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(Credit: Krists Luhaers)

Music

How baseball inspired Lorde's triumphant hit 'Royals'

@jackwhatley89

As we still bask in the glow of Lorde’s shining performance at this year’s Glastonbury Festival 2022, now seems like a great time to look back at the icon’s breakthrough song ‘Royals’ and how an indie anthem was born out of the singer’s curious love and appreciation of a little known baseball player.

Lorde, AKA Ella Yelich-O’Connor, has quickly become one of the most widely adored pop stars in modern times. A consummate professional, even during her salad days, Lorde was inspired by historical figures Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to adopt her empirical moniker and has looked every bit of the grand title with every passing new release. However, her first hit, ‘Royals,’ wasn’t inspired by Tsar Nicholas II or any other Royal Highness but rather by a sportsman.

‘Royals’ announced Lorde as a brand new saviour for pop music. At only 16, she held all the talent in the world and confirmed herself as 2013’s hottest property. Alongside her manager Scott Maclachlan, who discovered the talent at only 13, Lorde would hit the number one spot across the globe and send shockwaves through the music world, even compelling the iconic David Bowie to state that the singer was “the future of music”. But to provide an accurate vision of the future, Lorde first had to destroy the present, and with her debut song, she did just that.

The song aims squarely at the powder keg of popular culture, determining a whole generation of celebrities to be vulgar in their determination for opulence and grandeur. “What really got me,” she told The Observer, “is this ridiculous, unrelatable, unattainable opulence that runs throughout. Lana Del Rey is always singing about being in the Hamptons or driving her Bugatti Veyron or whatever, and at the time, me and my friends were at some house party worrying how to get home because we couldn’t afford a cab. This is our reality! If I write songs about anything else, then I’m not writing anything that’s real.”

Lorde once again confirmed the song’s intent when speaking to the NZ Listener, suggesting records like Lana Del Rey‘s Born to Die and Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch The Throne had contributed to her outrage: “When I wrote ‘Royals’, I was listening to a lot of rap, but also a lot of Lana Del Rey, because she’s obviously really hip-hop influenced, but all those references to expensive alcohol, beautiful clothes and beautiful cars – I was thinking, ‘This is so opulent, but it’s also bullshit.'”

A large portion of the song’s inspiration came in a flash ad saw Lorde write down the lyrics within an incredibly short space of time, explaining to Billboard: “I was just at my house, and I wrote it before I went to the studio,” she said. “I wrote it in like half an hour – the lyrics, anyway. I wrote all the lyrics and took them to the studio, and my producer [Joel Little] was like, ‘Yeah, this is cool.’ We worked on that and on two other songs on the EP in a week, and just did a little bit every day.”

As well as finding inspiration in the growing world of gold-dripping hip-hop, Lorde was also heavily inspired by a single image of a baseball player, George Brett, she had seen in a magazine, telling VH1: “I had this image from the National Geographic of this dude signing baseballs. He was a baseball player and his shirt said ‘Royals.’ And I was like ‘I really love that word,’ because I’m a big word fetishist, I’ll pick a word and I’ll pin an idea to that. It was just that word and I was like ‘This is really cool.'”

In 2014, Lorde met George Brett; speaking to TMZ, Brett said: “Lorde is such a sweet little girl… She’s only 17 years old, and she’s very talented. My wife and I met her after she did her sound check. And then we got to talk to her for a little bit after the concert also… We both said it was nice to meet each other. She told me about looking through the National Geographic and seeing the picture [of me from 1976] and cutting it out and putting it on her wall.”

Since that moment, Lorde’s career has gone from strength to strength. Delivering important records and seismic pop moments, she has drawn on inspiration from all around the world for a plethora of hits. But none will have the impact of ‘Royals’, the song inspired by celebrity opulence, Lana Del Rey and a baseball player named George Brett.