Have you seen the music videos for “Royals” by Lorde? On the surface, it seems counter-productive.
It lacks excitement, showing a constant stream of scenes centered around four teenage boys doing nothing particular. Lots of lulls also fill the video, and Lorde herself doesn't even appear that much beyond an opening and closing image and one scene during the bridge.
And it works. The music video for “Royals” is avant-garde and minimal, and successfully represents one mindset held by teenagers.
What inspired "Royals"?
“Royals” depicts the scenes in life that media rarely show. Admit it, most teen television series are extremely dramatized and distant from life. Schools follow the same exaggerated formula, they party and drink love a lot, they accomplish exciting feats every week, and the actors are in their twenties or even thirties (R.I.P. Cory).
For most of us teens, life isn't as reliable as fiction. The thing about fiction is that everything that doesn't contribute to the story gets pushed off-screen. As Jeff Goins points out, this gives us an incomplete and warped view on life.
People and media hype up teenagehood to be exciting and amazing--and then your happiness is either ridden by problems, your life turns out to be mostly boring, or both. For many, it’s both, and it makes teen show feel unreal.
Lorde plays up to this disappointment.
(By the way, if a teacher tells you that high school will be the best time of your life, DO NOT LET THAT BE TRUE. If your life climaxes in teenagehood, then the decades ahead must've been horrible.)
Who else have done this glamorization?
She isn't the first person to. Many music videos center around the singer and her friends having a fun outing, and it’s all perfect. “Oath” by Cher Lloyd, “22” by Taylor Swift, and so on. It’s a whole trope.
While many such outings in real life go well, they suffer from many problems and in-between moments, ranging from boring transportation time, to someone getting injured or arrested in a nonglamorous way.
Have you seen the parody “32”?
When you have commenters saying how they’re 22 and the parody is more relevant to them, you know that you hit a nerve.
While the video for “Royals” might not be a direct parody to anything, it is still a response. As the song goes, “every song’s like...”
How does this show in the execution?
So when Lorde uses four of her friends to record the video, the result is something counter-cultural and effective.
The scenes go by fast, with each one ranging the spectrum of the mundane. The most exciting scene are two boys boxing in the living room, and that’s the closest it goes to elevated life. Most of the shots involve a lot of standing around, staring, and nothingness.
Personally, the best shot in the entire piece is near the end, when the boys all sit on the bench, waiting for the train. One of the boys lean against the glass pane, with a forlorn expression on his face. Do you ever feel like that? I do.
These are the in-between movements often ignored by media. When shown for the first time, they catch your attention. Even if you think the video is boring, you can't deny that it's at least sorta right.
Why should I care?
“Royals” isn't unique, but it’s the start of what I think will be a stream of similar videos. Many teenagers feel disillusioned by life and fiction, and as “Royals” shoot up the charts, several similar songs and videos will follow.
It might not be exciting, but it brings up a point. And it’s glorious.
Let’s see what Lorde has next up her sleeve.
By the way, if you're curious about the lyrical meaning of "Royals", read this in-depth explanation. It's worth it.
Hey, it's been a long time. The hiatus stuck this time through most of the summer.
But I'm back. For how long, I'm not sure. But I'm considering restarting the blog and focus more on the music angle.
If you want more frequent updates from me, follow my Tumblr! Also, follow my lyrical pursuits over at Rock Genius.
Have a great school year!