Royalty and The Unachievable American Dream

Not altogether strangely, during the past few weeks of impending debt crisis doom and Federal instability, music and news stations alike have set Lorde’s new track “Royals” on repeat. In fact, both the The New Yorker and NPR have commented on the success of her debut album, “Pure Heroine”. Now, this may have something to do with the fact that Lorde’s vocalist, Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor, is the daughter of the distinguished poet Sonja Yelich—but the dynamic literary elements of “Royals” should not be, by any means, casually dismissed.

For those of you unfamiliar with the song itself, you can watch the popular music video and access the full lyrics below:

Lorde – Royals Lyrics | MetroLyrics

I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I’m not proud of my address
In the torn up town, no post code envy
[…]

We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair
And we’ll never be royals (royals)
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of lux just ain’t for us
[…]

And everyone who knows us knows
That we’re fine with this, we didn’t come from money
[…]

Most stunningly for me, is the way in which these lyrics echo Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club (written in 1996 when political and economic tensions similarly ran high). The exclusivity of the of the upper class and the resentment of the lower is a theme ground into us repeatedly. For example, when our narrator declares:

What Tyler says about being the crap and slaves of history, that’s how I felt. I wanted to destroy everything beautiful that I’d never have. Burn the Amazon Rainforests. Pump chlorofluorocarbons straight up to gobble the ozone. Open the dump valves on supertankers and uncap offshore oil wells. I wanted to kill all the fish I couldn’t afford to eat, and smother the French beaches I’d never see.

Fundamentally, the story is one of the lower class, the poor, and uneducated grown weary of the lie they have been fed by popular media and the reality of their second-class citizenship.

Lorde similarly addressesFightclub this when she establishes her speaker as someone not of royal blood and not permitted to partake in the“lux” (or luxuries) that the wealthy consume. In addition, the song participates in a meta-discourse on the music industry. Lorde tells us that every song is offering to her audience notions that exist, to her painful realization, only in the movies. In this way, both texts serve to underscore the fallibility of seeking enlightenment and happiness through material goods. But, instead of encouraging her peers (as Tyler Durden does) to create a pandemic of social revolution—Lorde seeks to inspire something strange: passivity.

Other recently release books, too, deal with this selfsame subject of educated nonviolence. Most notably, I Am Malala, the biographical account of a 15 yr old girl who resisted the Taliban, has a lot to say about pacifism. Malala stunned audiences nationwide with her maturity, bravery, and simple (though ideologically valid) beliefs on the futility of domineering conflict (as demonstrated in her interview with John Stuart). Perhaps the youth generation of today has grown weary with the incessant war and perpetual threats lordethat they encounter. Whether they stand confronted with the real war on terrorism, the conflated and confused war on drugs, or the false media wars against “your wife drinking milk” (as circulated by the National Dairy Council)—they still stand disappointed. Theirs is not the generation of picket fences, nuclear families, and “tigers on [gold leashes]”; but rather, theirs has been a lifetime guided by bleak anti-utopian ideologies.

Ultimately, we connect so deeply with they lyrics of “Royals” because we sense Lorde emerging from what many of us instinctively define as our own dystopic class. She pushes the question we all hate to wonder: How do we come to terms with the seeming inadequacy of our station within the socio-economic sphere? Is it prudent to reject our commonplace dreams of “royalty” as an impossible standard of wealth and success? Moreover, we are still left asking: what constitutes utopian success?

Authored by your friendly neighborhood cyborg: Stephanie D’Adamo

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