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Released: 2013

“Royals” by Lorde is a bold commentary on the materialistic and often fantasy-driven nature of contemporary pop culture. This anthem of the underdog challenges the unattainable standards of wealth and extravagance promoted in pop music, and instead celebrates the beauty of authenticity and humble beginnings.

Let’s start with the opening lines: “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh / I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies”. Lorde here artfully paints a picture of her unpretentious upbringing. Cutting one’s teeth is an idiom for acquiring experience or undergoing a formative experience. The implication is that her exposure to such glitz and glamour is second-hand, gleaned from the silver screen rather than personal experience. She juxtaposes this notion of removed experience with the reality of her own background, noting she is “not proud of my address”.

When Lorde goes on to sing about “every song’s like gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom”, she’s directly referencing the common tropes of material opulence and debauchery seen in much of contemporary pop culture. “Gold teeth” and “Grey Goose” function as symbols of excess, while “trippin’ in the bathroom” hints at carefree attitudes towards substance use often glamorized in pop culture narratives. Lorde, however, firmly positions herself outside this narrative, stating her and her friends are “driving Cadillacs in our dreams”—an admission of their simpler reality.

The chorus is where “Royals” becomes a battle cry for those who feel alienated by the pop culture’s typical displays of luxury. Lorde rejects the label of “royals”, asserting, “It don’t run in our blood / That kind of lux just ain’t for us”. She doesn’t resent her humbler beginnings, rather, she sees the power in them, wanting to “crave a different kind of buzz”. In naming herself “Queen Bee”, she self-appoints a role of dominance and importance typically reserved for those in the upper echelons of society.

Moving on to the second verse, she sings: “My friends and I? We’ve cracked the code / We count our dollars on the train to the party”. It’s a further proclamation of her comfort in her socio-economic status, boasting about not needing money to have a good time, to be relevant, or to be happy. They have “cracked the code” to a satisfying life without the societal pressures of over-indulgence and materialism.

As the song wraps with repetitions of the chorus, Lorde’s declaration of independence from the common notion of success and wealth in pop culture is loud and clear. She’s rejecting these societal pressures, revolting against the stereotype, and establishing an alternative path to royalty, one that values authenticity and genuine experience.

Overall, “Royals” is a refreshing antithesis to the notion that material wealth is the only measure of success. With this track, Lorde essentially started a pop music revolution, delivering a much-needed reality check to the genre while affirming that it’s perfectly okay to celebrate who you actually are, as opposed to what society might expect you to be.

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