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Lorde and the Myth of the Female Wunderkind

'Prodigy' can be a heavy title to bear, especially in industries that often assign value to women according to their age.

by Erica Euse
Apr 6 2017, 7:24pm

Lorde was only 12 years old when she landed her first deal with Universal Records. The curly haired preteen had caught the eye of the studio following her middle school's talent show, for which she crooned Duffy's song "Warwick Avenue." After uploading a video of her performance and other covers on YouTube for viewers around the world to see, it wasn't long before the New Zealand native was deemed the next pop prodigy.

The term "prodigy" comes from the Latin word prodigium (meaning sign or omen) and has been used since the 15th century to describe children who have extraordinary abilities that transcend their age. Historically, prodigies have been especially common in music with artists from Mozart to Michael Jackson making their mark on culture before puberty. But the label has also been applied to kids in the realms of math, science, and writing, like in the case of journalist Joyce Maynard in the 1970s, who was writing for magazines like Seventeen before her 16th birthday, and more recently Tavi Gevinson, the editor who first captivated the internet with her quirky fashion sensibilities and blog The Style Rookie at just 12 years old in 2008.

Popular culture's fascination with young talent is nothing new, but the phenomenon has been bolstered by the rise of social media. These days it's almost impossible to go on Facebook without coming across a viral video of a toddler pounding away on the piano or wailing a Whitney Houston ballad. Lorde's early cover of Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody" from 2009 has been viewed over one million times to date. Unfortunately, being a child wunderkind can come with a cost, especially in the age of the internet, when talented children are exposed to a vast audience that predecessors like Shirley Temple certainly didn't share.

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