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To know Lorde is to know the music that made her—the songs she grew up listening to, the lyrics that inspired her own songwriting, the tracks she used to rip from LimeWire as a teen like the rest of us, and more. What tunes helped shape this bright young mind, who David Bowie once called the “future of music,” and who wrote the hits “Royals”, “The Louvre”, and “Stoned at the Nail Salon”?
The answer lies in Lorde’s new Solarsystym station for Sonos Radio, which launched this month. As she walks listeners through some of her favorite songs (spoiler alert: there’s hundreds of them), audiences get to know the elusive artist on a deeper level. There’s “Yonkers” by Tyler, the Creator, which was her so-called “holy grail” as a teen. There’s Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia,” which is like an ever-flowing fountain of wisdom to her, offering new insight or advice with each listen. Other picks in the lineup show the range of her musical taste, from “Backseat Freestyle” by Kendrick Lamar to “Strange Overtones” by David Byrne and Brian Eno and “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
The project “compelled me to have all of the pieces of music that have moved me or made me who I am in one place,” Lorde, born Ella Yelich-O’Connor, tells ELLE.com over Zoom. “As I started to make it, I was like, wow, this is as intimate a depiction of me as you could get.”
Another facet of the Sonos project is meant to encourage listeners to go outside—with a handy, portable limited-edition Roam carry bag—and play the music en plein air, perhaps even immersed in nature, to make the experience even more special. That’s essentially what Lorde did while writing her latest album, Solar Power, which arrived last summer: She went off the grid, connected with the earth, and lived her life out of the spotlight.
Calling in from Los Angeles after wrapping up her U.S. tour and before hitting the road in the U.K., Lorde shares the first songs she downloaded on her iPod, how she feels about logging back onto Instagram, and what she would play if you gave her control over the aux cord right now.
The range of songs on Solarsystym is amazing: J Dilla, Kate Bush, Tyler, the Creator, James Blake, Joni Mitchell. You said that these songs are kind of a journey through your life and reflect your experiences growing up. How would you personally describe that musical journey?
My being a music listener happened during an interesting time—the time where I first started taking ownership of what I listened to outside of my parents’ music taste was right at the start of LimeWire. I would go to a friend’s house and they would rip a whole bunch of stuff off LimeWire and put it on a shitty secondhand iPod Shuffle that I had been given, and then like, YouTube-to-MP3 conversion started happening.
We all did it.
Yeah! And it was this kind of lawless ungoverned time. But also it felt like genre didn’t matter in a way—when I speak to friends from the generation before mine, they’re like, “Oh, this sort of crossing of boundaries, genre-wise, would never have flown. We liked our genre and that’s what we did.”
But it just meant that the things that I was drawn to was so disparate, and I really was reminded of that making this radio [station] because, one day after school, you’re downloading Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK,” and next you’ve found this Thom Yorke-Burial-Four Tet collab that you’re obsessed with. It’s fun to see that side of it, and I think also your teen music choices are very specific. What you want out of music as a young person, as a teenager, is very different from what you want later on. So it’s fun seeing all those different components to it.
I love how you mentioned ripping songs onto your iPod, because it’s very nostalgic—especially since Apple just announced that they’re discontinuing the device entirely. It’s like a time capsule in a sense. Do you remember some of the songs you downloaded onto your first iPod?
Ooh, well, they’re probably in this playlist. Anything I was into, I would just go home and download like, 50 songs and...It would take a while, the internet was not very fast.
This is also the beginning of my realization, my epiphany, that whatever was going on in a Justin Timberlake song could be as profound and musically impressive as something that was seen as a little more highbrow, more critically acclaimed or whatever. So I remember being obsessed with FutureSex/LoveSounds and just really trying to dig into what was happening there. I downloaded that. Then also, I mean, it was a weird time. I’m trying to think of what we were into…I loved, like, “I Gotta Feeling” [by The Black Eyed Peas]. That was definitely getting downloaded.
That’s so funny.
It was [also] the very beginning of Gaga. I remember “Bad Romance” coming out.
I used to share my iPod with my younger sister because our parents only allowed us to have one. And the first song we downloaded was “I’m Sprung” by T-Pain.
Oh my God. I’ve had a [renaissance] with that song recently. It’s a phenomenal song.
It has a special place in my heart for that reason. I’m curious, when you were coming up with your playlist, what was the curation process like? Was it hard for you to brainstorm which songs to play, and in what order? How did you manage to narrow it all down?
Kind of, yeah. I just strapped on my brain of like, “Okay, I’m 10, what am I into? Okay, I’m 12, what am I into?” Which was kind of funny and I still am like, “Fuck, have I left stuff out?” Because it’s so many songs, it’s, like, hundreds of songs. But once I got into it, I realized, oh, there’s probably another 500 songs; once they occurred to me, I could add to this.
I’ve got, like, years and years of playlists on my computer, so I went through all of those. And, obviously, there were pieces of music that have been influential to me but that are not on streaming services. So that was another thing: I had to sort of leave a few fallen soldiers there. But it was very funny. Some of these songs I hadn’t listened to for 10 years. First play you’re like, “God, that that was doing something for me. Okay.”
Did the process of gathering all the songs bring up a lot of memories for you?
Oh my God, absolutely. I mean, just thinking about Arcade Fire—such an amazing band and such a huge influence for me as a teenager. Hearing those songs and reminiscing about that whole time of my life, where I started listening to them and, you know, I’d be standing at the park stop, just playing an Arcade Fire song over and over trying to figure out how it worked. And then, two years later, they’re friends of ours somehow. Like, we’re standing beside the stage watching them, you know? It’s so cool to think about all of that.
That’s amazing. In the press notes about the radio station, it mentions that you cleaned out your piggy bank to purchase Drake’s album, Take Care. I’d love to know more.
Oh, well, that’s actually not correct. The thing that I depleted my piggy bank for was Fall Out Boy’s Infinity on High. [Laughs.]
Oh wow. Also a great purchase.
I mean, I also would be very happy with Drake’s Take Care album. I think that came out a couple years later. I literally took the notes and coins out of my piggy bank and went to the CD store and bought Infinity on High, which I don’t even know how that would’ve crossed my desk as a young person, but I guess they had a song on the radio. But I just thrashed it. I had a little CD player, and it was my first experience of really sitting with an album booklet, and reading all the lyrics and being like, “Oh, I see how they did that.” Or, “word choice here has made me feel this way.” Take Care definitely would’ve been YouTube-to-MP3 converter era.
I remember doing something similar with the same album. I was also re-listening to Solar Power recently, and I remembered the line in “Stoned at the Nail Salon” where you say, “all the music you loved at 16, you grow out of.” As you revisited some of the songs that you grew up with while curating this station, did you find that to be true or untrue?
Oh my gosh. I mean, absolutely. I think “grow out of” is the right way of looking at it. You hold up a piece that was really meaningful to you and you’re like, “Okay, this doesn’t hold the same importance to me that it did, or it doesn’t.” Some of these songs were like talismans for me. They were so protective, and just made me feel like I could do anything or be anything, as music does when you’re that age. It becomes part of your whole ideology.
Part of what I wanted out of music as a 14, 15-year-old was just loudness. Like, I just wanted to be slammed in the ears with something really fucking intense. ‘Cause as a kid, you’ve listened to so much stuff that your parents have played. And you’re like, alright, let’s fuck it up. So listening to, I don’t know, that first Tyler, the Creator album just as loud as I physically could–what an itch that scratched as a young person. It’s so specific to that time.
Definitely. I also like how you mentioned on the station that Radiohead’s In Rainbows was one of your favorite pop albums, and “15 Step” was your favorite intro. Do you remember the first time you heard it?
You know, I do. I had a boyfriend in high school, Robert—love him, super cool guy—and he played me In Rainbows for the first time. And I don’t think “15 Step” was the first thing I heard from the album. But, the whole album was super, super big for me. And I just always thought those songs were great.
Because, at that age, I was still very much listening to only pop music. That was what I liked and understood, and this album was one of those ones that I was like, “Oh, it’s a pop album. It just happens to be this band that I would think of as making very complex music.” It’s like, In Rainbows is all pop [tunes]. So “15 Step” really sets the time for that, I think. It’s so groovy.
Part of the idea behind the station is also to encourage your fans and listeners to go outside and unplug and be a part of nature, since Sonos is also releasing a portable Roam carry bag for the speaker. How has being out in nature affected your songwriting?
It’s more [that] it’s affected me as a person in every way, rather than songwriting in particular. Although I do think Solar Power sounds the way it sounds because it does sound like being outside. I didn’t want it to feel man-made or synthetic, so I sort of deliberately stayed away from things that made it sound that way. But I think it taught me how to be patient going outside, because you can’t optimize the experience—you can’t fast-forward through it.
If you spend enough time outside, you will feel something really profound, and it can’t be rushed. And I think as someone who was born in ’96 into a very increasingly rushing world, that has been a really important lesson for me. And actually, I have been for some reason at the moment logging onto Instagram for the first time in years. It’s terrible. I’ve been waking up and checking Instagram, and I notice the difference. I feel like I’m in a rush from the moment I wake up. The experience of being back online is...You really notice the pace when you’ve taken some time out. So, all I want for people is to tune into a different pace of life and maybe get some of that patience that I caught.
I find that really relatable. I’ll wake up in the morning and Instagram is the first thing I look at. And sometimes, I’ll just be spending hours on TikTok too. It just kind of consumes your life.
Exactly. Wild. It’s like getting up and eating a huge bag of candy. I feel insane. [Laughs.]
Was the process of you unplugging intentional or accidental? Did it just kind of happen?
Yeah, no. I had fully hit my limit with internet dopamine. I just had to take myself away, and yeah, I do need to log out again. I don’t know what’s come over me, I’m just having a naughty little fortnight logged in.
I do think the line “throw my cellular device in the water” is very iconic.
Thank you, I need to put my money where my mouth is.
Do you think you’ll go back to living that kind of life once your tour is done? I know you have dates going into next year, but will you maybe hit pause a little after that?
Oh yeah. I think…well, I don’t know. I’m constantly surprising myself. We’ll see. But having seen both sides, it’s...You do unlock a different way of thinking, which has been helpful for me, especially when I’m making stuff. So, we’ll see. But there is something to be said for knowing what’s going on, understanding, being in on the joke. For many years, a joke would be made and I wouldn’t understand [laughs], because I didn’t see the original thing. Now I’m a little more in on the joke, which is maybe a nice treat to give yourself for a short time.
What do you think you learn about somebody from their taste in music, or from their playlists?
I think over this many songs, it does give you a pretty interesting look at what someone is wanting to feel. Because every song I love; it’s a little racetrack that I want to drive around to feel a bunch of things along the way. It’s a journey I want to go on. And if you see enough of those things, you start to notice a pattern. For me, at the end of making this, it did surprise me how pop it is. It’s really just a whole bunch of pop songs.
Obviously, I love pop and it’s what I do and it’s my religion, but to really be confronted with that—that the track I wanted to race around has been something so immediate, and chemical, and simple—is sort of a good reminder of who it is that I really am. It’s crazy to scroll through. But lots of people would know every song on this playlist, which is sort of revealing, but it also made me weirdly proud. I’m a really simple listener, and I think that’s something to be proud of.
If we were riding in an Uber right now, and I gave you the aux cord, what would you play?
Oh, such a good question. I’m going to go to my recently played list. I’m probably going to be playing you “Save Me” by Empress Of. I think she’s amazing.
Sounds like a pretty lit Uber ride.
Yeah. It would have to be after hours.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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