OPINION: In this silicon age of smart technology and instant communication it's often said that the world is getting smaller. Yet, everywhere we look, there are still Everests to conquer.
In mainstream music, Mt Everest is selling enough copies of your song to get to No 1 on the United States Billboard Hot 100 chart. To get there requires luck, a lot of skill and a large chunk of that undefinable quality - the X factor - that sets one act above all others in the prevailing zeitgeist of the moment.
If it sounds hard, it's harder than it sounds.
In the history of recorded music, only one New Zealander has done it. Sixteen-year-old Auckland schoolgirl Lorde, the stage name of Takapuna teenager Ella Yelich-O'Connor, hit No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week with her single Royals, a smart, stripped-down dissing of all those graceless rock 'n' roll fame cliches.
Critics - almost exclusively from outside her target audience demographic - have been quick to question Lorde's ability to remain an outsider untouched by the trappings of her instant fame, when overnight she has become pop royalty. But that is next week's question.
This week New Zealanders can take a moment to celebrate the Kiwi who beat the Americans at their own game. It's a timely celebration, given the disappointments of our yachtsmen in San Francisco a week earlier.
It almost defies belief that the precociously talented Yelich-O'Connor has done it under her own steam, and on her own terms.
Her meteoric rise was scripted three years ago, when she was signed, aged 13, to global conglomerate Universal Music after being spotted performing at a school talent contest.
The plan was that she would sing songs written by other people. But Yelich-O'Connor craved a different kind of buzz. She tore up the script and insisted that she perform her own songs, which at that point had never been heard in public. She backed herself to do it her way.
Any other story might have ended there. But Scott Maclachlan, the Universal Music talent scout who signed her and now manages her, deserves credit for having instincts as finely honed as his young client. He recognised her untested potential and let her have her way.
The gamble has paid off richly. No 1 in the United States means millions of dollars in the bank.
A handful of other New Zealanders have come close to the Holy Grail, but not on the same terms as Lorde.
Hamilton's Kimbra got to No 1, too, but as a featured singer on someone else's song, Somebody That I Used To Know, by Australian Gotye.
Comedy duo Flight of the Conchords' album peaked at No 3 in the Billboard album chart in 2008, while Crowded House's single, Don't Dream It's Over, made it to No 2 in the single charts in 1987.
Pauly Fuemana, the South Aucklander known as OMC, might have got there himself a decade later with his massive offbeat hit How Bizarre, had the song been eligible for the Hot 100. It wasn't available as a single at the time, so made it to the top of the lesser Billboard Mainstream chart.
Whether you like Royals or not, Lorde's achievement is phenomenal, and she is guaranteed a stellar, dazzlingly lucrative career for as long as she chooses to play her game.
She has also proved that a young female artist does not need to get naked astride a wrecking ball to be No 1, as the star she knocked off the top spot, Miley Cyrus, controversially did in the video to her song Wrecking Ball.
Smart, self-aware, slightly mysterious and mature enough to take the business with a heaped tablespoon of healthy cynicism, Ella Yelich-O'Connor is Lorde of all she surveys.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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