"Royals" is the debut single by New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde, included in her debut extended play (EP) The Love Club EP (2012) and debut studio album Pure Heroine (2013). Lorde wrote the song with producer Joel Little. "Royals" is a minimalist art pop and electropop song with influences of hip hop, R&B, and indie pop. The track's lyrics express disapproval with the sumptuous lifestyle presented in songs and music videos by pop and hip hop-influenced artists.
"Royals" received widespread acclaim from music critics, who praised its songwriting, production, and Lorde's vocal performance. Since its release, the track has appeared on critics' year-end and decade-end song lists. The single attained international chart success, reaching number one in Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. In the US, "Royals" spent nine weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It sold 10 million units worldwide, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time. It also was the second-most consumed song of 2013 in New Zealand and is certified nine-times platinum in Australia, seven-times platinum in Canada, and six-times platinum in New Zealand. In the media, the song has been credited for inspiring some artists to adopt its minimalist sound, and has been called an anthem for millennials.
In 2009, A&R representative Scott MacLachlan of Universal Music Group (UMG) discovered 12-year-old singer Lorde when he saw footage of her performing at a school talent show in Auckland, New Zealand. At age 13, Lorde began writing songs. In December 2011, after several unsuccessful sessions with songwriters and producers, MacLachlan paired Lorde with Joel Little, a former singer and guitarist of the New Zealand pop-punk band Goodnight Nurse. Her vocal performance and songwriting abilities impressed Little, who composed songs with musical structures that were based on her lyrics.
Lorde wrote the lyrics to "Royals" in half an hour at her home in July 2012 and during a school break, she and Little recorded the song at Golden Age Studios in Auckland in one week. Lorde and Little wrote songs for the extended play (EP) The Love Club EP in three weeks. The title "Royals" came to Lorde after she saw a 1976 photograph of Kansas City Royals baseball player George Brett signing baseballs with his team's name "Royals" emblazoned on his shirt. She said during a VH1 interview in September 2013, "It was just that word. It's really cool."
Lorde self-released "Royals" for free download in conjunction with The Love Club EP on SoundCloud on 22 November 2012. She released the EP for no cost because people her age are less likely to have access to a credit card. The song garnered an immediate reaction on social media and that December, "Royals" had its first radio broadcast on New Zealand radio station George FM. On 8 March 2013, UMG removed "Royals" from SoundCloud and release it to online stores in New Zealand and Australia.Lava and Republic Records released it to US radio on 3 June 2013.
According to Jason Flom, president of Lava Records, a key step to popularising "Royals" internationally was its addition to a Spotify playlist curated by American entrepreneur Sean Parker on 2 April 2013. The song later debuted on Spotify's Viral Chart, which lists the most popular songs among the service's users. "Royals" peaked at number one in May 2013. Two months later, the song was sent to alternative radio stations in the United States and on 13 August 2013, it was sent to top 40 radio stations. In other regions, "Royals" was made available in August 2013, and in the United Kingdom it was released on 20 October 2013. "Royals" was also promoted through remixes released in partnership with artists The Weeknd,Rick Ross,Wale, and T-Pain. The latter's remix received criticism for making changes to the lyrics, and according to MTV, turning the "original's anti-bling sentiments into a celebration of the extravagant life".
Matthew Perpetua of BuzzFeed said the issue addressed in "Royals" is growing up in New Zealand "immersed in American cultural imperialism" and that the song's core is the alienation of social classes. Sharing similar sentiments, Jon Pareles and Michael M. Grynbaum of The New York Times noted the track's verses describe "growing up in drab reality amid a popular culture that flaunts luxury brands and celebrates wildly conspicuous consumption". Jonah Bromwich of The Village Voice said "Royals" has the "potential to sound like a celebration of the very things" Lorde is criticising. Lorde said the song is about the opulence one finds in some music videos, which is "far from [her] reality".
"Royals" received widespread acclaim from music critics. Lewis Corner from Digital Spy awarded the track a five rating and lauded its "addictive hook that thrives on its simplicity".The Guardian's Duncan Grieve was impressed by the song's "direct response" to excess and wealth.The Boston Globe writer James Reed selected "Royals" as the highlight of the album Pure Heroine. Rita Houston of NPR praised its melody, "heartfelt" songwriting, and Lorde's "rhythmic" vocals that combine to create a "polished little gem of a song". Jon Hadusek from Consequence of Sound also named the track the album's standout, singling out its "self-reflexive" lyrics and "catchy" production.PopMatters writer Scott Interrante felt that the song's sound was "distinct and fresh", while The New York Times's Jon Pareles highlighted its clever message, describing it as a "class-conscious critique of pop-culture materialism".
The lyrical content of the song was scrutinised after Feministing blogger Véronica Bayetti Flores called it "racist". She felt that "gold teeth, Cristal, and Maybachs" were direct references to items used by mainstream black artists. This prompted responses from several media publications, including The Washington Times,Complex, and Vice, who disagreed with Flores's comments. Journalist Lynda Brendish wrote that the song also critiques other stereotypes associated with affluent, high-profile personalities, such as rock musicians, socialites, and Russian oligarchs. In contrast, Spin writer Brandon Soderberg argued that the inclusion of "Royals" on urban radio was an attempt by the music industry to whitewash traditionally black radio stations.
In its first seven days on sale, "Royals" sold 85,000 downloads and debuted at number 90 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending 20 July 2013. In a later interview, Lorde said, "I had a sneaking suspicion that it might do all right". On 31 August, "Royals" rose to number 17 on the Hot 100, becoming Lorde's first top-20 song in the US. With sales of 307,000 copies (up 17%), "Royals" became the fourth release by an up-and-coming singer to reach the top of the Digital Songs chart. The song had the most digital downloads for five non-consecutive weeks.
On the 12 October chart, "Royals" replaced "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus, which had been at the top for two straight weeks, as the number-one song in the US. Aly Weisman of Business Insider noted Lorde's performance of the song on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon helped make it known to a wider audience. The song's rise to number one was attributed to 294,000 downloads made that week, 6.1 million streamings (up 12%), and an airplay audience of 128 million (up 22%) across all genres, earning Lorde the highest airplay gainer for the week. The song topped the chart for nine consecutive weeks and was the year's top-selling song by a female artist. "Royals" was certified diamond in 2018 for selling over 10 million copies in the US.
Since its release in the US, "Royals" has broken multiple records, many of them a result of Lorde's young age. At 16 years and 11 months old, Lorde became the youngest female artist in 26 years to top the Billboard Hot 100 since 16-year-old Tiffany topped the chart with "I Think We're Alone Now" in 1987. It also made Lorde the first New Zealand act to top the Billboard Hot 100 as a lead artist and the youngest musician to top the chart with a song written by the performer, surpassing Soulja Boy, who achieved this at age 17 with "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" in 2007. Lorde became the youngest artist whose song stayed at number one for more than eight weeks, a feat that was previously achieved by 13-year-old hip-hop duo Kris Kross with "Jump" in 1992. It also made Lorde the youngest solo artist to top the chart since Mario who, at 18 years old, topped the chart with "Let Me Love You" in 2005.
"Royals" debuted at number 58 on the Canadian Hot 100 and in the following weeks it steadily rose up the chart. In its 12th week, on the chart dated 12 October, the song hit number one after selling than 29,000 copies. It remained there for six consecutive weeks. "Royals" returned to the top of the chart on the 23rd of that month, spending seven non-consecutive weeks at number one.Music Canada later awarded the song seven platinum plaques, denoting sales of more than 560,000 copies.
"Royals" also had commercial success elsewhere in Europe, reaching the top of the Euro Digital Songs chart and peaking within the top ten in European national charts including those of Germany, Denmark, Finland, and Hungary. In South Korea, "Royals" peaked at number 37 on the Gaon International Singles Chart with initial sales of 4,331 copies and in Japan, it peaked at number 16. On 15 March 2013, "Royals" debuted at number one on the New Zealand Top 40 and remained in the top position for three weeks.
In Australia, "Royals" was released simultaneously with The Love Club EP and was classified as a single for charting purposes. The EP spent two weeks at its peak position of number two on the ARIA Singles Chart, being kept from number one by Avicii's "Wake Me Up". The EP's sales were recorded as a whole and therefore tracks on the album could not chart separately. "Royals" was the fifth best-selling single of the year in Australia and it was accredited nonuple platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for selling more than 630,000 units. "Royals" was the most-streamed song in Australia and New Zealand by a female artist in 2013. By November 2014, "Royals" had sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
According to Lorde, this scene is a picture of the "straight forward" life she grew up with, where she spent most of her time riding around on bikes and taking photos.
The accompanying music video for "Royals" was directed by Joel Kefali and was released on Lorde's YouTube channel on 12 May 2013. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Lorde said the video's concept was to show how teenage life can be "so mundane and so boring." Lorde told the same publication in a later interview she felt her presence in the video was unnecessary, saying; "With pop music and pop musicians, you know everything about everyone all the time, particularly their physical appearance. With female musicians that's made a big thing of and I think people, certainly with me, have appreciated a bit of mystery."
The video begins with a monochromatic scene of an unmade bed, which fades to a receding suburban neighbourhood. A teenage boy wearing a necklace takes a shower and a static-filled television screen is shown. The boy stares out of his bedroom window, lies on a couch, eats breakfast and cuts his hair. The same boy visits an indoor swimming complex and boxes with a friend in a living room. The boy stares at a mirror and pulls down his bloody lip to reveal an injury he sustained while boxing. Lorde is briefly shown singing part of the song. The boy waits with friends at a railway station. He rests his head against the train window with a dull expression on his face. In the final scene, the camera moves towards the suburban neighbourhood seen at the start of the video.
Since its release, the video has garnered over 900 million views.Slant placed the video at number three on their list of the best music videos of 2013, noting her absence from it "speaks to both the 16-year-old's 'postcode' shame and her friends' suburban-teen ennui". The video won the award for Best Rock Video at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. Critics were divided over its placement in the rock category. It received a nomination for Best Female Video in the MTV Awards ceremony but lost to Katy Perry's 2014 song "Dark Horse". "Royals" won best music video at the 2013 New Zealand Music Awards.
On 13 August 2013, Lorde recorded a live performance of "Royals" for KCRW's radio programme Morning Becomes Eclectic. In New Zealand, she made her stage debut at a small venue in Auckland for a small audience, and on 18 September 2013, she made her television debut on New Zealander 3rd Degree. Lorde made her UK television debut on the BBC programme Later... with Jools Holland.
Bruce Springsteen performed an acoustic cover of "Royals" in April 2014 in Auckland, New Zealand, during his High Hopes Tour. Lorde responded to it, commenting; "It's so exciting, it's a great honor, Springsteen is a fantastic songwriter, I was a little touched, it's really cool, it's crazy when someone like him is playing your song". American spoof-folk duo Black Simon & Garfunkel performed a cover of the song on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon; Esquire considered the parody the best cover of the song by any artist."Weird Al" Yankovic recorded a parody of the song titled "Foil" for his album Mandatory Fun. Its music video was released online on 16 July 2014.Capital FM described Yankovic's parody as "equally strange and brilliant". Novelty act Puddles Pity Party, played by singer Mike Geier, performed "Royals" for Halloween in 2013; Lorde called it her favourite cover of the song at the time.
Analysts have credited "Royals" as a precedent for mainstream pop music's transition to minimalist, dark, pop sounds. Some sources have said it paved the way for other alternative-leaning pop artists such as Banks,Billie Eilish,Clairo,Halsey,Mallrat, and Olivia Rodrigo. Lindsay Zoladz from The Ringer noted the song's impact was "larger and harder to define because it completely rewrote the rules for young women making radio-friendly pop". Zach Schonfeld, writing for Newsweek, said "Royals" led "a trail of imitators mimicking the song's effortless pop minimalism". It was compared to Nirvana's 1991 single "Smells Like Teen Spirit" because both tracks were disruptive to music charts and "decried the pop industry of which it became a part".
Forbes writer Nick Messitte said the success of "Royals" helped the re-release of Tove Lo's 2013 song "Habits (Stay High)" become a top-five hit in the United States. According to Messitte, the song's success indicated "the smart money [would be] on change" to find a new sound in pop music.David Bowie called Lorde "the future of music" and Dave Grohl, lead singer of Foo Fighters, described "Royals" as revolutionary. Geoff Nelson from Consequence of Sound noted the track became "perhaps, the single most influential pop single of the decade". Phil Whitmer of Vice stated "Royals" is "alien by contrast" to the "legions of songs that imitated its vibe [and] failed to copy its mixolydian feel".
"Royals" featured prominently on several all-time and songs-of-the-decade lists. The Daily Telegraph placed the song at number 77 on their list of the 100 greatest songs of all time while Rolling Stone ranked it ninth on their 21st century catalogue.Rolling Stone also ranked "Royals" number 29 on their list of the 100 Greatest Debut Singles of All Time as well as number 30 on their 2021 revised list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
NPR ranked "Royals" at number six on their list of the 200 Greatest Songs by 21st Century Women. In 2019, Slant, Consequence of Sound, Rolling Stone, Stereogum, Paste, NME, and Pitchfork named it the 3rd, 4th, 11th, 23rd, 36th, 50th, and 129th best song of the 2010s respectively, while Billboard named it one of the 100 Songs That Defined the Decade.Insider ranked "Royals" as one of the eight best songs of the decade. NPR readers voted "Royals" the fourth most-popular song of the 2010s while Pitchfork's readers poll placed it at number 34 on their decade list.Spin ranked the track at number 34 on their list of the 35 Best Songs of the Last 35 Years.
* Sales figures based on certification alone. ^ Shipments figures based on certification alone. Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone. Streaming-only figures based on certification alone.
^"Lorde Performs 'Royals' on Ellen". Rap-Up. 9 October 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2013. "Official Programme – Run of Show". The New Zealand Herald. APN News & Media. 21 November 2013. lift-out booklet: p. 14.