My Open Letter To Lorde

Aerosmith's Steven Tyler joins the team to send a vital, personal message to Lorde about "Royals", privilege, and the rock n' roll lifestyle.

Dear Lorde,

I was 24 when I trashed my first hotel room.

We had just been signed to Columbia Records for $125,000 (I realise this might sound like small change to you). I had been put up in a modest penthouse ahead of a launch party for Aerosmith’s first, self-titled album, Aerosmith. We had had to soundcheck for hours, and snort an amount of cocaine the size of a small Latin American nation. I called room service and ordered two whole turkeys and a Nebuchadnezzar of champagne. After smearing a trail of gravy across the length of the bedsheets, I tried to chop the bedside cabinet in two using my brother’s guitar as an axe. The wood was solid, antique. It took several attempts just to chip it.

Worse, the television was wall-mounted. We smashed the screen in just fine, but we had to disassemble the little brackets it was sitting on before we could really take it town. But from our second storey window, it just sounded like a limp bag of garbage when it hit the ground.

No one was around to do these things for us.

What happens to you when you’re in the best-selling American rock band of all time? It’s probably difficult for a girl like you from another culture, and another side of the world, to guess (though apparently, it’s easy to assume). It’s a physical and a psychological change. Your constitution changes to keep up with the volume of liquor and drugs. You learn to give 15-minute interviews while you’re essentially unconscious, learn how to hold back a rush of disappointment when the most basic demands of a rider – matching pugs, a VIP guestroom decorated in full East Indian style – are ignored.

You also get proactive. You get a little wiser. On the next tour, we brought chainsaws and extension cords. We made short work of tables, toilets, and beds. The cords let us see the televisions explode when they hit the swimming pool. You learn from your mistakes, and hope that other people will respect that.

You’re probably realizing that with your new-found fame. It’s scary up here, right?

So when I heard your song, ‘Royals’ on the radio, I wasn’t disappointed by the lack of 12-bar boogie rock middle-eights, or the lack of the sort of dynamic range a rock singer used to take for granted. What I heard was a chorus that looked at my life’s work – “trashing a hotel room, Cadillacs, trippin’ in the bathroom, blood stains” - and laughed.

You’ve probably already read a lot about how “Royals” is, at its heart, a deeply problematic marginalization of the life experiences of Motley Crue, Journey, Kiss, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, Dokken, Winger. So many others. But you probably haven’t heard from anyone you chose – or your ghostwriter chose – to single out. So here I am.


How do I feel about “Royals”? I never thought I’d say this about a pop song, but I feel sick, and scared – even when I go back and listen to it, over and over, hoping it’s not what I think it is. Most of all, I feel ashamed of hiding its ugliness from my friends.

I don’t know how to tell my friend Ian Paice - who flew on “The Starship” 727 while hitting the skins for the entirety of Deep Purple’s 1974 tour - that someone is patting themselves (and their listeners) on the back for rejecting private jet planes. “The Starship was a great place to join the mile-high club,” he says, his voice catching. I hide the remote, terrified he’ll catch ‘Royals’ on the television or radio.

I don’t know how I can join the reunited members of Survivor this summer at Walt Disney World Orlando, Florida, and see them unfurl their orange and black striped backdrop for the repeat encore performance of “Eye Of The Tiger”. Can I look at them straight and tell them that their symbolism is being appropriated as someone else’s cast-off punchline?

Finally, I think of Ronnie Wood, 65 years young, and taking a honeymoon with his third wife on Richard Branson’s Necker Island this year. She’s 34. They say the third time’s a charm. You might have just cursed it for them.

Even your title refrain – “We’ll never be royals” – has chosen our lifestyles as its target, and suggests this was something we were born into. I’ll tell you something your New Zealand upbringing might have sheltered you from – it actually takes 25 years of hard riffs, heavy drugs, and fast living from the release of your first record to become eligible for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Thanks in part to entrenched attitudes like the ones you blithely repeat, it took Aerosmith 28.

I realise it’s easy to be seen as defensive when you’re in my position. I keep trying to remind myself that you’re only a teenager. Even when you’re criticizing someone in our business – and it is our business now, both of us - you have to remind yourself to be fair and respectful of the overall situation. That dude who looks like a lady might be your next dealer.

And so I realise it’s not possible that you will have chosen all your hurtful lyrics for herself, or even understood the unavoidable interpretation. It’s unlikely you even get to pick what your album artwork looks like. At 16, you are barely the age of the groupie I once signed guardianship papers for so that she could come and live with me. But, then again, teenagers know more than anyone else that words have the power to sting, and you’ll be realizing that more than others by now.

I know my voice is limited. Top 40 radio, once a bastion of inspiring rock anthems, has given itself over to a mere popularity contest. Your music video for “Royals” tells us that dwelling on the famous face of a pristine youth is what sells, not trying to tell a story. Due to a number of systemic barriers across the same pop music industry from which you’re now reaping the benefits, Aerosmith have not had a number one US single since 1998’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”.

But I know this much – an open letter, written by an older star to a younger one and tempered with hard-earned wisdom, still works. It can sidestep the cynicism and it’s fresh enough to rock on through the night. It has the power to change minds and hearts, and it rings out like the most bitching solo delivered from the highest mountain peak.

Lorde, I can’t ask you to unwrite a song. Would I like you to give the money you’ve made out of ‘Royals’ back to the community you’ve mocked? Maybe, but I wrote a little single of my own called “Dream On” once upon a time, and I know the limits of wishing something so. But I can ask you to think about you’re doing, and think twice before you step into that recording booth the next time.

Because trashing hotel rooms might be one thing, but trashing a young person’s dreams are another. Pure Heroine or pure heroin, that much is for sure.

Let’s crave a different kind of buzz.

- ST

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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