For a song that’s been turned inside-out by a variety of takes and unique approaches, “Royals” surprisingly hadn’t been revamped in a way that had completely shifted its message. That is until Cher-inspired rapper T-Pain got a hold of Lorde’s breakout hit and made the anti-consumption, broke kid anthem into a celebration of being wealthy, living in excess, and, well, basically everything in music Lorde’s song warns us about.
See also: The Welcome Contradictions of Lorde
The song is as naturally hilarious as you would expect a T-Pain take on “Royals” to be. Any other type of cover of the song by him would be immediately invalidated by his own oeuvre and general brand. From swapping “and I’m not proud of my address” to “and I was so proud of my address” and that irresistibly catchy chorus to “Seems like yesterday we was drinking Crown Royal / We ain’t really give a f**k / Now they try to hate on us / And I just party on my bus,” it’s all beyond ridiculous and excessive in its descriptions of excess and completely (purposely?) forgets why Lorde’s “Royals” existed in the first place.
In an sit down with Interview magazine, Lorde explained where her desire to cook up a song like “Royals” came from. “Around the middle of last year I started listening to a lot of rap, like Nicki Minaj and Drake, as well as pop singers like Lana Del Rey,” she said. “They all sing about such opulence, stuff that just didn’t relate to me–or anyone that I knew. I began thinking, ‘How are we listening to this? It’s completely irrelevant.'” Not seeing depictions true to her reality, she decided to report on it herself in a way that was as lush and shiny as what she was singing against. Her detraction absorbed the tropes so much that the insults she throws at very specific ideas of luxury were deemed racist for their association with our ideas of hip-hop.
Yet, what’s interesting about the arguments presented about the racism of Lorde’s “Royals” is the disregard of how widely consumed and deeply embedded hip-hop has become in the mainstream. Those tropes can be seen throughout most of Top 40 music, and even the musical aesthetic has been appropriated by numerous artists.
Just last year, both Katy Perry and Lady Gaga dabbled in trap beats for their albums and Miley Cyrus’ own infatuation with the genre became one of the most highly publicized and controversial entertainment stories of this past summer and fall. Even Lorde has cited the very artists she found irrelevant to her lifestyle as inspirations and favorites. So for a teenage New Zealander looking at American culture and music from afar, those lines between racially coded hip-hop culture and the pop mainstream have been blurred. In fact, they create a new hegemony and mode to oppose.
In a way, T-Pain kind of comes in like a cultural dinosaur, covering the music of a kid who is probably LOL-ing at his entire steez. It’s like the Rolling Stones testing out punk in the late-70s — still entirely dissociated but a lot less successful. Maybe our ability to laugh at the “Royals” reversal is the sign of an anti-luxury shift and a return to the early incarnations of hip-hop less focused on listing a bunch of things an artist owns, in a “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” kind of way. Or maybe T-Pain would have better luck sticking to his original stuff instead of covering a song he is clearly the wrong audience for.