In her own words: Lorde on fashion, work and purple lips
Janetta Mackay snapshots the curious day job of a pop star embarking on her first big-brand global collaboration.
"I don't get nervous before this sort of thing or for a photo shoot, says Ella Yelich-O'Connor, whose Lorde persona and Royals smash hit have propelled her from Cheltenham to worldwide recognition.
"Performing, I pretty much always get nervous but I always know it's going to be okay... it's just this like aggressive drive making you like wanting to be perfect."
The preternaturally composed singer-songwriter is fielding questions like an old hand in New York. Were it not for the way she drops "like" and, less often, "you know" into her sentences it would be hard to pin her as a 17-year-old Kiwi. She's wearing Alexander Wang for starters, but it's the self-possession that is more noteworthy.
Asked if she feels she has to act older than her age, she issues an emphatic "No." Asked how she feels about a year of awards, touring, magazine covers and now this M.A.C makeup launch and she laughs "Great!"
Her other more articulated answers are considered, yet mostly spontaneous, a rare thing in a stage-managed press event like this, where PR people hover and small groups of writers take turns to dutifully begin questions on pre-agreed lines, hoping to veer off-message before their time expires.
When the Brazilian beauty writer asks about Lorde's favourite lipstick colour - seriously! - and how the collaboration took shape - "remotely, because I've been on tour" - and if a nail polish might be next - "Hopefully this one goes well and I get to do another one." - I can practically hear the clock ticking.
It's late May in a loft in the Flatiron District and by evening the space is packed with fashion and media types waiting to see Lorde perform fresh off her Billboard wins.
Viva has the only New Zealand representative on the list. Back in Auckland next week, other local and Australian media get their turn to ask questions, minus the private performance.
Between times Lorde has been touring Europe. The makeup is already on store counters in the Champs Elysees and Fifth Avenue. Australasia is its last date at the end of this month, reflecting the pecking order of celebrity and commerce.
"What was she like?" I've been asked plenty since coming back from the States. Who, but family and close friends, would really know? Eloquent and honest, I'd say.
"What do you think she will do next?"
Head to relative anonymity in New York, perhaps, where she can lunch with Taylor Swift seemingly less disturbed by paparazzi than at home in Auckland. She did this the day before the launch and, although they were photographed heading into a restaurant together, she didn't mind, saying: "I expect it when I'm working." But at home?
"I just think there's a point when it's a little ridiculous."
Out of context, her quotes on the pressures of fame can seem a bit naive or whiny, but how would you like your adolescent bikini body critiqued and your boyfriend dissed online? Yet Yelich-O'Connor confidently tells me her life is "chill", although travelling so much is, at times, isolating. "It can be difficult to communicate with friends and I miss everyone's birthdays and I, like, am in and out of touch with my family, although mainly my Mum is on tour with me."
When a Canadian journalist says she can't imagine how, as a teenager, she would have reacted in the breakthrough star's shoes, the answer is simply: "You don't, until it happens to you. When you do something like this and you have the kind of highs that we get to have, like, it would be silly if you didn't get to have lows as well. Everyone has an opinion on what you're doing and you know it can be very difficult to keep your compass where it was before you read whatever you read."
Here are her own words:
On her Lorde look: "I'm quite tall and broad and curvy, so a lot of things wouldn't work on me, but I just like the [menswear] silhouette. You know, I love Patti Smith, I love Grace Jones ... I wear a lot of suits when I'm working. In New Zealand, I have a staple pair of Acme men's trousers I just wear with T-shirts and this one pair of school shoes that I always wear."
On those purple lips: "A dark lip has become my thing - I like the idea of having a distinctive signature. On stage it's just accentuating features. It's drama. I had a really strong idea of the kind of finish I wanted because I'm aware of the fact that no-one has a makeup artist to apply lipstick like I do, so it had to be super-wearable and easy for anyone to put on, but I also wanted it to be able to be pressed on like a stain as well as like a regular lipstick."
On the beauty icon tag: "It's kind of weird I guess because, you know at the end of the day I dress this way and I wear the kind of makeup I do because it's appealing to me . . . it's complimentary. This is quite a dramatic look I guess, it's not like bronzer and lip gloss. I guess I like fashion that's cool to see on."
On the acne issue: "I'm not promoting having perfect skin or anything. I like to think that my products are about highlighting features on your face that you really like and that you want to accentuate and that you want people to be drawn to, because you know that's what I do, because I'm not so confident about my skin."
On Photoshopping: "Obviously, I have acne struggles ... it dents my self-confidence. But when I saw that someone had edited me to look perfect on stage - you wouldn't expect anyone to edit those photos from that context - I was like, oh man. As much as this was a struggle for me ... they're me, they're what's real about me. The idea that that's been misrepresented, I couldn't do that to the kids who see me on TV."
On the collaboration: "It was exciting. Only superstars work with M.A.C, like Lady Gaga, Rihanna, these huge people. I've been a big old M.A.C fan for as long as I can remember. I used to buy the lipsticks when I couldn't afford to. I liked the idea of making a product for my friends and my audience to be able to use - just like we all used to hand round the same lipstick. I know if I was really into a teenage popstar and they made a lipstick which was their shade - this is my identity in this colour - then I would want to buy it."
On her family: "I have three siblings, one of them is really good at sports and one of them is studying business at university and rides horses and one's just like this amazing bubbly personality that I'm convinced will be a TV presenter of something . . . our parents are really good at supporting whatever it is that we decide we want to do as long as we are focused and into it and feeling fulfilled."
On her work: "When I'm not working I'm usually thinking about working. What I do is really important to me. I love doing it, so as a result of that I'm always like writing music in my hotel room. I write on my iPhone, I have a big notes folder. A lot of it is places, I attach a lot of feelings to places, just because I'm a bit visual-minded, so a lot of songs have to look good in my head before they make sense."
The next song?: "Don't know. Definitely not for a while."