Kids used to gather in garages and bang on their guitars and drums until maybe, just maybe, they made a sound that someone else would want to listen to. Maybe they wrote a simple song of their own. Maybe they covered a song that was easy to play. Maybe they created something special. “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen, “96 Tears” by Question Mark and the Mysterians, or “Wild Thing” by The Troggs.
The songs were quickly thrown together, and they were rough. Maybe the singer could sing in key, but they couldn’t really sing. Maybe the guitarist knew a few chords, but they couldn’t really play. The drummer knew enough to keep time, the bassist was likely frustrated they were not picked to play guitar, and maybe somebody down the street knew how to play the piano.
But the passion and energy was there. They wanted to be great, and they wanted to change the world. They saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, they heard the Rolling Stones on the radio, and they were inspired. They scribbled down some lyrics and they gathered their friends in hopes of finding a moment of creativity, in hopes of creating music that would be remembered.
Fifty years ago, so much great music came from garages and basements around the world, and we continue to enjoy those songs. Now, the great music is coming from bedrooms and dining room tables. Give a kid a laptop, and they can do great things. With no clumsy drummer on hand, with no street noise beyond the garage door, young artists who have the talent and fortitude are making some of the truly great music of our time.
Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, otherwise known by her stage name Lorde, was born in New Zealand in 1996. After time spent performing at her school and at local clubs, she wrote the song “Royals” in about a half an hour at home. Lorde recorded “the song”Royals” using Pro Tools, a software package that replicates much of what can be done in a professional recording studio right at home. In your bedroom. Or in your dining room. Maybe even in your garage.
Lorde wrote the lyrics to “Royals” when she was 16 years old, and that makes perfect sense. “Royals” is a wonderful song that recognizes how the celebrity lifestyle, now seemingly so accessible through Instagram posts and TikTok videos, is impossibly far out of reach for the fans of these celebrities, and ultimately something that most people don’t even actually want in the first place.
The song begins with a simple drum beat, accented with the sound of echoed finger snaps. The music is accessible, in a way that the celebrity lifestyle will never be.
“I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I’m not proud of my address
In a torn up town, no postcode envy.”
The only diamonds she has ever seen has been in the movies. She knows her place in the world, and she has resolved that where she is, is where she will likely always be. She may not be rich, she may never be famous (she will be), and that is OK.
“But every song’s like
Gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
Bloodstains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room
We don’t care
We’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams
But everybody’s like
Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
We don’t care
We aren’t caught up in your love affair”
Resolved to her humble life though she may be, everything she sees and hears shows celebrities living outlandish lifestyles. Ball gowns. Cristal champagne. Jet airplanes. In one verse she claims not to care, and yet those fancy cars still roll by in her dreams. The music stays quiet and simple. We reach the chorus, the main confession.
“And we’ll never be royals (royals)
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us
We crave a different kind of buzz
Let me be your ruler (ruler)
You can call me queen bee
And baby, I’ll rule (I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule)
Let me live that fantasy”
Living between fantasy and reality. Between acceptance, and hope. Between relegation, and optimism. Most people will never be rich, and though we enjoy watching the videos of rich people on their boats, in their mansions and driving their cars, we know these things will never be ours. That’s OK though, because sometimes it’s enough to imagine. Sometimes it’s enough to dream.
“My friends and I, we’ve cracked the code
We count our dollars on the train to the party
And everyone who knows us knows
That we’re fine with this, we didn’t come from money.”
The music is dark and simple. Listening to the song now, Lorde thinks it sounds dated, like a Nokia cell phone ring tone. Maybe she thinks so because it brings her back to a moment in time, to a moment in between. To us, we just imagine a her sitting alone, typing on her computer, exercising her creativity, her frustration, and her hope.
Ironically, “Royals” went on to be a huge, international hit. It topped the charts in countries around the world. It was covered by Bruce Springsteen and Jack White, to name just a couple of artists who recognized “Royals” as the great song that it is. Undoubtedly, it made Lorde the wealthy celebrity she used to envy, and rue. Maybe she never saw this life for herself, but taking a close look at the “Royals” lyrics, maybe she did.
“We’re bigger than we ever dreamed
And I’m in love with being queen“
Written by Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor and Joel Little
Performed by “Lorde”
Released June 3, 2013