Wow, that Lorde song Royals is racist

Have you heard this young lady, Lorde, on the radio? Yesterday the New York Times posted a review of her recent performance at Webster Hall, and I’m kind of at a loss about the way that her big hit, Royals, is being talked about there and elsewhere. Now I’m a music lover, but since the only radio stations I listen to are the local hip hop station and NPR, I hadn’t heard this one – which I hear has been making the rounds on pop stations for a minute –  until somewhat recently:

(Full transcript of lyrics at the end of post)

Folks who have spent some time with me know that I deeply love music videos, so when I saw this posted on social media, I went straight to the video. Holy. Shit. What did this white girl just say?

My friends and I – we’ve cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,
We didn’t come from money.

But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom.
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your time piece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair

While I love a good critique of wealth accumulation and inequity, this song is not one; in fact, it is deeply racist. Because we all know who she’s thinking when we’re talking gold teeth, Cristal and Maybachs. So why shit on black folks? Why shit on rappers? Why aren’t we critiquing wealth by taking hits at golf or polo or Central Park East? Why not take to task the bankers and old-money folks who actually have a hand in perpetuating and increasing wealth inequality? I’m gonna take a guess: racism. I don’t have to explain why wealth operates differently among folks who’ve grown up struggling because this shit has been explained already: If you grew up with holes in your zapatos you’d celebrate the minute you was having dough.

The New York Times, however, thinks it’s just so fresh and insightful:

Ms. Perry and Ms. Cyrus sing about something teenage girls are presumed to have on their minds: what’s left of self-esteem after a breakup. (Dr. Luke, the architect of dozens of hit singles, collaborated on both songs.) Lorde, meanwhile, is singing about class consciousness and conspicuous consumption: the gap between pop-culture fantasies of Cadillacs and diamonds and the reality of being someone who “didn’t come from money.” It’s a thoughtful, calmly insubordinate song; it’s also written by an actual teenager.

While I am all about youth writing music that is targeted for youth, let’s not pretend that there is anything new about this particular kind of racism.

Yes, Lorde is only sixteen, but this is no viral video she put out outta her basement on her own; mad people signed off on this. Record execs have been working with her since she was 12; several, no, many people listened to this track, and saw no problem with it at all. And while I’m less mad at Lorde (who’s from New Zealand) than I am at the New York Times – and more generally white liberal critics that have been so captivated by Royals‘ call-out of consumption that they didn’t bother to take the time to think critically about the racial implications of the lyrics – this isn’t to say that there should be no accountability for her. I’m thinking of fierce youth activists who get it, are doing the work, and from whom Lorde could learn quite a bit. She apparently calls herself a feminist – let’s just hope her feminism gets a lot less racist as she develops as an artist.

Lyrics: Royals, by Lorde:

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 a torn-up town, no post code envy

But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your time piece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.

And we’ll never be royals.
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your ruler,
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

My friends and I – we’ve cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,
We didn’t come from money.

But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom.
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your time piece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair

And we’ll never be royals.
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your ruler,
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

We’re bigger than we ever dreamed,
And I’m in love with being queen.
Life is great without a care
We aren’t caught up in your love affair.

And we’ll never be royals.
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz
Let me be your ruler,
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

New York, NY

Verónica Bayetti Flores has spent the last years of her life living and breathing reproductive justice. She has led national policy and movement building work on the intersections of immigrants' rights, health care access, young parenthood, and LGBTQ liberation, and has worked to increase access to contraception and abortion, fought for paid sick leave, and demanded access to safe public space for queer youth of color. In 2008 Verónica obtained her Master’s degree in the Sexuality and Health program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She loves cooking, making art, listening to music, and thinking about the ways art forms traditionally seen as feminine are valued and devalued. In addition to writing for Feministing, she is currently spending most of her time doing policy work to reduce the harms of LGBTQ youth of color's interactions with the police and making sure abortion care is accessible to all regardless of their income.

Verónica is a queer immigrant writer, activist, and rabble-rouser.

Read more about Verónica

Join the Conversation

  • Destiny

    You know when I saw this on my Twitter feed I honestly thought it was a joke but actually reading the lyrics makes me see that those lyrics are actually racist. It clearly alludes to the stereotypical rap video. That’s really messed up.

    • LJ

      Lorde is from New Zealand, where most mainstream radio plays US pop music on a loop – we’re constantly spammed with lyrics about Cristal, Maybachs, etc. Those symbols of excess aren’t associated with African-American culture in my country (Australia), as much as they are with US mainstream music culture (when I heard ‘gold teeth’ I thought of Kesha, and ‘trippin in the bathroom’ made me think of Miley). To most young music listeners, all the references in the lyrics aren’t symbols of African-American affluence, they’re the symbols of popstar affluence.

      And while I get that those symbols have been appropriated by poppettes like Miley, Britney, Kesha, etc. you gotta realise that a kid listening to a radio station in New Zealand – a country that has a higher population of sheep than people – is probably not aware of that fact, or the complex historical & cultural rivers that underpin it.

      While i’m not a fan of Lorde’s song, when I hear it I just think of a young girl who wants to be a popstar listening to the radio and responding to the lyrics in an honest way – she’s not taking a stab at ‘black culture’, she’s just taking a stab at what she hears on the radio all day.

      I think your critique is ignorant of the way that many young people outside of the US are exposed to these symbols and the way they’re presented as aspirational objects completely divorced from race.

      • Kim

        I would 100% agree with LJ. I am an American from the Southern states and grew up with racism in America in the 60s onwards. I now live in New Zealand and what is viewed as racism in the States is not the same here. There is no racism against African Americans in New Zealand and the influence on her lyrics comes from musical influences heard from American musicians. I read her lyrics and actually thought of them in a colonial context because Kiwis are very much influenced by British culture because they are a Commonwealth country with the Queen as their head of state. That is not something Americans who have never travelled outside the USA would even think about. All Americans need to remember its a global culture and how things are perceived in the USA is not how they are perceived outside the USA. I could be wrong, but from what I have seen living here, Kiwis perceive things from an egalitarian point of view.

        • Fiona

          You are not wrong Kim :)

      • Sassi St Claire

        I too agree with LJ. Being from Aotearoa I was at first puzzled by this critique and then deeply exasperated by how the author is reading the lyrics through a set of US-centric assumptions, even though it’s clearly not by an American singer.

        I think that the issue raises an important, troubling point: while a somewhat oppressed minority in their own country, African Americans are nevertheless still citizens of the world’s riches, most powerful Superpower. In some cases this gives them access to the far-reaching empire of MTV, the RIAA etc as a powerful tool for mediated self-expression that most people in the world can only dream about. From our perspective in NZ they are just part of this larger media.

        Thanks to the reach of this empire, children in my country know more about Martin Luther King than they do about Te Whiti o Rongomai. Racial sensitivity to an absent group (African Americans) is policed as sacrosanct (the n word regularly tops the NZ list of most offensive words) but racial sensitivity towards Maori is not.

        Is any critique of a specific group of African Americans as part of a wider critique of some aspect of US culture automatically off the table, because of the privations their culture has suffered in their own country? When, as a New Zealander, I criticise the American Administration for acts of violent aggression such as drone-bombing in Yemen, do I have to leave out Barack Obama’s role in those acts, given that US culture often draws on the racist stereotype of African American male “violence” and “aggression”?

    • Davis

      Dear Veronika
      Do you realise Ella is a 16 year old school girl from New Zealand? Do you understand the colonial presumptions underpinning your comments? Do you think racisim has a context? Have you read the lyrics of her many songs and researched her lyric writing intentions before judging her in this way? Do you think it is right to take a few lyrics out of context and make racist generalisations from them? Is rap and hip hop beyond critique anyway? Do black people in the USA want these signifiers to be generalised and codified in the way you are suggesting? Should pop music be sanitised of their words according to your rules?
      I think if you want to call yourself a feminist then your feminism will need to get a lot less racist as you develop as a blogger.

  • athenia

    “Why aren’t we critiquing wealth by taking hits at golf or polo or Central Park East?”

    What 16 year old (white or black) wants to critique wealth by critiquing golf or polo? I’m serious! :)

    I mean, I guess, Jay-z’s involvement with The Great Gatsby is the closest thing we are going to get to a critique of old money?

  • Molly Otto

    To me it more seems her writing is deeply influenced by the mainstream music she listens to and her realization she’s about to get hella famous. It’s pretty hard to deny that if you’re a 16 year old you’ve grown up with rap being the mainstream. That’s a lot of what you hear on the radio (you even say that you mostly listen to hip-hop stations, and I think that’s true of a lot of people)–and there definitely aren’t bankers and golfers putting out songs that she would have heard that would influence her views of wealth and fame. She’s reacting to the songs she grew up on that reference what it is to be famous. And in those songs getting famous is often getting rich.

    I also think the “blood stains, ball gown, trashing a hotel room” is a very real nod to people like Katy Perry and Kesha who sing about getting drunk and making dumb choices, and to the very often white rockers who do the hotel room trashing.

    Having listened to the song in the context of the CD, the whole thing is about this very personal meditation on the incredible fame she’s starting to encounter (and the ways that does and doesn’t resonate with the background she’s from as a high schooler and as someone without much money). From where she lives she doesn’t see Central Park East–she sings about how she’s just gotten on a plane for the first time. She has, however, listened to the radio, and that’s where her ideas about fame are from.

    • Amanda Robinson

      ‘I also think the “blood stains, ball gown, trashing a hotel room” is a very real nod to people like Katy Perry and Kesha who sing about getting drunk and making dumb choices, and to the very often white rockers who do the hotel room trashing.’

      Yes, this. As soon as I read that line I thought of KeSha and every white band ever. I think it’s mostly a signal that rap has become as mainstream as white pop singers and rock bands – but I definitely see allusions to many different types of music, black and white, in those lyrics.

    • Gabriella

      This, exactly. The song lyric explicitly states, “and every song’s like…” I seriously don’t think this 16 year old is trying to condemn shows of wealth by people of color, but by the popular music that’s shoved in all of our faces. Katy Perry has a grill now, too. And so does Madonna. Let’s go back to dissecting the very real racism of Miley Cyrus, K?

  • David Young

    I think you need to consider the possibility that the racism here is yours: assuming that Rap and Hip / Hop and the people that listen to it are necessarily black. I am sure as a 16-year old, she listens to this kind of music all the time and probably does not think about it as a “black” thing.

    Also, re: critiquing golf or polo — there are plenty of allusions to “privileged” culture (e.g. Tennis Court, White Teeth Teens, etc.)

  • Katie Payne

    When I heard the song I honestly saw it as a response to Lana Del Rey and her obsession with diamonds, glamour, and fame. The line “tiger’s on a gold leash” seemed to reference her Born To Die video. “Gold teeth” and champagne brands are the only things she names which exclusively reference black artists (correct me if I’m wrong).

    It seems like she’s calling out everyone’s obsession with the money associated with fame and claiming that she wants the power instead.

    • Char

      She is making a comment on a lot of music industry people but it was the lyrics of Lana Del Rey that really peed her off and also her thoughts on feminism as she mentioned it in a couple of interviews;

      “all those references to expensive alcohol, beautiful clothes and beautiful cars – I was thinking, ‘This is so opulent, but it’s also bullshit. With her, it’s really manufactured. I never really believe anything she’s talking about, but at the same time I think there’s really a writer there, and I think she could have something really cool, if she stopped and looked at herself.”

      Dare I suggest that as Verónica Bayetti Flores is a known fan of Lana Del Rey, this could be the reason for this articles attempt to try and tarnish Lorde’s reputation and image, all be it on completely unfounded grounds.

  • jenn

    For what it’s worth, Lorde gave an interview to NPR in which she explains that she’s been a hip hop fan for a while and this song is specifically about hip hop, not about excessive wealth. She was very well spoken and gave a great interview – very humble.

  • Lindsay Lennox

    I read this much like Molly above – the mythos of success in the music industry rewarding (and demanding) rock-star-like and rap-star-like behavior. While some of the imagery certainly refers to stereotypical rapper lifestyle stuff, it seems to be in service to the song’s overall theme, which is distrust/disgust for Big Music (which, yes, is commercially often dominated by rap).

  • kelly

    i agree with molly on this one, the context of the whole album is important, especially if she has as much input in the songs as it seems. and at this point, the sterotypes of cristal, gold teeth, have infiltrated the mainstream, which is probably where this girl is getting her messages. and we know the mainstream is racist because we live in racist culture. so yes, these lyrics do dig at the mainstream hip-hop culture, and they also dig at mainstream pop-culture, which rightly deserve to be critiqued. it doesn’t excuse the unexamined raicism in the lyrics but i don’t think it’s as intentional as the writer suggests.

  • LaLa Science

    “So why shit on black folks? Why shit on rappers? Why aren’t we critiquing wealth by taking hits at golf or polo or Central Park East? Why not take to task the bankers and old-money folks who actually have a hand in perpetuating and increasing wealth inequality?” I sort of take the song to be focused on the “rich and famous” culture/lifestyle (not just the “rich” lifestyle), which is exemplified in many ways – some rap music/videos are certainly contributors to an idealization of extravagance. It’s not like the lyrics are targeting or specifically focusing only on the luxury culture described in rap music (which I’ll also add is no single or comprehensive representative of black culture). In addition to lyrics about “Crystal” and “gold teeth” (these terms are not code-speak), which might be interpreted as race-specific, there are also many more that I wouldn’t take as being so (“ball gowns”, “trashin’ the hotel room”, “jet planes”, “islands”, etc., etc.). All of these things are just different components of what youth today are taught to idolize. Attacking the lifestyles of “bankers and old-money folks” is almost irrelevant because popular culture doesn’t promote “golf and polo” in the same way that it does red carpets, tv/movie stars, and music moguls.

  • Jason

    This is a great website, lots of really interesting opinions and perspectives – as a guy with a conscience, I appreciate the education. It’s good to get perspective. And normally I wouldn’t go complaining about someone’s opinion, but this post is dangerous.

    I have read interviews and articles about Lorde, she is an intelligent and honest young human – a rare find, indeed. I have read that she feels youth are misunderstood in a way that is detrimental to their own future. She wisely points out our culture puts drama onto youth that they may not deserve (“they’re all doing poppers!”). Her video for “Royals” shows teens doing nothing, basically. This is what the song is really about – kids not doing what their music seems to think they do.

    I don’t have much more to add: Molly’s comment above does a better job of analyzing this song than Veronica does. But I will add this: yelling ‘fire” in a crowded theater isn’t opinion, it’s murder. Veronica has chosen to ignore half of this song, selecting only the phrases that most support her argument of “racism.” (Lorde says “islands” in her song, Hawaiians are outraged!) But the argument falls apart if one bothers to read all the lyrics, or to even ask the artist herself. Just because the music Lorde listens to happens to reference what Veronica considers racist does not make Lorde or her music racist – this is false logic. I can quote Hitler and still be a Jew.

    What bothers me most is the headline above is now making its way across the internet, swaying opinion – I found it on Facebook. My two daughters love this song. I love this song. The anti-Kardashian message in the song eases my concerns about what my girls hear on the radio. This is a great song for my girls – I do not desire they grow up mindless consumers. So here I am, thinking, “Finally! A pop song message I can get behind,” and Veronica is trying to ruin it. Damn.

  • Toni

    What’s “Central Park East”? Google knows a school with that name but it’s on 106th St, in the poor black and Hispanic neighborhood of housing projects abutting Mount Sinai, so I don’t think that’s what you meant. If you meant old money rich white people maybe you meant Central Park West? Or the Upper East Side? The east side of the park is just 5th Ave and the only other moniker it gets is “Museum Mile” — there’s no street or neighborhood with the name “Central Park East.”

  • Alex

    I don’t know, to me it seems like a stretch to call this song racist. What about the rest of the things she mentions? Jet planes, islands, ‘diamonds in your time piece’, and even grey goose…those aren’t specific to black people. Neither is trashing a hotel room. And ball gowns? If she listens to hip hop then yea, a lot of the songs are about spending money, and I guess some specify gold teeth and expensive champagne. But then isn’t she just making an observation about some things she sees and hears?

  • Pagan Trelaney

    Huh. I get what you’re saying, and I’m all for asking artists to really think about what they’re promoting , especially in the pop music medium, which reaches such a young impressionable audience. But, I have to say, I feel like assuming all rappers are identified by the status symbols quoted in the lyric, and in your piece is really not any different than what you’re critiquing her for doing. There’s no question that wealth and its trappings in the western world tend to skew towards one group and therefore their symbols of affluence are ones that are coveted and sadly, celebrated…but does that make it only okay for her to talk about those? I just feel like this is not picking and, worse, just as at fault as the artist when you really think about it.

    The Jay Z quote made me uncomfortable! It was like when someone says “Not to be racist, BUT…”

    Also, Jay Z isn’t exactly someone who I respect in terms of the ways in which he speaks about women, so I’m sorry he dealt with poverty but I don’t accept him referring to women in the disrespectful way he has. I’m thrilled he has a daughter so he can reflect on the language he’s helped perpetuate that hurts, demeans and marginalizes women, especially women of color.


  • Bee

    “Why aren’t we critiquing wealth by taking hits at golf or polo or Central Park East? Why not take to task the bankers and old-money folks who actually have a hand in perpetuating and increasing wealth inequality?”
    It could be racisim. It is much, much more likely to be that fact that this song is written by a New Zealander, and your examples are pretty meaningless to people not from the USA. Central East Park – where/what the hell is that? Golf – I can go golfing for a day for $4, $9 if I need to hire clubs. Seriously, golf is friggin everywhere over here. Polo – who the hells plays polo? Bankers and old money folks – just really not that obvious in our culture. There is maybe 3 bankers that could be named by more than 5% of the population, and one of those is because he is now our Prime Minister.

    She also mentions “grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom, blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room … Maybach, Jet planes … islands”: associations which are stronger with rock music, or pop music.

    This song is a response the promotion of a specific kind of lifestyle that is prominent within all kinds of musical genres, the disconnect between that life style and the everyday experiences of the people who are the majority of musical consumers, and how you can enjoy this music without buying into its message of what it means to be happy or successful. It uses examples from across the board. The fact that some of these are common to rap music does not mean that Lorde hates black people, it means that rap music is pretty common and popular. It is not meant to be a wide ranging and all encompassing critique of the greater social structures which inform our perceptions of consumerism, and to read it that way is actively disingenuous.

    • zane stratton

      Exactly, as a fellow Kiwi, context is everything.

      “But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
      Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room”

      This is *precisely* what a young New Zealanders experience with American music, which is about 90% of or pop-music market. Also; Hip-hop is far more prevalent than pop and rock among young New Zealanders, I am not sure if this is also true in the states.

  • Sean Curley

    I don’t agree with this assessment. You ask why she’s discussing aspects of consumption that are heavily associated with hip-hop instead of “golf or polo or Central Park East”, but I would think that would be obvious from the lyric “but every song’s like”. The song is mainly a critique of music culture. Nobody writes songs about playing polo or being a wealthy investment banker (or if they do, they don’t dominate the cultural conversation). Hip-hop and mainstream pop (lines that are rather blurred in many instances) are the main musical genres for young people, and the former is the one far more focused on materialism (the latter is less materialist only in the sense that topically it largely consists of various types of love song — and cultural representations of romance also feature in the song, i.e., the line about wedding rings in movies).

  • Aelfgifu1

    It’s not racist to critique popular music culture just because it’s dominated by people from a particular race. She’s clearly making a class argument in her lyrics.

    There’s enough to be outraged about without having to read problems into everything.

  • knope

    Wow, this is really poorly analyzed. Lorde is clearly critiquing popular music in this song, not all rich people in general. She is a musician, thus she writes about popular music and the influence it has on her. She also references other genres – “Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,” ballgowns and trashing the hotel rooms referencing rock music and pop stars like Kesha.
    Really, there isn’t anything racist here, just selective reading.

  • Nick Munn

    It is also worth remembering that race plays differently in *not-America*, which happens to be where she is from. This is what Molly is pointing at, and I think it gets lost a lot when people think about race/racism from the perspective of USians and those living there.

    Living in NZ, she simply doesn’t have the experience that filters these kinds of things by race. She may be intending to display a bias against USian conspicuous consumption, but it is more likely she intends to indict Americans in general, than that she is singling out African-Americans… the black/white dynamic that underlies US culture is not present in NZ culture. (There are, of course, different racial dynamics at play, but they do not track simply to align with NZ… if anyone in NZ owns a Maybach, it is likely to be Kim DotCom, not a local rapper, regardless of race)

  • Nellie

    You’re clearly not clued up about adolescent life in New Zealand… let me do it for me.

    Everyday we are constantly bombarded with american mainstream media telling us how to look, act, feel. To us, fame and fortune means you have to have ‘cristal, maybach, diamonds on your timepiece’…..that we don’t care about that kind of superficial stuff.

    Just because a lyric alludes to an idea of superficial success, does not mean it’s RACIST.

    To accuse this song of being racist only tells me that your worldview is damn small. That if someone even alludes to a rap artist in some kind of derogatory way then it’s racist.

    The thing is she also alludes to ballgowns and trashing the hotel room (popstars and rockstars)…..but that’s not what you would consider racist because people of that genre tend to be white? right?

    I just really think you need to open your mind a bit. The world is alot bigger than your backyard, and us kiwi kids don’t live by the same formula as the kids you may know.

  • Teagan

    Your argument doesn’t add up.
    She’s talking about the content of the popular mainstream songs not the people who sing them. – and what banker, ‘old-money folk’ or golfer releases songs??
    So why can’t a “white girl” talk about money struggles or her disinterest in wealth and fame? Maybe she has experienced it, maybe her friends have (who actually inspire a lot of her writing) but you imply that only black people can talk about these problems which is racist in itself.

  • Urs

    I agree with Molly.

    Lorde’s a teenage girl from New Zealand. Golf, polo and Central Park East aren’t really the things that come to mind when Kiwis think about ostentatious wealth. We’re more likely to think of rappers and hip-hop artists and their lifestyles, because that’s what’s pushed at us all the time. Music, videos and magazines are all about the expensive alcohol, luxury cars and bling.

    Lorde’s not dissing that kind of lifestyle. She’s acknowledging the stereotype, and then saying that it’s not her cup of tea.

    Just as an aside, there’s a slight error in your lyrics — the line “You can call me queen Bee” should be “You can call me queen bee” because it’s referring to the insect rather than anyone called Bee.

  • cliff arroyo

    I’m not a fan of this kind of music (too much dismissive avoidant attitude) but I seriously don’t get the racisim charge. She’s dissing a wide variety of music video tropes (only some of which are mostly associated with black performers). Racist how?

    And seriously, athenia’s right. The polo crowd are invisible to her intended audience (so critiquing them while engender nothing more than a shrug) while the vulgar excess of pop stars (white and black) is very real to them.

  • Jane Ward

    Quite a shallow analysis without any understanding of the context from which Lorde is writing. I would suggest some of those lyrics are a reference to the impact of cultural imperialism through highly influential images presented to young people as aspirational – and the disconnect for young people who don’t have a hope in hell of ever achieving anything like that. In Aotearoa that also includes debate around the extent to which imported stereotypes (including those from rap music and other kinds of mainstream music) undermine indigenous Māori culture, language and identity and also traditional Pasifika cultures.

  • Lucinda

    The music and TV shows that get exported from America give a very distorted impression of American culture.

  • Tracy

    I came across this post and felt obliged to sign up so I could comment. I am from New Zealand, and do not consider these song lyrics to be racist. However, the original writer comes across as ill-informed and petty.

    Its not a crime against feminism to be successful, and I would have thought that the more young, accessible talented woman supporting feminist ideals, the better.

    I’m also a little confused as to why the colour of Lorde’s skin has any bearing on the appropriateness of her writing. You might consider doing a little reading on kiwi culture, history and our music scene.

    I think you could have learnt a lot from my grandmother, who had a gold tooth. Let just hope your comments get a lot less judgemental as you develop as a feminist. Because ‘apparently’ at the moment you think its a good idea to ‘guess’ people’s beliefs and then sentence them to public criticism.

  • Stacie Hewitt

    I tried to consider your opinion, but I really am not on board with this one.
    The song is a critique of mainstream music, which is basically all youth party anthems. A lot of that is club-level hip hop, which is dominated by black people. A lot of it is also pop music, which is dominated by white people. All of it is about partying and living fun, glamorous lifestyles. No one is bragging about their wild tennis match and brand new boat shoes in Top 40 music. It’s expensive alcohol, glitter, drugs. People her age hear nothing from Top 40 radio except another song glorifying binge-drinking and money. She’s actively calling it out, saying every song sounds the same in that regard but it does not match the lifestyle of the little people consuming this music.

  • Jane Ward

    I also want to add in one further comment about your lack of understanding of the context she is writing about. In NZ. much of the debate about racism focuses on the loss of language, culture and identity for indigenous people colonised by white colonisers. And for people who have emigrated here. Intermarriage has been a major part of our history since the 1840s. So skin colour is not a good indicator of who people are, what they have lost and the racism that they suffer. As an example, I know nothing about Lordes’ whakapapa/family heritage but we would think very carefully here about calling someone a “white girl” just from a photo. (We would probably also use the term “young woman” if we thought of ourselves as feminists, but hey, girl sounds way cooler). In a way, your piece reflects a similar “dominant culture” attitude to that she is critiqueing in the song. The prevailing debate in the US about race and racism seems to be quite different from that taking place here, as you would expect from two countries with very different histories.

  • Patricia

    Hi Veronica,

    I follow your thought process, but I disagree with your conclusions. The lyrics you seem to have the biggest problem with are: “Gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom. Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room, Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your time piece. Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash…”. When I think of these things, honestly, I think of TV shows like Gossip Girl and music videos from artists like Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey and Miley Cyrus. Sure, I think of Kanye West, too, but to me the lyrics don’t stand out as being about black people. The only item in the list that could be thought of as referring to black people specifically (in my opinion – based only on my personal experience of pop culture, mind you), is “gold teeth” since it makes me think of Lil Wayne and his oh-so-shiney grin. But that’s one item out of 12. Cyrus, incidentally, actually wears gold teeth in her “We Can’t Stop” video. I really think you’re barking up the wrong tree.

    As a half-black young woman, I do feel I’m especially sensitive to racism and I feel hurt when I see it (and I see it more often than I would like to). I don’t see racism, tacit or explicit, in this song. Sorry.

    Also: the scathing language used in your post is too harsh. You don’t just say the song could be interpreted as racist. You call the song “deeply racist” and write: “So why shit on black folks? Why shit on rappers?” and “Why not take to task the bankers and old-money folks who actually have a hand in perpetuating and increasing wealth inequality? I’m gonna take a guess: racism,” implying that Lorde herself is racist. I think you would need more evidence to back this up. Maybe defamation law is different in the U.S., but in Canada (where I’m from) this could easily get you sued for libel. Maybe you felt emotionally charged with regard to this issue, having just written about health care legislation leaving out “two thirds of poor black folks and single mothers,” and you wrote this blog about Lorde’s “Royals” and posted it speedily without much time for forethought or research. I hope you understand that I’m not trying to attack you, I just disagree with your view and with the way you expressed it.


  • G M Criss

    Wow! This V B Flores article is Racist.

    As an Aussie I must agree with my NZ cousins (and just about everyone else). This song is not racist but is aimed against commercial music regardless of race, colour or creed.

    My concern is that the writer is racist in assuming Lorde is ‘white’ (whatever that means anymore). I assume Lorde has Maori heritage? My son has a friend who has blue eyes and very fair skin just like his mum. His dad is a local tribal elder and has brown eyes and very dark skin. Their son identifies as being indigenous and everyone accepts this as his right. Many people in Oz with ‘white’ skin are indigenous.
    While I am not suggesting Australia and New Zealand have perfect race relations we have moved past seeing colour as an indicator of race.

    To any “fierce youth activists who get it and are doing the work” [of perpetuating Flores racist stereotypes] come on a holiday to ANZ and see how your generation is making real change down here rather than inheriting the ‘judge by colour’ ideals from the older generations in America.

    Love your work Lorde. Your new song is already getting airplay all over Oz. Love it!!!

  • Amy Johnston Bray

    Like Tracy, I signed up to this website to comment on this post. In fact, I’ve never commented on a blog before but this post made me feel compelled to. The author of this post is simply displaying their ignorance by not acknowledging the effect of culture on the perspective of Lorde. Lorde is not a “white, American girl”, she is a 16 year old Kiwi girl raised in Auckland. As a fellow Kiwi, I can tell you it’s likely that she wouldn’t know that Cristal, Maybachs and gold teeth are associated with African American culture. They are simply items, like diamonds, ball gowns etc that are mentioned by rich people or aspirational rich people in pop songs.

  • Malia

    Wow! I REALLY REALLY think you should’ve rethought this piece before posting it. Not only is it the biggest contradiction of all time, but you set out to critique an artist, only to make yourself look silly.

    Claiming Lorde is racist and then referring to her as a “white girl”. Nice one.
    Taking lyrics out of context and assuming them to be references to “black folks”. You win again.
    “Because we all know who she’s thinking…” Well, no we don’t. You’ll have to ask her.

    The song quite clearly, in it’s full context, is an observation from a 16 year old girl of the pop culture teenagers are constantly subjected to, and it’s obsession with celebrity and materialism, and then going on to proclaim that that lifestyle “just ain’t for us”. I don’t see the racism in that?

    It’s quite baffling that a feminist is so quick to bring down another by nitpicking at things that aren’t really relevant, instead of celebrating this young woman who is in a position to heighten the awareness of feminist issues in the music industry and effectively be a role model for teenage girls all over the world who unfortunately are being influenced by the likes of Miley Cyrus.

    Your intentions for this piece were good, but you completely missed the bus in targeting Lorde and ‘Royals’. And you should’ve perhaps done some research into where she comes from, because racism is not prevalent in New Zealand and the racist issues faced on a daily basis in the USA just aren’t relevant in the mind of a 16 year old from Auckland.

    You: 0 Lorde: 1

    • Chris Miller

      I do disagree with that last sentence or so. Racism IS prevalent in New Zealand. It just looks different. And this is actually another symptom of the US imperialism in the article. So much of our tv and media and social justice discussion on the internet comes from America that American conceptions of things like racism are most of what we see, so they’re understood from American perspectives even when those perspectives don’t necessarily apply here. American white racism towards blacks is all wrapped up in slavery and property and dehumanisation. Maori were never *property* (not on a wide scale, though debt slavery was one method used to dispossess them of land and force them into the capitalist system because without coercion there was no reason for them to change their lifestyle), our racism is more about the insistence that there is no racism and *never was*, assimilation, “one people”, etc. Obviously all racist systems deny racism but New Zealand’s is really, really dependent on it. We have Maori politicians who can speak Te Reo in the House, everything’s a utopia! Sure, but we also have Michael Laws, Don Brash, “there’s no real Maori left anyway”, and Ansell’s merry band of cannibal-obsessed “historians”.

    • Chris Miller

      And actually, it follows from there that defiance of racism looks very different too. American racism is designed to maintain a cheap black workforce, so economic success (like that displayed by rap artists) is “winning”. New Zealand racism is designed to assimilate Maori into Western liberal society, so individual wealth actually plays into that. The cheap labour aspect isn’t nearly as important here, the rejection of cultural values is.

    • Steve Simitzis

      Racism by white people exists in New Zealand, generally against Māori and Asians.

      • Aroha

        I agree Steve. Since I read you know Kiwis, you should also explain that most Kiwis regardless of race are quite capable of giving as good as they get. Apart from the radicals, the majority of Maori do not get offended by words. Eyebrow raise. Chur

      • Com

        I agree 100 percent. As a tourist, it’s not uncommon to walk into a New Zealand store or craft market and see people selling Golliwogs – completely oblivious to its role in any sort of race-hate. Sad but true.

  • dcf

    I think that (as other posters here have pointed out), we do a disservice to useful discussions of race and power by turning “this pop song doesn’t contain a critique of the ways in which capitalism is imbricated with North American constructions of blackness” into the simplistic bombast with which this piece begins.

    To my mind, the song we’re discussing points at how capitalism infects and replicates itself in pop-culture creations, far more elegantly than I do in the sentence below. That’s a useful pointing, and rare on pop radio.

    Modern consumer capitalism grows by replacing the core of everything it touches with an advertisement for more capitalism, then sentencing the rebuilt version of that cultural object to infinite growth.

    Hip-hop and its pop music/pop-culture spinoffs are those transformed cultural objects: gutted but for the elements that reflect capitalism’s priorities. The are not as deracinated in their expression or as separated from their African origination as many previous genres and movements (ie jazz), and that reflects the successful project of Hip Hop pioneeers to retain ownership of their creations, possibly a first in North American cultural history.

    Such “ownership” is a Faustian bargain, however. The music and its attachments that are selected to succeed become a globe-spanning, loudmouth juggernaut whose primary message is about consumerism. They grow so far beyond the sources as to be nearly unrecognizable, and reach audiences who have little reference to those sources. This is almost certainly the case with Hip Hop in Auckland.

    I believe we need to name and attempt to dismantle the dishonest, messy (and often racist) process by which commercial energies reroute the connections between artists and our audiences through a meaning-devouring capitalist engine. Doing that requires grasping that not every extension of an African-originated form reflects the intent or values of the originators, and thus that not every acknowledgement of how that extension is distorted or empty is a potshot at us. I hope that in future posts here more care and thought are devoted to how a catchy, attention-grabbing headline and its supporting article contribute to or detract from the quality of dialogues with which they purport to engage.

  • Megan

    LOL. “I’m going to attempt a race-based analysis of a culture I know nothing about.” The _irony_. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so damaging. This piece is being shared around, and at some point, a young woman (I wouldn’t want to use your condescending “young lady”, from up there in that first line) is going to have to defend a charge of racism. Because you couldn’t be bothered to do some research about what the song is actually about. Which she has spoken about widely. But no, when you cherry pick one line, why would we be surprised that you haven’t googled. Can you even point to New Zealand on a map?

  • Belinda

    Wow, the writer of this article is deeply racist. Didn’t realise that that one line in Royals pertained to a specific ethnicity. Stereotyping much Veronica Flores? Top 40 music coming out of the US from rappers, poppers and the like are typical of all that jazz Lorde sings about. Even “white girls” Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Kei$ha and Katy Perry can be seen in some vein “like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom. Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room”

    Not everything is black and white. Especially here in NZ. You might want to learn about life outside of the US to see where Lorde is coming from.

  • Ann

    I find it interesting the author accuses Lorde of ignorance and racism and yet this whole piece is riddled with it.

    As many commenters have explained, you cannot dismiss a Kiwi as a ‘white girl’ based on her appearance – I am even ‘whiter’ looking than Lorde – freckles, blonde hair, grey eyes, and yet have Maori heritage.

    The author is exhibiting a different kind of racism to dismiss her as white and a profound ignorance of New Zealand culture to assume the racial cultural landscape, of which Lorde is a product, is the same as it is in the US. New Zealand has plenty of racial issues of its own, but those you seek to find in this song are not among them.

  • Steve Simitzis

    As an American who has spent a lot of time in New Zealand, I’ve been on the receiving end of the “Oh, Americans. It’s not always about you” eyeroll more times than I can count.

    My experience was that we because we spoke the same language and had a lot of the same media in common, I sometimes would automatically (and wrongly) assume we had the same cultural context. Not so, in the slightest. New Zealand is a foreign country. To forget that is very … American.

  • thinkhard

    The real racism here is in singularly defining black culture as hip hop and gold teeth. It is only here in this article — in the perpetuation of ignorance by seeking accolades for pointing it out. Perhaps you really do see racism and income inequality in the song… I simply understood it to be quite literal in that the artist has different aspirations from those advertised in pop culture. Perhaps the status quo in lyricism is waning thin in her generation and she is looking for expressions with more substance that reflect her humanity. To barrow the hip hop phraseology: she is keeping it real.

  • Craig Ranapia

    Because we all know who she’s thinking when we’re talking gold teeth, Cristal and Maybachs. So why shit on black folks? Why shit on rappers?

    Good question. You linked to Jay-Z’s ’99 Problems,’ which plenty of white critics swooned over but I couldn’t stomach the verse (which I won’t quote in full here) which plays into the same old heterosupremacist, misogynistic b.s. where the worse thing you possibly say to demean a man is call him a p***y or b**ch. If that’s the kind of upward mobility and aspirational consumerism I’m expected to show solidarity with, then this gay man of colour has a few suggestions where you can go, and what to do when you get there.

  • boris

    I see the kiwis are out in force. This article is not the first to ask why a white teenager can become popular by disassociating herself from forms of consumption associated with black culture. What is clear is that the artist listens to a shitload of hip-hop herself, so the “different context” argument doesn’t make any sense, because gold teeth don’t mean anything different in New Zealand to the United States. She knows the game and her label (if not her) knows there is a market for non hip-hop expressions of anxiety about those cultural markers. It is not much different to the media stereotypes about south aucklanders wearing baggy shorts and their caps the wrong way. Anyway something being racist is not about someone racist producing it – it’s that it conforms to a set of judgements that operate along racial lines. Anyone who hasn’t encountered this kind of anti working class consumption narrative before needs to learn some history. This article doesn’t do that work for you, but it’s basically correct in saying that the track fits well with a history of white anxiety about non-white consumption.

  • Craig Ranapia


    What is clear is that the artist listens to a shitload of hip-hop herself, so the “different context” argument doesn’t make any sense, because gold teeth don’t mean anything different in New Zealand to the United States.

    Interesting, Boris. So, the next time I go pick up a hip-hop album does it come with a list of approved readings? Am I allowed to find the casual sexism and homophobia in way too much hip-hop (and pop culture in general) not only irrelevant to my life, but profoundly offensive, without being tarred a racist? (Intersectionality. It’s a thing.)

    Sorry, but I find it more than a little depressing coming to a supposedly ‘progressive’ site which is spectacularly faceplanting in textbook American cultural imperialism. Racism is also a lot about representatives of a dominant culture presuming their cultural and social norms are universal values, while dismissively othering those outside the norm. Nobody is obliged to find those perspectives valid, but it’s seriously progressive to at least try and understand them.

    And, FWIW, that line “Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room” sounds a lot more like Ke$ha or Lady Gaga in full on ‘first world problem pity party’ mode. But please don’t let me get in the way of the “Lorde hates black men” narrative.

  • Fiona

    All due respect Veronica, your logic is flawed. Lorde was clearly referring to the unrealistic music videos that get churned out – primarily by the US – and the over the top lifestyles they portray (and by the way, the average NZ teenager would focus on a video’s theme, not the color of the people in it.) If you don’t like the song’s message then you need to reflect on how your own country’s music industry influences teenagers – not hate on New Zealand’s.

  • D S

    As someone has just mentioned, the Kiwis are out in force and it’s over Lorde. Must have been our loss to Oracle. But while your blog post is legit in most contexts, in Lorde’s song Royals its out of line. So Lorde mentioned “Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your time piece.
    Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash” and all of a sudden its racist and about rappers. Our music chart (specifically New Zealand’s Top 40) is littered with these references and more from the likes of Nelly to Rihanna to Miley Cyrus to to Britney Spears (to name a few). If these plugs aren’t mentioned in the lyrics, then they are in the music videos. It’s more of an observation than racist comments aimed at rappers.

    Take a look at our Top 40 ( and you will see that the kids over here are bombarded with Americanism be it from a White, Black or Latino artist so of course we will associate Cristal with African-Americans rappers/hip hop artists. Twerking used to be associated with Blacks as well until Miley Cyrus bridged that gap. Now it’s more associated with Miley Cyrus.

    But to call out someone as a racist because you, yourself saw magical, mystical racist undertones in something makes you more the racist and a bigot more than the person you were aiming at. Stop overreading, overreaching and reading between the lines and seeing things that aren’t there and you’re life will be much better.

    Congratulations though, you are now known in New Zealand and have gone viral ( I hope people go easy on you because its just an opinion and belief you had which people are allowed to have.

    Good luck.

  • Wren

    Hang on. So one white girl mentions gold teeth and Cristal, two things a 16-year-old hears about pretty goddamn often in urban and pop music (I’m yet to hear Lil Wayne or Katy Perry sing about polo…but hey, there’s a first for everything), but says absolutely nothing about race, and is a racist. Another white girl takes these two things (choosing to totally ignore the other lyrics – ball gowns, jet planes…are these also inherently “black” things?), assumes they are exclusively black references and therefore herself becomes guilty of perpetuating stereotypes, but she’s not racist? The former is racist for mentioning Cristal but the latter is not for joining the dots between Cristale and black people?


    “Because we all know who she’s thinking” is the most racist line in this article, including the Lorde lyrics.

  • Wren

    Here’s the chain: Hip hop culture founded by black people –> Pop culture influenced by hip hop culture –> Modern hip hop references become widely used pop culture references –> 16 year old white girl who knows her way around pop culture uses one of these references in a song –> RACIST!

  • Wren

    Shame that a young girl with such a strong will, incredibly sharp mind and real drive to speak her mind is shut down by a “feminist”… I know it’s not always as simple as this, but fucking just respect powerful young women! For one second! I’m not even referring to the critique here, because someone can be respected but also critically analyzed. I’m referring to the bitterness, the condescension, the assumption that Lorde is just some rich white girl bluffing her way through the music industry with feigned authenticity. Jesus, man. Just be fucking glad young chicks have an awesome role model for one second. Don’t be bitter. Don’t take down women when you have little reason to. It sucks. And it’s counterproductive to feminism.

  • Aroha

    First time commentator, sorry I accidentally hit report instead of reply.

    As a Maori, some like to allude as aboriginal of Aotearoa or New Zealand to those who do not recognize our language, I can set your mind at rest, that neither Lorde or any member of her family are racist. I am appalled that Lorde’s lyrics are being stigmatized racist. I find the rap words of ho, bitch etc more offensive, and damaging to girls, women worldwide, than the created lyrics by this artist. Age is irrelevant. The problem I have with this opinion is that until the same level of accountability is demanded on the preferred music genre you follow the opinion is just that and has no supporting relevance.

  • Fiona

    What’s even sadder is that the writer of this blog has the opportunity to be a positive influence for their cause(s), and instead appears to be wrapped up in “finding” something that quite simply was not there. Veronica, people around the world are learning real progress is not about seeing everything in black and white. Try it sometime.

  • Com

    I agree that the lyrics at first glance appear to take jibes at a certain ethnic minority but my main gripe with this song is that it isn’t a very accurate depiction of the singer. Listening to the song Royals, you’d easily think that the singer grew up in the slums of New Zealand but that’s not true. First off, she doesn’t live in the ghetto, nor does she go to a school in a socially-depressed suburb. In fact, to the contrary, she grew up in one of the `wealthy’ suburbs in her country and has attended very good schools that most people living in the `ghetto’ would probably never be able to attend.
    Her song is a contradiction in terms, really.

    Americans love Eminem because he is real and he sings the life that he has lived. If Lorde wants to sing about living in the ghetto and not being able to afford anything, except dreaming of it, then she needs to identify with her lyrics and audience.
    I find it very difficult to take seriously a rich, little girl singing about life in the ghetto.

  • Kim

    I disagree with the basis of this article’s argument which seems to postulate that certain people or groups of people are above criticism because of past or contemporary injustices committed against them. However I appreciate the conversation this post has generated and would be interested in the article writer’s response to some of the points raised by other people’s comments.

    • Verónica Bayetti Flores

      Kim, my point is not that hip hop – or people of color, or people who have historically been oppressed – should never be criticized. I disagree with that wholeheartedly, and I am with you there. What I find problematic is critiquing hip hop consumerism consumerism within hip hop & people of color communities when in actuality the VAST majority of excess consumption is done by white folks. So the actual narrowing down of that particular brand of excess consumption is where the problem lies.

      • jeffrey swetich

        This is such an over-analysis, its ridiculous! It appears that you are attempting to sound smarter than you are, deeper than you are, more aware than you actually are. Your third-grade understanding of American culture, consumerism, and political/social sciences masquerading as mature and rational thought is a disgrace and should be stopped. You embarrass your country and the feminist movement with crap like this. Stop these kinds of tirades before you get in way over your head.

  • Matt

    I signed up just to comment about how disgusting this article is, looks like I’m behind the pack though. Everything in this piece that insinuates this young girl is a “racist” can now be applied to you, as you are the only one implying these stereotypes. Stop harvesting these horrible negative connotations and use your energy for something productive. Mad at “liberal white critics”…. come on, not only trying to play race cards but politics as well? I hate to go to this extreme but you should honestly be restricted from writing anything for the public to read. Stick to admin work.