A buddy at work asked me what this song means, and below I am going to offer my interpretation as a writer on this song.
After spending a few minutes on Google and wiki, I discovered a few facts worth taking note of. Her mother was a prize-winning poet, and she comes from a small town in New Zealand. After watching her video, I will also say this:
When a writer or songwriter sits down and writes something that comes from the heart, rarely does the thought that I will explain go into the creation of a work. Lorde states on her video, that “this song means a hell of a lot to [her]”. Much of the time, writing comes from the heart, from the feelings, from the gut. There’s always a risk of over-thinking and getting away from the essence of a creative work when analysis is applied to something that came from the heart.
That said, here we go…
The title of the song is “Royals”, and there are two opposing definitions that she speaks of in the lyrics. There is the personal definition that she identifies in the first part of both verses. The opposing definition is found in the refrain. She is a “royal” in her own right, but it is not the “royal” that she “cut her teeth on in the movies”.
“Never seen a diamond in the flesh.
Cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies”
What a great play on words! Several different things come to mind that can be gleamed from this. In order to understand the context of either line, you have to have both lines, and they speak indirectly of marriage. In first line she indicates she has never seen a real diamond and evokes an image of a diamond in the process. The second line indicates that she has seen wedding rings, which have diamonds, in the movies. She’s also implying she’s never been proposed to, and has ‘cut her teeth’–that is, tried things out and learned–by watching the movies.
But what she’s done in these two lines is evoke the idea of marriage and it’s popular stories without saying it, using the symbols of a diamond and a wedding ring.
This creates a sense of suspense through abeyance, where we given a seed of information, but aren’t entirely informed of what is being spoken about and we as listeners hope to hear the information we need to understand before the end of the song. She sort of provides it, but just enough to whet the imagination.
“and im not proud of my address
in a torn up town, no post code envy”
Pride doesn’t come from where she lives, which means house, neighborhood, and that the entire post code has nothing to be envious of. She is saying that there is nothing special about her birth town. What exactly that is, we are left to wonder. It is easy to draw the conclusion that her “torn up town” is fraught with the “love affair”.
She states she is not “caught up in the love affair” that most songs are in love with. It’s a bit of an anthem to living within one’s means, and that having a good time and good life doesn’t need bling (gold teeth), booze (grey goose), drugs (trippin in the bathroom), violence (blood stains), aristocracy (ball gowns) and damaging property (trashing the hotel room).
This is a song about paradox and new, alternate definitions. Living in the world, but not of the world.
So she calls out what “every song’s like”, identifies a love affair, and then says “we crave a different kind of buzz”. What that buzz is, is largely unsaid, but that’s part of the unspoken meaning of the song.
“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.”
This is her concluding what she has identified as the luxe of the “royals” she “cut her teeth on in the movies” (learned and grew from). She states, “that sort of luxe (luxury) just ain’t for us.”
“Let me be your ruler
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.”
This is her making an offering of her own definition of what it means to be a “royal”. And if you accept her definition (“Let me be your ruler”), well, “You can call [her] Queen Bee”. If you let her live that fantasy, then you’re accepting a different Queen, a different ruler of what it means to be “Royal.” She’s asking for a fantasy where “Cadillacs [are] in our dreams,” but we’re not “caught up in [the] love affair”. It’s a different kind of “royal” that she is suggesting.
Verse two is where she begins to identify her own definition. And it isn’t simple. It’s a code, one that has to be cracked. “We count our dollars on the train to the party,” tells us that they can party, but they count their dollars. They’re frugal, and know their limits. “And everyone who knows us that we’re fine with this,” indicates contentment, that they are perfectly okay knowing their limits. And the code: “We didn’t come for money.” This is her telling us that her group of friends is not in it for the money. This is her definition of what it means to her to be “Royal,” to crack the code, count the dollars, be content and not be in it for the money.
So the song speaks of “Royals”, which is plural, meaning more than one. One is the love affair that the royals of most songs have with their Maybech, diamonds, gold, jet planes, islands and tigers on a gold leash. The other is her definition, which stands separate, in opposition to it. The meaning under this is frugality, contentment, counting the dollars and not being in it for the money. And if you let her live her fantasy, if you let her rule, you’re one of her friends and you can still be a royal. It’s about living a so-called ‘normal’ life.
Awesome song, great lyrics, and makes you think. It’s got depth and charm. It will take a few listenings to really hear everything, but it’s a keeper.
Trivia: Ella Yelich-O’Connor (Lorde) attends the same grammer school that Courney Love (of Hole and Kurt Cobain/Nirvana fame) did.