The Beauty Queen in Tears: Pure Heroine Celebrates a Decade

Ten years ago, on September 27th, 2013, New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde released her debut album Pure Heroine at seventeen. This young artist took the world by storm, topping radio charts and creating earworms that bleed into popular culture while providing commentary on the culture itself. Throughout the entire album, Lorde speaks about her coming of age in the public eye and the sense of disillusionment that comes with entering the celebrity world as an outsider.

The album opens with “Tennis Court”, an emotional piece detailing a youngster’s rise to fame. The track features vocal sampling, an electronic drum pad, and a satisfying sonic buildup between the verses and chorus. In this song, Lorde sings about her life as a teenage girl in New Zealand, a time with unbridled creative ambition and desire for fulfillment. Written as a love letter to someone who knew her before fame, Lorde expresses a deep fear surrounding her newfound status. This sentiment is most apparent in the lines, “But my head’s fillin’ up fast with the wicked games, up in flames / How can I f*** with the fun again if I’m known?” 

When I first listened to the album in 2013, I was shocked at the juxtaposition of vulnerable and emotional lyrics with a chill production. Lorde keeps it cool by combining an intriguing verse structure with an upbeat, catchy chorus to keep things interesting and light. This genius writing and production combination is present throughout the album, which is great if you enjoy the alternative-indie pop music of the 2010s (or, more specifically, electropop, if that’s your thing).

“Royals,” the third title track, was the lead single on the album. If you were listening to your local pop radio in your car station circa 2013, you have heard “Royals” playing through the speakers. This song put Lorde’s name on the map, and suddenly, the New Zealander artist was making tabloid headlines and gaining a humongous online following. The lyrics depict Lorde’s dreams and ambitions, emphasizing the power of love and connection over money and nice material objects. She seems to contemporaneously call out the celebrities of the time in the lyrics, “But every song’s like gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom” in the pre-chorus. This blatant criticism of consumerism contradicted much of the figures in the pop culture atmosphere, including performers and songwriters, many of whom were actively participating in “flex” culture, primarily through social media posts or interviews. It feels like Lorde is telling us that she is tired of the extravagant vacations, A-list weddings, and expensive dinners being broadcast to fans when celebrities’ lives are so different from ours. To Lorde, sharing these photos of a luxurious millionaire lifestyle 

The production of “Royals” is simple, perhaps a purposeful choice to reflect her feelings about the maximalist, luxury lifestyle that popular culture glorified during this time. The most exciting elements in the production are the snap percussion in the choruses, which almost gives a stripped-down feel, and Lorde’s excellent backing vocals tracks– harmonies she recorded for the album. 

Another song, “Ribs,” is a particular favorite among Lorde’s fanbase. The artist matches a dizzying, cool production style with lyrics that push fears of getting old into the front of our minds. This song connected with many of Lorde’s listeners at the time, and truthfully, her writing and storytelling have stood the test of time, as many current fans still enjoy this song. In these lyrics, she expresses longing for the carefree years of her youth:

“You’re the only friend I need (you’re the only friend I need)

Sharing beds like little kids (sharing beds like little kids)

And laughing ‘til our ribs get tough (laughing ‘til our ribs get tough)

But that will never be enough (but that will never be enough)”

Of all of the songs on Pure Heroine, I recommend “Ribs” most to first-time listeners looking for a good existential crisis. 

To review, Pure Heroine pairs creative indie-pop and electronica influences with a dark, intense sound to deliver Lorde’s exquisite lyrics. Her words feel like pure venom when matched with producer Joel Little’s beats, with powerful delivery. This album has held a special place in the hearts of Gen Z, particularly those who lived through the 2013 Tumblr phase and had unsupervised internet access.