Kenyon Counterpoint: Kimbra vs. Lorde

So obviously New Zealand is killing the game right now. The past decade has seen a lot of kiwis hit the big time overseas (e.g. Gotye and Flight of the Conchords), but today the real battle has come down to Kimbra and Lorde. These two pop songstresses have both put out absolutely killer debut albums that each give them claim to the throne, but which one beats the other? There can, after all, only be one queen bee

Dan Rasch ‘14 and Broods Weinman ‘16 have taken sides on this most contentious of issues.  A coin was flipped, and Lorde was assigned to Rasch, Kimbra to Broods.  Read on and judge for yourself the victor…

Singing

Broods: Though it may help Kimbra that she sings in a style that is more conducive to flaunting her voice, it would incredibly difficult to tease apart one from the other: she either sings the way she does because the genre demands it or she sings that genre because her voice warrants it. While Lorde continues to beat to death her cool, sultry deep set voice on every track, Kimbra unleashes a versatility that keeps every track on her album unique. Just listen to her do Lorde better than Lorde at the beginning of “Plain Gold Ring” before unleashing her inner diva and crushing the rest of the track.

Rasch: So Lorde gets a lot of crap for sticking to the “husky alto” vibe.  And I’ll grant Broods that in terms of versatility and sheer vocal pyrotechnics, Kimbra’s clearly the more obvious powerhouse here.  But aside from the mere fact that the two artists make very different music that calls for distinct vocal choices, I think this would be a good time to invoke their age difference: both have been singing since childhood, but Kimbra’s been honing her chops for a good 6 years longer than Lorde.  Who knows what the latter will sound like when she’s Kimbra’s age?

Anyways, this is a Lorde song where she’s practically channeling Sleigh Bells, very different vocally than her usual stuff, and I’ll let it speak for itself in terms of what the girl is capable of.  Maybe not showing off vocally is her way of keeping the listener focused on the lyrics, which are clearly meant to be center stage.

Songwriting

Rasch: Here I don’t think there’s any question: Lorde hands down.  First of all, let’s get the obvious point off the table: neither Kimbra nor Lorde are the sole authors of their product.  Both have very talented producers and co-writers who are in part responsible for their respective albums.  But lyrically, they’re worlds apart: yeah, Kimbra has cute, clever musings about “Settling Down,” but overall the subject matter is really repetitive!  Love song, love song, love song.  Nothing we haven’t heard before.

Lorde is – and this is going to be a contentious point but I mean this seriously – a poet.  Her mom’s one by profession, and that’s how Lorde got into writing songs: writing lyrics.  What’s so awesome is that she’s able to get these really thoughtful notions and bizarre images stuck in your head; in terms of melodic “catchiness,” she’s totally on par with Kimbra.  I mean, the girl’s been reading Raymond Carver and Kurt Vonnegut since she was 12.  Kimbra seems like she never graduated past John Green novels, by comparison.

Not only that, but keep in mind Lorde is only 17.  It takes a lot of self-scrutiny at that age to be able to sing the words “I’m little, but I’m coming for the crown” a mere verse and chorus before this little musing: “Only bad people live to see their likeness set in stone / What does that make me?”  That sounds like a contradiction, but I see it as a remarkable kind of insight: “yes I want all this, I want to be the queen, but what kind of life am I glorifying when I say I want that?”  Name me one Kimbra song that goes that deep.  I’m putting my money on the kid who, at age 15, penned a chart-topping critique of materialism in pop music that every high school girl in America now knows the words to.  Kimbra is still batting in the Pitchfork little leagues.

Broods: Kimbra’s superior musicality shows in her songwriting. Her complex chords and intricate rhythms make Lorde’s work sound like music theory homework. Listen to “Good Intent” and the snaking chromatics in the melody. Lorde may still be learning what the black keys on the piano are for. So many of Lorde’s songs only seem to go from about four to six in terms of intensity, while Kimbra can bring you down to one and all the way up to eleven.

Also, I know it’s hard to discern sometimes between good songwriting and good production, but did Lorde really write as good as a song as so many give her credit for? How are we to know that she didn’t write some kind of Emma-Roberts-style Unfabulous crap before her producer, Joel Little, came along? Little even says that she only brought in the lyrics for “Royals” and the two wrote the rest of the song together. Suspicious….

Performance

Broods: If Lorde is the weird girl in the corner at the dance who dreams of being prom queen, then Kimbra is your cool aunt who has great teas and shows you cool records. Lorde steals her dance moves from Thom Yorke but Kimbra’s are all her own. Check her out on KCRW in Los Angeles where she perfects the move: witch casting spells. Lorde sings about dreary suburban life, Kimbra sets dolls on fire. Also Kimbra does her own looping live.

Rasch: Alright, so Lorde’s maybe not as skilled at the live thing yet.  She’s new to the life of a pop star, obviously, and she’s obviously and proudly a total introvert.  But again, I think she has time to grow on this point, and even if her onstage antics aren’t trying for anything we would ordinarily call “charisma,” I happen to be a big fan of the Thom Yorke/David Byrne/Ian Curtis style of dancing that she pulls off, and you can tell from the one-shot video for “Tennis Court” that Lorde definitely doesn’t lack a kind of bewitching confidence…I just don’t think she’s as seasoned a performer yet.

Consolation:

Rasch: Yeah this was a really hard post to write because this time last year I was just as obsessed with Kimbra as I currently am with Lorde…but yeah this is the song that made me love Kimbra.  I mean you’ve probably heard it (or at least the Owl Creeks cover of it) but it’s still so, so good.

Broods: “Love Club,” is just so infectious. I can’t really bash Lorde all that much without giving credit to her for this gem.

Bottom Line

Broods: Kimbra is more unique, complicated, and harder to describe in so few words. Therefore, she will always be less popular. People don’t care about chromatics. Lorde gets her royalty, but Kimbra is the true heir to the throne.

Rasch: If Lorde were just another pop experimentalist writing current-sounding pop songs for English majors and hipsters, this might actually be a competition.  As it stands, not only is she making absolute bank compared to Kimbra, but she’s risen to the throne by writing catchy, forward-thinking music that actually has something to say about ambition, the vapidity of top 40 radio, and the paradox of becoming famous by calling out the mindlessness of fame itself.

(( Whose side are YOU on?? Leave your (respectful) opinions in the comments section: ad feminam attacks will be moderated without mercy ))

10 responses

  1. Next WEEK on COUNTERPOINT: THOMAS FRIEDMAN AND DAVID BROOKS DISCUSS THE RELATIVE MERITS OF Pantone 4535 C AND Pantone 4525 C in 80000 WORDS OR MORE

  2. This one is pretty much a no-brainer *for me*. Lorde is a rookie (although a strong one, with potential). She doesn’t quite have her wings like Kimbra does. Yeah, Lorde read Vonnegut at 12, but Kimbra’s dishing out Psalm references. Like Broods points out, tea. Lorde’s lyrics are quite ‘pointed,’ semantically, and are relevant in our vapid top 40 culture–and that helps her here–but Kimbra can play live. Also listen to the tessitura (comfortable singing range/distance from lowest sung note to highest sung note) on “Love Club”, compared to almost everything on Kimbra’s album. Kimbra has a much bigger range, a range she explores with both pitch accuracy and raw emotion (and a variety of them). Finally, as a singer myself who was looking for skillful ‘alternative’ byways into ‘soul’ music a couple of years ago, Kimbra was perfect. Lorde just doesn’t do that for me. Both artists have room to improve and grow, for sure (Kimbra’s dynamic contrasts in terms of instrumentation seem weak on one or two tracks) but I’ll stick with “Vows”…for now.

    • you’ve stated my personal dissenting case perfectly, WJP…if those are your REAL initials

      thanks for showing us Kimbra, this post couldn’t have happened without u

  3. Kimbra! I suspect that Lorde uses Auto-tune. Kimbra has the production talents poring out of her. Where Lorde needed help into and out of the studio.

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