Lorde and Ariana Grande: What these two new pop princesses tell us about today’s music scene

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At the 56th Grammy Awards, New Zealand singer and song writer Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, better known as Lorde, scored four nominations and two wins: Best Pop Solo Performance as well as Song of the Year for her smash hit “Royals.” “Royals,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks, is the lead single from her debut album “Pure Heroine,” which was released on September 27, 2013. The album peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 and has been certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, denoting sales of over 500,000 copies, with total sales now reaching almost 800,000 copies. Not bad for a debut album.

On Aug. 30, 2013, former Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande released her first music effort, “Yours Truly.” The album reached the top spot on the Billboard 200, and sold over 100,000 copies in its first week. Without the same Grammy press Lorde received, Grande’s sales fell in the following weeks, and the album has reached sales of only around 400,000 copies. Despite some very positive reviews, Grande received no Grammy nominations. Although her debut album was still very successful by most standards, Grande’s achievements in music thus far do not stack up to Lorde’s, commercially, or, given Lorde’s Grammy wins, critically. What do these differences say about the music scene today? If we explore the differences between these two artists, it could mean a lot.

Let’s start with Ariana. On “Yours Truly,” she was praised for her vocals, and it was noted by many critics that her sound harked back to throwback 1990’s era R&B. Considering her four-octave range and melisma style delivery, it is no surprise that she drew comparisons from singing powerhouses from that era and genre such as Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, who Grande cites as major influences.

In short, Grande’s style reminds us of the days when virtuoso vocalists would rule the charts and sell the most records. And yet, in today’s music market, it appears that the big voices in popular music are losing out to artists like Lorde.

Exactly what kind of artist is Lorde? Her influences are broad, from rapper and producer Kanye West to legendary blues singer Etta James, but most critics agree that her music is electro-pop based. While Ariana belts out notes past the seventh octave, Lorde’s vocals are more reserved and less flashy, with her songs more focused on the production and lyrical delivery. Certainly, the fact that electro-pop music is surpassing modern R&B and soul music in popularity is one take from this comparison. Obviously, any glance at today’s charts will show that rhythm and blues as it was in Mariah Carey’s day are not what they used to be. But considering other, more important parts of Lorde’s artistry can give us another outlook on the music world, namely her lyrical themes.

The lyrics of “Pure Heroine” are perhaps what best represents the appeal of the album. By exploring themes of social anxiety and teen angst, Lorde may just be a better representative of young people today than Ariana. While the Nickelodeon star’s lyrics are not unlike other mainstream pop tunes (“I love the way you make me feel”), Lorde’s songs almost rail against pop culture of today. Perhaps there are lots of teens that are “kinda over getting told to throw (their) hands up in the air” as Lorde express in her song “Team.” Rather than being in a perfect relationship, like the one we see in Grande’s “The Way,” the lead single from her album, adolescents more likely to relate to not being “royals,” or rich, young partiers that are the subject of Lorde’s biggest hit song.

Music trends change like the wind, but clearly what Lorde has shown with her music is that the best way for an artist to keep in style with the young crowd is to sing about what they are feeling in the moment, not just the subjects that are typically explored. Lorde is not the typical pop diva of yesteryear; Ariana fits that bill more accurately. But this poetic 17-year may be the new standard for the leading musical women of the future. Only the success or failure of her next release will tell.

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