show of her career and you can hear her dangling on the precipice of fame as she says, “Thanks for having me Splendour. This is mental.”

Having won those Grammys, it’s safe to say that Lorde is now well and truly famous. And something that happens when pop singers become pop stars is that their image becomes a commodity. All of a sudden pictures of them become valuable, because they sell magazines and generate clicks on photo galleries. Yesterday afternoon, Lorde tweeted about New Zealand photographer Simon Runting, saying that he has been stalking, photographing and refusing her privacy. She said that she was scared of him, and posted his photograph and a link to his Facebook page.

Lorde noted that Runting is the same photographer who took pictures of Rihanna on her balcony during her 2013 Auckland show. At the time Rihanna posted one of these pictures to her Instagram, captioned with anti-paparazzi lyrics from the Kanye West song, Flashing Lights. As well as posting Runting’s picture to Twitter, Lorde tweeted that his behaviour “should not be an accepted standard for young women or anyone in this industry” and that she refuses to stay passive about “men systematically subjecting [her] to extreme fear”.

This isn’t the first time Lorde has taken on negative paparazzi attention. When she returned to New Zealand after the Grammy Awards she tweeted about the media scrum that awaited her, almost pushing her and her family over at the airport. 

The way that Lorde calls attention to the way she is treated in the music industry, as a celebrity and as a young woman, is making me fall in love with her all over again. I love the way that she stands her ground, despite the backlash she receives for daring to speak out about behaviour we might just accept as part of the job. Often the backlash comes from journalists and the mainstream media, with those very reasonable post-Grammy tweets labelled “a tantrum” by ONE News and this time, her tweets about Runting have been already reported as ‘a swipe’ by the NZ Herald. 

Since Lorde’s recent tweets, I’ve seen a lot of New Zealanders talking on Twitter about the legality of Runting’s behaviour, and the serious nature of “accusing somebody of stalking”. I don’t care about how legal it is to take pictures in public. I care that a child is afraid of an older man – an older man that follows her and other celebrities around Auckland with his camera, trying to make a buck off their image. That’s a power imbalance that I don’t feel okay about, no matter how famous or fortuitous Lorde may now be.

Part of Lorde’s schtick has always been black-sheepesque – she’s alternative, she’s feminist, she marches to the beat of her own drum. She paints her fingers black, dances as if she’s having visions, and slams Selena Gomez’s boy-crazy lyrics in ‘Come and Get It’. To some, this might feel gimmicky, but the way she continues to take on powerful men in the music and entertainment industries at 17 goes beyond gimmicky. Listening to her well and truly own Australian radio journo Kyle Sandilands in an interview on KIIS FM was so sweet it was like a toffee apple for your ears. Sandilands is commonly referred to as Vile Kyle, for his scum-of-the-earth behaviour which includes mocking refugees and asking 14 year old rape victims about their sexual experiences on air.

In an interview onThe Kyle and Jackie O ShowSandilands creepily quizzed Lorde about whether she was in a lesbian relationship with Taylor Swift, which she shut down with a triumphant “Don’t even try it. It’s not working”. With seven words, a teenage girl managed to expose the sexism of a much older and much more experienced broadcaster. When I was seventeen my biggest concern was whether Ryan and Marissa were going to end up together on The OC. Even though it often seems like Sandilands is universally disliked in Australia, his show is still number one breakfast radio in Sydney. Not taking Sandilands’ bait live on air isn’t a gimmick, it’s sticking your neck out. Taking on these men shows a bravery that is beyond a pop-star’s image, and a commitment to the ethical treatment of women that goes beyond selling records.

A seventeen year old girl is using her Twitter account to publically beg for safety and privacy. This isn’t okay, no matter how famous she might be.

I love Lorde for her bravery and her tenacity; for her determination to call out behaviour like Runting’s, no matter the effect it might have on her career. Even when she isn’t tweeting or giving interviews, Lorde’s outspoken and intelligent feminism exposes sexism and prejudice in the music industry and in the New Zealand media, seemingly as if by her very existence. Popular Stuff music blogger Simon Sweetman’s review of the Love Club EP comes to mind, where he blasts other critics for believing the hype and not listening to her music, and then does exactly that himself. He complains about the “sexualisation” of Lorde, and then fills his review with bizarre references to masturbation over Farmers catalogues and compares her to Miley Cyrus, the wrong kind of musician in Sweetman’s eyes, despite selling millions of albums worldwide.

Earlier this year NZ Woman’s Day published pictures of her wearing a bikini in the sea with her boyfriend, and the decision to run the pictures was blasted by Alison Mau

Lorde may be wise beyond her years, but she is still a minor. The fact that she's a double Grammy winner and a celeb is a red herring. She is still under 18 and deserves to be able to grow up and form relationships without being followed by photographers taking photos of intimate moments with her boyfriend.

That quote was from January this year, and it appears that nothing has changed. A seventeen year old girl is using her Twitter account to publically beg for safety and privacy. This isn’t okay, no matter how famous she might be. I want New Zealand to listen to her and take her seriously, because a New Zealand that writes this off as the way that celebrities are treated is condoning victim-blaming. I’m not suggesting that we can change celebrity culture overnight, but New Zealand is tiny. We can change the way we treat our celebrities, and I can’t think of a better place to start than with a seventeen year old girl who’s sometimes known as Lorde. 



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Ally is a queer white lady and avid lipstick enthusiast who moved from Wellington to Sydney in 2012. Yopro in Sensible Flats is about body politics, feminism and her experiences jumping across the ditch.
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