Lorde is not a goth, but she proved her pop-star staying power in Denver
When Lorde became widely known following the release of her hit single "Royals," the term "goth" was quickly attached to her music, and even more to her visual style. Vanity Fair referred her as the Queen of Darkness.
Eric Gruneisen. Full slideshow.
Well, the goths didn't get that memo, and Lorde's sold-out show over the weekend in Denver seemed to be mostly attended by the kind of mixed crowd any rapidly rising pop star might draw, from children all the way to seniors who haven't dismissed Lorde's songs as silly kids' stuff. For her part, the singer born Ella Yelich-O'Connor seemed completely in command of her powers as a performer while also projecting a subtle but deep vulnerability. She displayed a surprising degree of self-possession, something that many people take most of their lives to develop. Perhaps that capacity could fulfill the clumsy requirements of genre tags like goth or emo, but in this case, they're limiting. No great (or potentially great) pop singer would be worth much without an ability to articulate emotional tenderness and honesty, and Lorde just might be a great pop star.
See also: Lorde at the Fillmore -- full slideshow
Chances are that Lorde didn't set up the lighting system or directly design it beyond the concept stage, but whoever oversaw the details really created a dynamic and creative light show that accentuated the spacious layers of sound and the spare, finely textured, rhythms. Lorde would gesture dramatically, and a burst of light would snap on in the background.
Her dancing, and even some of her vocals, were reminiscent of a fellow artist who is no stranger to dark, haunting atmospheres: Zola Jesus. Lorde sang hunched forward at times with a shroud covering her head, and at other times standing, as though imploring higher forces to aid her in delivering her vocals.
Live, Lorde's music came off more as some well-conceived and executed alchemy of hip-hop beats, lush trip-hop atmospheres and the outsider art pop of a band like Cocorosie. You could hear the hint of a stylistic nod to the percussive textures of Sleigh Bells. Lorde's economy of composition seemed more obvious when heard in a large room, and her uncluttered songwriting and gift for using space and quiet in exactly the right proportions gave the music a strong, fluid dynamism.
A superficial listen in a coffee shop, grocery store or office might obscure some of that detail. More obvious on first listen is that it is upbeat. Moody, too, but somehow uplifting and soothing. Her music represents gentle catharsis more than it dwells on personal darkness.
Before "Ribs," Lorde had her most obviously confessional moment of the show. It sounded rehearsed but not scripted. She paused, and her voice quavered with what sounded like genuine feeling. She told us how she wrote the song in February 2013 on a Monday morning, after a weekend when her parents were out of town and she had as massive a party as one can have in a small house with her sister, her best friend and several of their friends. Throwing that party, Lorde told us, felt like an adult thing to do. But it made her think about becoming an adult and what happens if you still want to be like a kid and do stupid kid things.
She said she grapples with being in both the kid and the adult worlds. She also admitted that when she writes songs about those sorts of things, it isn't from a place of assuming she has things figured out. Instead, the music is written in the hope that someday she'll remedy the situation.
Then she addressed the audience more directly and said that coming to this show, she knew there would be people her age there, in high school, and older people who connected with what her songs were about. Both kinds of connections, she said, are what she seeks in writing and performing.