16-year-old Ella Yelich-O'Connor (also known as Lorde) is already the popstar paradigm. The New Zealand native has broken records - she was the first NZ artist to have four tracks in the top twenty concurrently - scored two number one songs, sold out her first tour in 73 seconds, signed to Universal and been played on X Factor and Wimbledon coverage, all without a proper album (she in fact only has one EP out). Even the most grandiose hype-magnets struggle to ascend to a similar level.
Influenced by James Blake, Burial, Lou Reed and Drake, her sounds recall the Tumblr-friendly tones of Lana Del Rey or Marina & The Diamonds; she's got an effete cynicism, often lambasting the media for their portrayal of youth. Speaking to The Line Of Best Fit, she spitballs a bold notion: "I think young people (younger than 18) are the most creative and inspiring people on earth… we should all hold the jobs that matter, because we know what's cool." Her first EP, The Love Club, was an immense success; it was five tracks of sheer glitz and neo-diva brand-dropping (she namechecks Grey Goose, Maybach and Cristal despite being too young to drink [legally]). It's teeming with velour vocals, smart Charli XCX-isms and indulgent hooks - her music is aural hedonism. Not the sonic equivalent of a glittering soiree per se, but rather an orgy of Bacchanalian lux. There's the essence of a modern Nero.
Her new EP scales back the booze-chugging dollar-fuelled apathy and penchant for parties in lieu of a more emotionally mature core. Tennis Court deals with more adult themes of growing up and self-esteem issues, but not in a preachy, dowdy way. It's still a vastly youthful release, but here she deals with the dark side of the late teens: drugs, alcohol, sex and all manner of hormonal ups and downs (mostly downs). If The Love Club was Lorde arriving at her prom dolled up with pals, beaming with glee and being as wry and materialistic as only idealists can, Tennis Court is the dwindling moments of a turbulent night out - some people are painting the pavement a rainbow of browns and greens, some are hysterically wailing with mascara leaking down their cheeks, others are caught up in an anxious bout of 'holy god fuck where am I going with my life'.
'Biting Down' spans a chasm with only infinite abyss below. There's electro-gospel harmonies, explosive percussion with rhythmic smithereens jutting out and a droning tinnitus synth stuck in an eternal feedback loop. Flashes of goth-pop shine through. 'Bravado' has ritzy organs and an xx-style synth glow; Lorde's robust, soulful vocals tear apart the track, demonstrating just why she's strutting to the top. She frequently glides through higher pitches, though she's adept at lower registers too, and seems to do it without exerting any effort. 'Tennis Court' employs hip-hop beats and enormous, shimmering synth pads as Lorde croons nostalgically, fearing the dizzying heights of wherever she ends up - it may sound like a chirpy summer anthem, but it's full of fear: "Pretty soon I'll be getting on my first plane/ I'll see the veins of my city like they do in space/ but my head's filling up with the wicked games, up in flames/ how can I fuck with the fun again, when I'm known?"
Completed by a cover of The Replacements' 'Swingin' Party', the Tennis Court EP is wonderful companion piece to her first EP. The two may share tracks ('Biting Down' and 'Bravado' feature on both EPs), but this is her first non-NZ release, so a fair few people won't have heard them anyway. Lorde shows here that she has a knack for brooding paeans, and not just the sunny side of pop - she's not afraid to dig a little deeper.