What All Millennials Can Learn From Lorde, Katy, Kanye, and Kendrick

by Phil Daniels

Perhaps the two greatest strengths possessed by scores of men and women encapsulating Generation Y are overarching self-confidence and youthful naïveté. Ironically, such qualities also constitute two glaring weaknesses shared by many Millennials. The common narrative is to place today’s young people under the proverbial umbrella of entitlement.

As Drew Foster of Salon recently pointed out, however, there is no data suggesting that such inflated self-worth is a characteristic specific to Generation Y as opposed to a feeling shared by the collective youth in general—even across generations. Generational entitlement questions aside, one thing is certain: Millennials often possess insufferable ignorance concerning just how hard one needs to work in order to succeed in life.

Rather than simply whining about Generation Y entitlement, a greater effort should be put toward remedying the adverse effects of ballooning self-importance. And part of that effort should include the realization that there is absolutely nothing wrong with self-confidence and naïveté, as long as such qualities do not obfuscate the importance of making sound life and career decisions.

Sixteen-year-old pop music phenom Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor—known professionally as Lorde—may have recently let her archetypal teenage entitlement get in the way of a sure path to professional excellence. Coming off the immense success of her summer hit “Royals,” Lorde’s freshman studio album Pure Heroine debuted at number 1 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart.

One important artist who clearly took note of Lorde’s burgeoning fame is Katy Perry, a member of the highest pantheon of pop music royalty. Perry, attempting to follow up on the successes of Teenage Dream, her sophomore release that set the record for most multi-platinum singles off one album during the digital age, offered Lorde the opening act spot on her tour celebrating the release of her third album, Prism.

But despite the incredible offer from Perry, an artist objectively more famous than Lorde with a tour that would assuredly push Lorde’s popularity to new heights, Lorde respectfully said “no.”

In an interview Samantha Hayes on the New Zealand television show Third Degree, Lorde succinctly explained her decision to turn down the Prism tour.

“I think she's [Katy Perry] really talented, I just don't think it was quite right for me.” - Lorde

Lorde does not think that touring with arguably the biggest name in contemporary pop music is the right decision for her and her musical career. When asked to elaborate on such a curious decision, Lorde stated,

“No. I mean, I have a pretty good gut instinct for stuff and if something feels right, I’ll do it.” - Lorde

While it is difficult to question the career decisions of a teenager already allegedly worth 3 million dollars, any time a nascent pop artist turns down a chance to tour with a worldwide superstar, eyebrows are inherently going to raise, and it is only natural to ask "why?" While we can speculate, unfortunately Lorde never explicitly outlined her reasons for turning down Katy Perry and the Prism tour.

There is something noble about being “an artist,” something that Lorde self-identifies as often during the aforementioned interview with Samantha Hayes. When a musician begins classifying herself as an artist, generally concepts such as "selling out," "branding," and "staying true to one's music" are at the forefront of her creative mind. Based on the totality of Lorde's interview on Third Degree and her statements regarding Katy Perry in particular, it seems highly probable that Lorde did not want her artistry to be compromised by sharing a stage with Katy Perry.

To be sure, Pure Heroine is a very different album than both, One of the Boys, Katy Perry's freshman release, and Teenage Dream. To say that the first three singles released by Lorde are more mature than the first three singles released off One of the Boys is an understatement.  "Royals," "Tennis Court," and "Team" take on a markedly different sound and emotional sophistication than "I Kissed a Girl," "Hot n Cold," and "Thinking of You." But it is wrong to assume that by opening for Katy Perry, Lorde would have inevitably transitioned into purely a Top 40 pop singer without any semblances of her past indie electronica mystique.

In 2011, Katy Perry embarked on her California Dreams tour.  This tour showcased the hit after hit track listing of Teenage Dream to sellout crowds across the globe. Much like her invitation extended to Lorde for the Prism tour, Perry invited another foreign, pseudo-pop musician to be her opening act: Swedish synth-pop singer Robyn. For Robyn, the decision to open for Perry was simple. When asked by Time Out New York why she decided to open for Perry, Robyn logically answered:

“I was asked by her to do it and thought it was a good way of getting to know her audience. It's bigger than mine. [Laughs]” - Robyn

For the more experienced Robyn—who is not a member of Generation Y by virtue of being born in 1979—the decision to tour with Katy Perry seemingly came down to commonsense capitalism: opening for Perry would increase both her audience and her bank account. Consequently, since the California Dreams tour, Robyn's music has not been bastardized by virtue of exposure to Katy Perry's audience. Using Robyn as precedent, it is unlikely that Perry and her acolytes would somehow corrupt Lorde's sound or image.

It might come as a surprise to some to learn that Lorde is a fan of Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. In admittedly adorable fashion, Lorde explained that she loves rap music "because it just makes [her] feel way cooler than [she] actually [is]." As Lorde told interviewers during her VEVO Lift campaign, she has "always really liked Kanye" and that Kendrick Lamar is "great" and "awesome on stage." But despite her affinity for Kanye and Kendrick, Lorde apparently has failed to learn from the professional relationship shared by these two iconic hip-hop musicians.

Kanye West might not be the best rapper alive, but he is probably the most successful. Kanye has won 21 Grammy awards—only Stevie Wonder, U2, Vladimir Horowitz, Pierre Boulez, Alison Krauss, Quincy Jones, and Sir Georg Solti have won more. And if Grammy awards are not your desired metric for rap game success, consider that Kanye has written or co-written dozens of other people's hit songs, including Young Jeezy's "Put On," Jay-Z's "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," J. Cole's "Work Out," Estelle's "American Boy," and even Beyonce and Jay-Z's collaborative "'03 Bonnie and Clyde."

If Kanye West is on top of the rap hierarchy today, then 26-year-old prodigy Kendrick Lamar is the very near future, and Kendrick has absolutely no problem telling his contemporaries where he sees himself as a rapper in comparison to his competition. Already honored as the "Hottest MC" in 2013 by MTV, Kendrick Lamar is to rap what Lorde might be to pop—the probable next big thing. This is where the comparisons end. Unlike Lorde, Kendrick has shown the ability to tour with a bigger name hip-hop artist who does not directly fit into his particular niche.

People often make vague assertions about rappers being egotistical, but any such ego did not stop “Hottest MC” Kendrick Lamar from opening for Kanye West during the ongoing Yeezus tour in celebration of Kanye's ambitious sixth studio album.  And after the Yeezus tour ends in December, Kendrick will have about a month off before embarking on the Rapture tour with another one of the few hip hop artist that are bigger than he is, this time he’s joining forces with the legendary Eminem.  Needless to say, it is a safe bet that Kendrick Lamar comes off of the Yeezus and Rapture tours with more fans and more money and does not sacrifice any artistic integrity in the process.

Lorde should be more like Kendrick Lamar. More importantly, the men and women of Generation Y should be more like Kendrick and less like Lorde. Millennials are an incredibly talented but irrationally entitled lot. And sometimes that talent, that self-confidence, that naïveté, that entitlement makes Millennials pass up on incredibly beneficial opportunities involving working with other, more established individuals who may or may not be more talented than the entitled Millennial herself.

Lorde embodies the current career arc of the average member of Generation Y. She is young; she is talented; but she does not yet know how to parlay her skills into the maximization of success. For whatever reason, Lorde made the mistake of not touring with Katy Perry. Rather than irrationally champion Lorde's likely commitment to artistic integrity, Millennials should study and mimic the career choices of Kendrick Lamar and jump at the opportunities of working with the Kanye Wests and the Eminems of their respective fields.

Photo credit: Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images