We wouldn’t normally have a perspective on a young pop performer releasing her third album, but a couple of things drew our attention. Firstly the cover art which is, frankly, a creepy up-skirter’s wet dream and not at all cheeky, modern, queer sex-positivity as some have said. It makes you question the process by which the major-label groupthink decided it was a good idea … maybe ditch all the young women fans who’ve been inspired by Lorde’s songs and go for the horny youth? The second thing that flagged up this album was the widespread slagging off Solar Power was getting for its musical and lyrical content. We’re interested in this, because time after time, we hear from women in music who talk about the pressure to comply with the industry, the gaslighting, the building up and knocking down which seem to fuel the music business.
Solar Power by Lorde (real name Ella Yelich O’Connor) seems a perfectly fine album with the kind of production you’d expect from a modern release. It’s different from Lorde’s previous albums of course, because it’s a different world, but also because she’s older. Aged just 13, Ella was pounced on and ‘acquired’ for a Universal Music Group ‘development deal’ by a guy called Scott Maclachlan who became her manager. Maclachlan is currently receiving treatment for alcoholism and trying “to live a simpler, less egotistical life.” following being fired for sexual harassment over many years at Warner Music.
The advantages of a development deal are that you get introduced to people, a lifestyle, a succession of opportunities that make you feel really special. The downside is that you really have sold your soul, and can get weighed down with the expectation, the constant instructions, the responsibility of having to make money for a whole lot of people depending on you. It’s easy to lose your identity; it’s easy to escape into addictions. A development deal for a feisty 21 year-old who’s done music college might be a good idea, but to us, signing up 13-year old girls isn’t on. It’s the modern form of indenture.
When UMG signed Lorde as a promising young artist, it stopped the other companies getting their hands on her. It also stopped the normal teenage learning process and replaced it with grooming in all its senses. In a previous post, we wondered what Kate Bush‘s musical output might have been if she’d been allowed to live a bit, take risks, be anonymous and experience ordinary adult life before her musical success and fame. When all you know is a childhood, followed immediately by pressure to perform for everyone, how can you find happiness? How can you really trust anyone? How are you prepared for the criticism, ageing and falling out of favour which inevitably follows?
In our latest printed zine, we call on music-fan parents not to support their children into early music careers by signing contracts that commit them for years into the future. We chart the experience of Lena Zavaroni, but there’s loads more nowadays who seem to think that ‘making it’ before the age of 18 is the key to a happy life. Ella’s parents found out they had a ‘gifted’ child; encouraging her to sign a development deal with UMG and Scott Maclachlan may have seemed the right thing to do at the time.
By 2013, Lorde was riding high with her authentic close-up reflective songs. Her publishing and music for TV/film/adverts sold for 2.5 million US dollars, David Bowie said she was ‘the future of music’, the New York Times called her ‘a pop prodigy’ and ‘the new queen of alternative’. With Royals, Lorde became the youngest Billboard number 1 artist since Tiffany in 1987. But we all know that Tiffany is no longer a major recording artist, right?
What’s the future for the now 24-year old Lorde/Ella? Further success? A slow decline? Maybe a breakdown, a shock announcement, or retirement? The unfeeling algorithms at Spotify rank Lorde as #182 in the world, which is pretty good, but not something to keep an eye on. There may be more albums to come from Lorde, more TV and film synch and her well-off celebrity existence might continue with her 41-year old music executive boyfriend. Despite the accolades and success, Ella’s probably still under pressure to look younger, chase hits and follow the ‘recommendations’ of music executives. Financially secure, she could always break free from the monotony of major labels and escape to a smaller, quieter life – you know the kind of thing that worked for Kate Bush.
Lorde has achieved so much and should be proud of that – she’s cited as a major influence by so many of the newer young songwriters and performers who themselves are currently being lauded in the music industry: Billie Eilish, Maisie Peters, Olivia Rodrigo … and that’s how it goes around. Let’s hope that Lorde’s trajectory, and those who follow are not further examples of how the music industry buys up and grooms very young artists for a short-term career before spitting them out. It can be a swift turnaround from ‘the future of music’ to ‘show us your bum’ to ‘old, past it and tiresome’.