I don't keep up with popular music these days, so it takes something unusual for me to take notice. One of the most popular songs in the country is “Royals” by Lorde—a song which qualifies as unusual for several reasons. First, the song was written and sung by a 17-year-old girl from New Zealand, a remote country not known as a hotbed of musical activity. Second, its lush vocal arrangement makes "Royals" an energetic confection with a timeless quality.
What made me take notice, however, were the enigmatic and somewhat pointed lyrics:
And we’ll never be royalsIt don't run in our bloodThat kind of lux just ain’t for usWe crave a different kind of buzz
Such lyrics made me think the song was an intentional jab at Britain’s Royal Family and/or the media’s obsession with them. The last thing I expected was for the song to have any connection with Kansas City’s hometown baseball team, the Royals.
Yet a Kansas City Star article today revealed otherwise.
It turns out that the song was inspired by a National Geographic photo of the Royals’ celebrated third baseman, George Brett, signing baseballs for fans during the 1976 season. The team logo was, of course, emblazoned on Brett’s jersey.
“It was just that word [Royals],” Lorde is quoted in the article. “It was really cool.”
Leaving aside the notion that the song may be a jab at anyone, this story illustrates how writers can find inspiration in the unlikeliest of sources. It also illustrates how new creative works can be made by drawing connections from seemingly unrelated ideas across the globe.
Inspiration is a tricky thing. It is often compared to a muse—the mythological beings (usually female) who inspired men to do great things. On the other hand, inspiration can be compared to genius, which, in the words of Thomas Edison, involves 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. The first attitude treats inspiration as a magical quality over which writers have no control. The second attitude treats it as nothing special.
To me, inspiration is indeed special. It often comes unbidden when I’m not ready for it (usually when I’m driving), and yet it also comes from hard work. Lack of inspiration, in other words, is not an excuse to stop writing. Inspiration, I’ve found, often returns when I’ve made it clear that I intend to plow on ahead with or without its assistance. Perhaps inspiration doesn’t want to get left behind.
But, returning to “Royals,” the story of its beginnings reveals three important points about inspiration for writers:
1. Don’t dismiss any idea, no matter how trivial it may seem.
According to Lorde, it was the word “Royals” itself which got her creative wheels spinning. Words can be enormous sources for inspiration—they carry meanings which are both denotative and connotative. Words suggest other words. Words suggest ideas and connections. Go with it.
2. Be receptive to inspiration from unusual sources.
How a teenager from New Zealand got hold of a 37-year-old National Geographic is still a mystery, according the Star article, but it doesn’t matter. Creative inspiration can be found in anything. The legendary ‘60s band Buffalo Springfield took their name from a sign on a steamroller. Starbucks, the coffee chain, took its name from the first mate in Moby-Dick. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry drew inspiration from his own experiences in World War II and as a police officer, and from the TV series Wagon Train.
Finding connections between seemingly unrelated ideas is what creativity is all about.
3. When inspiration comes calling, roll up your sleeves and get to work.
“Royals” may have begun with a photograph, but it didn’t end there. At some point, the song had to be written, rehearsed, recorded, sold and marketed.
This is where many would-be writers run out of steam. The initial feelings of wonder and excitement generated by inspiration disappear, leaving them with the cold reality of hard work. The sad truth for some is that inspiration alone does not make dreams come true.
Anyone can be “inspired.” Perhaps the ultimate lesson of “Royals” is that ideas are not enough. It’s what you do with an idea that counts.
Liu, Kathy. "Yup, George Brett is Her Inspiration." The Kansas City Star 7 Dec. 2013: C3.