She might be riding high in the US Billboard charts, but Lorde – Ella Yelich-O’Connor, a 16-year-old sensation from New Zealand – chose a cramped Soho basement for her debut UK performance. Surveying the packed audience, all straining for a glimpse, she observed: "I'm pretty sure if there was a fire we wouldn't all be here."
Lorde posted her first EP on Soundcloud at the end of last year, and has since accrued many millions of YouTube views and downloads. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton tipped her for stardom; The Weeknd provided a remix.
The Auckland native signed a development deal four years ago, and the groundwork has resulted in considered aesthetics rather than manufactured style.
Singing in an aural pout, Lorde immediately draws comparisons to Lana Del Rey, especially with the "beauty queen" reference on stand-out track "Tennis Court" and the name-dropping of high-end consumer brands Grey Goose and Cadillac on forthcoming single "Royals". The latter, due for release here next month, is the most austere number of the lot, at times just clicks and low-end whumps, her recorded backing vocals providing a ghostly chorus.
But in contrast to her peers, Lorde spears such materialist pretensions, and as the set progresses a refreshing lack of swooning over men also becomes apparent. Instead, she hangs onto the consolation of friendship and other means of staving off adolescent boredom.
Despite being hemmed in on a narrow stage with a minimal two-man backing band, Lorde’s hands conjure everything from your typical R&B gestures to more flamboyant, Kate Bush-style theatrics – an effect magnified by her unruly hair and flowing outfit.
However, an absence of vocal variety allows for little distinction, as on her drab cover of The Replacements’ "Swingin' Party". She still finishes on a high with “A World Alone”, coolly emphasising the final line, "Let them talk", with an imperious stare. You suspect Lorde will have the final word.