I came late to “Royals” by 16-year-old New Zealander pop sensation Lorde, but after finally hearing it a few weeks ago I made up for lost time by listening to it in bulk, sometimes four or five times in a row, plus the number of times it runs through my head over an average day. (Approximately twelve.) It’s one of those songs that’s so perfectly constructed that I can just roll it around in my head all day.
Part of its perfection comes from its simplicity. There’s not much to “Royals” but a drumbeat (programmed by producer/cowriter Joel Little and faintly reminiscent of Californian ratchet music) and Lorde’s vocals, which tilt between an elegant coo and a more percussive hip-hop-inflected cadence. (Lana Del Rey is an acknowledged influnece.) The melody—here swooning and romantic, here a hopscotchy sing-along—is so hooky that you’re likely to start singing along to it before the end of your first listen, and adding anything other than a rhythm to support it would be unnecessary and intrusive. It’s the Jiro Ono of pop songs.
“Royals” has been slowly building an audience since it was released in March, aided by boosts from such diverse backers as Diplo and Perez Hilton. It’s already topped two Billboard charts, Rock Songs and Alternative Songs, although it’s difficult to argue that it’s either of those things. Right now it’s at number 12 on the Hot 100 after eight weeks of climbing. If it goes any further it’ll enter a full-blown war zone, with the summer-dominating “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines” deeply entrenched and Lady Gaga and Katy Perry simultaneously launching the opening salvos of a battle for pop-diva supremacy. But “Royals” is the kind of stealthily addictive single that might be able to slip by them and claim the top spot for itself.