Thoreau & Emerson: Literary Royals

Although American Transcendentalism was a movement of the 1800s, its messages ring true even today. More specifically, the works of Thoreau and Emerson encourage us to evaluate the negative effects of blind allegiance, groupthink, and materialism, elements with which our society still grapples. But before we can levy such judgements about our culture, it is wise to engage with some of its popular forms!

Let’s dive into some pop-culture analysis! Click the link!


THE TASK: Watch the music video for Lorde’s Royals (posted above) and then respond to (all of) the following prompts by using the “Leave a Reply” feature at the bottom of the page. For full credit, your responses must consist of complete sentences, and should demonstrate active engagement.


A) What is the message of Royals? How is this conveyed through the lyrics and images in the music video? Cite specific details!

B) Compare and/or contrast Royals with one of the works of American Transcendentalism we’ve read thus far (Civil Disobedience, Walden, The American Scholar, Self-Reliance). In what ways do both creators (Lorde & Thoreau/Emerson) use their respective works to critique society?

C) What is your favorite music video (feel free to include a link)? How would this song/video be assessed when viewed through one of the tenets of American Transcendentalism (Individual Choice, Dangers of Materialism, Nature/Universal Mind, Pursuit of Knowledge)?

23 thoughts on “Thoreau & Emerson: Literary Royals

  1. A) The song Royals by Lorde relates to transcendentalism. She is saying she is happy with her life the way it is without having to be royal or rich. All the songs nowadays are about riches and expensive items, but all she needs is the life she has now. She does not need these riches to be happy.
    B) This song relates to Thoreau’s Walden well because she is living her life on her own and doing what she wants, not listening to others. She does not need to follow the trends just because that is what others are doing. Thoreau did the same thing, he did everything himself for 2 years, 2 days, and 2 hours. He grew a lot of his food and did not care what people thought of that.
    C) The song I Don’t Want to Be by Gavin Degraw relates somewhat well to transcendentalism because it is about standing out, not following the crowd. It represents going against what everyone else is doing. Not being someone you are not.

  2. A) The message of this song is that superstars and celebrities all care about materialistic things like money and and partying and they are just in it for the money. Lorde is talking about how she isn’t like this and that she does this because she loves it; she isn’t in it for the money.She’s not caught up in their “love affair” with diamonds and jet planes. She has a great life and doesn’t have to be royal to be happy.
    B) This song is like Walden because she is living her life and doing it all by herself. She is young and wrote this herself. She is doing it on her own, like in Self-Reliance. Thoreau and Emerson are critiquing their society of slavery and meaningless wars; she is critiquing the society of materialism and diamonds and “post-code envy”. She is happy without all this materialism.
    C) I really like the song “The Box” by Johnny Flynn. It was actually inspired by Thoreau and tells the tale of a man living on the street in a box who is happy with this life. I think the Transcendentalists would appreciate the anti-materialistic messages about how you can be happy without the big house and fancy clothes.

  3. A) She is saying how she wants to be the ruler of everyone, but simply “doesn’t run in her blood” so that cant happen. Lorde is still saying she can be happy even though she isn’t born famous. She was not born into a wealthy family or other known as a “royal” family.

    B) This song mostly makes me think of Walden, because in Walden Thoreau didn’t have all the rich items other people could afford. Thoreau took care of his money and spent it on items he needed not items he would barley use. He bought the necessities to live. Thoreau isolates himself from everyone else and wants to be the only one where he is which is unusual.

    C) My favorite music video is Radioactive by Imagine Dragons, this music video mostly portrays Individual choice. In the video people bet on stuffed animals in a ring. One animal rules the ring fight after fight and another animal comes in not favored to fight the winning animal. Everyone bets on the animal that won before, which the new animal ends up winning. The people used individual choice to make there bets on what animal would win.

    Radioactive Music Video:

  4. A) When Lorde was writing this song she was listening to a lot of rap. She was influenced but their lyrics such as expensive clothes, cars, and alcohol. Royals is about how that is so not true, at least in her eyes. She sees everything in way of people just getting by working hard for the things they want such as the main character in her video. The main character in her video lives in a city and wants to be a boxer. He works very hard and practices everyday. She is showing that nothing is handed to people, people work for everything they receive.

    B) In Economy of Walden it is explained that acquiring such expensive items can be a hassle and the simple things are much easier to obtain. Thoreau believed that working excessively for a substance can keep you working. He explains the importance of a simple life and how a life of acquiring substance after substance can change a person. Lorde writes about the same things of how we may want the things we hear about but in reality they may not be as great as they seem if we are even able to get them without putting everything we have into it.

    C)Thrift Shop by Macklemore is a great example of the dangers of materialism. Thrift Shop is a rap song that questions why someone would spend so much money on something that another could get very cheaply at another store. It also shows the dangers of buying things excessively when they truly are not needed.

  5. A.By listening to the lyrics I think Royals was talking about how every song in current day society talks about drugs and alcohol and partying. In the chorus of the song says “But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
    Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room, We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.” It’s basically saying that everyone tries to conform to the same life style but her and her friends aren’t made of money like everyone else. They won’t change their ways to fit in.

    B. I think Royals mostly related the ” Self-Reliance” by Emerson. His work of literature urges a person to be themself and not give into conformity. Their lives will be better off if they follow what their actually desires are opposed to what everyone else around them wants them to do. I think the music video and “Self-Reliance” both convey the same message to not be afraid to share your own thoughts and do your own thing. The only difference is that “Self-Reliance” is more critical of anyone who doesn’t do their own thing where as Roayls is just pointing out that a majority of people go with the flow of the crowd.Lorde uses visuals to convey her message meanwhile Emerson particularly picks out the issues on society.

    C. My favorite music video is “Feel This Moment”. The closest thing I can relate this to is Emerson’s work “Self-Reliance”. In the packet Emerson talked about living in the moment and not being concerned about the past or future. A persons life will be more sucessful if they just focus on what is in front of them. In this music video they stress the idea of feeling “in the moment” and doing what you want to do.

  6. A. The Royals are talking about all of the rich and famous people in the world. And how most people will never get the chance to be like that and get the experience. But that it’s not the most important thing to become rich and famous and that the people in the song don’t care.

    B. I think that the Royals are similar to “Walden” in how they talk about all of the rich and famous people and how they live such glamorous lives, but all that is really needed is simple living. And that there is no reason to have all of the material items that people always want and say they need.

    C. One of my favorite music videos would be one by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for their song “Something Good Coming” from their Mojo album because it kind of relates to the dangers of materialism and the idea of a universal mind.

  7. A. The message of Royals is that these people are thinking about all of the rich and famous people in the world. The lyrics talk about how they will never be like the rich and famous people of the world. They don’t care about the rich, spoiled people. They can live that fantasy in their dreams, and they don’t need to have a very expensive and luxurious life.

    B. I find Royals very similar to “Walden” in the way that they both severely critique the societies in which they live. Henry David Thoreau explains in “Walden” that everyone should live a simplistic life, spending as little money as possible and following the rules you feel that you should follow. Royals is very similar to how Henry David Thoreau thought in “Walden”. Royals explains that the people singing don’t care about what rich and luxurious people have or do. They are fine with living a simple life. They have no desire to live like the rich, just like Thoreau felt in “Walden”.

    C. My favorite music video is “Make Some Noise” by the Beastie Boys. It is a little inappropriate but it’s hilarious. It actually is partly related to Transcendentalism. The people are going around town doing whatever they want to obeying what laws they feel that they want to (none of them), which relates to Individual Choice. In the video it is a little extreme, but it does share some connection.

  8. A) Lorde indicates that the ‘pop fads’ and fashions of today involve showing off wealth through partying and glamor. She says she avoids that style of living. For example, the first line of the hook is “But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
    Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room” which is referring to the main topic of today’s songs- parties and money.
    B) I thought that the portion of Walden that discussed peoples desire for luxury and property, just for the sake of advertising their property to others, had the closest resemblance of Lorde’s message. They both say they don’t want or need that lifestyle, and are content with how they are now.
    C) The first song that came to my mind was “Waitin’ on the World to Change” by John Mayer. It provides the same perpective on individual choice in society, and how difficult it is to influence the rest of the world with your individuality, and your choices.

  9. A) The message of Royals is that Lorde’s is not affected by the word around her. She sings that shes never seen a dimond in the flesh, and that every song is about the same style of living, but she doesn’t care. She also sings that she’ll never be a royal, or live like others do. The images in the video show a very simple and plain house, rather than a fancy mansion, also it shows traveling in a train, rather than a flashy car, although she drives Cadillacs in her dreams.

    B) Royals relates to “Civil Disobedience”. Both works tell that there is nothing wrong with living a simple life, and its not necessary to be flashy with money. The works critique society because they think that the people are caught up in it. The music video says that all songs are about partying life styles, but there is more to life than that. “Civil Disobedience” states that people are caught up in the way everyone else lives and it is too flashy.

    C) My favorite song is “The Age of Worry” by John Mayer. This song can be related to Individual Choice. His song is about not being worried to take your path and go your own way. He sings ” Worry, why should I care?”. He means that you shouldn’t care about what people think and its okay to go against the crowd, just as Individual Choice states.

  10. A. Lorde expresses that although she did not come from money and did not enjoy all the luxuries that society craves she could still lead a happy life. In Royals, Lorde states that she is not caught up in impressing society or living up to those expectations. She leads a happy life without these unnecessary luxuries.
    B. Lorde critiques society in similar ways as Thoreau by saying that one can live a simple and happy life. Thoreau believes that society spends their life working for money that is spent on unnecessary luxuries. Lorde grew up in poverty and was able to live a happy life in simplicity. In Economy of Walden Pond, Thoreau questions why society feels the need to spend money on materialistic luxuries. The song Royals supports Thoreau’s theme by describing the life of someone who did live in simplicity and thrived in this life.
    C. The music video of Lazy Song by Bruno Mars is not glamorous as would be expected of a pop song. I like it because it had a low budget and is still entertaining. This relates to Transcendentalism because although the budget for the video was low it is still effective in being an entertaining music video.

  11. A) The message if Royals is very simple. When I listened to the song a few weeks ago I listened to the lyrics and was amazed at what I heard. When you listen to the lyrics Lorde is mocking the ways of today’s rich and famous, drinking at fancy clubs, driving fancy cars, living in nice places, and wearing expensive clothes. In the video it shows the simple life that most of us live unlike the extravagant lives of the “Royals” the song talks about.

    B) Royals and Self Reliance are two works that are very similar. Self Reliance is all about being true to who you are and do what you want to do. The song Royals also talks about doing what you want to do and not worrying what others say and do. Both Lorde and Emerson believe that no matter what other people say and do does not matter. Just because the rich people are driving fancy cars does not mean you need to go out and drive fancy cars.

    C)My favorite music video is You Belong With Me by Taylor Swift. In a way this video reminds of materialism both of people and items. In the video Taylor is a geeky looking girl who is in love with the high school quarterback who happens to be her neighbor. He does not notice her underneath the glasses and t shirts but he notices the pretty cheerleader. He does in fact notice Taylor when shes all dressed up with makeup up and realizes it doesn’t matter what you look like its who you are inside.

  12. A. In the video Royals, two boys living very average lives are the focus. They live in a very basic house, with bare plain walls and are seen participating in simple day to day activities such as cutting their own hair, swimming, and taking the subway. I feel the message in Royals is that the media portrays having a glamorous life style as a necessity. Through her lyrics such as ” Iv’e never seen a diamond in the flesh” she talks about how most people are not living lives that are so rich and “royal like”, but just going about there day to day activities without riding Lamborghinis.
    B. I feel like Lorde and Thoreau would really enjoy each others company. In Walden, Thoreau talks about how materialistic society is and everyone is focused on what to own and what clothes to wear, and that is similar to what Lorde is saying and showing in her music video. Thoreau would certainly never be a royal,
    C. One of my favorite music videos is Best Song Ever by One Direction. In the video, the boys go to a music label and are told to fit a certain boy band image, such as signing generic songs and dressing the same. They refuse, and when that doesn’t work they trash the company. This could be viewed through the Transcendentalists eyes as rebelling against what is usually accepted, and each individual staying true to themselves.

  13. A) The message of Royals is that she is not like the other pop artists. Basically, she is trying to say that it seems like a lot of other artists sing about the same things such as expensive clothing, cars, and alcohol. In her song, Lorde basically says that she is not as wealthy as other artists, but she still likes to dream of some of things she wishes she could have. Basically, this song is about her life, not the typical Hollywood lifestyle.

    B) Economy in Walden talks about how you can still survive while living the simplest and cheapest life. It talks about how you can live/survive off of the least expensive things and still live a good life. This relates to Lorde’s song because she is not living the most expensive life, like all of the other Hollywood stars. Lorde talks about how her life is not the same as the other pop artists because she is not that “royal”. In Economy,Thoreau talks about how his life was lived in a little house on Walden pond,and he lived perfectly fine the way he was, getting the cheapest materials that he could get. They both relate in a sense that you do not need the best of things to be “someone” in the world.

    C) My favorite music video is “Wake me Up”. This relates to individual choice because it is saying he was trying to find himself. He was trying to find out who he was because he had not quite figured it out yet.

  14. A) The message of Royals is that being wealthy doesn’t mean you are happy with your life. Saying “and we’ll never be Royals… It don’t run in our blood.” She wasn’t born wealthy, and that doesn’t mean she has to be wealthy in order to live a good life. This is conveyed through the images of the boys in the video simple lives.

    B) I think this song has direct relation to Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden. In Walden, Thoreau lives in isolation spending little money throughout the course of two years, two months, and tow days. This is exactly what this song is trying to portray, the idea that wealth doesn’t mean anything, and a simple life with little material things is a fine way to live.

    C) My favorite music video is I’m a Believer from the movie Shrek. This video would be assessed a wonderful in the eyes of Henry David Thoreau. It shows how Shrek lives a life in the woods living off mother nature. Then it shows through the choices he made and through his knowledge, eventually would lead to having a home and marrying princess Fiona.


  15. 1) The message in the song Royals by Lorde is that most pop/rap music is about being very wealthy and partying, an example are the lyrics “But every song likes gold teeth, grey goose, tripping in the bathroom”. However, her song is about how she cant really relate to that because she doesn’t have all that money. “We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams” explains that she doesn’t have to have all that money to be happy. Basically, her lyrics say that she is content with dreaming about having money.
    2)Royals is very similar to Self Reliance by Emerson. This is mainly because Lorde is not worried about acquiring wealth, property, and expensive things and in Self Reliance, Emerson says that one should not proud of the possessions they require because they don’t mean everything in life. It is society that gives someone the false impression that acquiring wealth is a reward.
    3)My favorite music video is “Play Hard”. The song lyrics and music video display materialism.In order to “play Hard” ,as in going to clubs and partying, you need to work hard to make the money to do so. It shows people partying, as well as people owning expensive things, because that is what society believes is most important in life.

  16. A) The message of the song “Royals” is about living a simplistic life and being completely satisfied with it. It’s about not having every material in the world and still being “royal”. The music video’s scene is set mainly in a very dull, plain apartment. The white walls and lack of furniture and decoration symbolizes not having the need for some extravagant, materialistic life. Using the world royal in the song repetitively could be because in a dictionary, it may be the antonym of the actors’ lifestyle. But they truly do feel royal because living a simple life is completely fine by them.

    B) “Royals” can easily be compared and contrasted with Walden through many examples of American Transcendentalism. In Walden, Thoreau lives a life as watered down as it can possibly get. He barely buys anything at all, just a minor amount of food if any. He spent days by the pond with absolutely no materials in his hand. Royals is related to it because that it the exact meaning of the song/video. Living a watered down life that isn’t what you would exactly say- glamorous, but being perfectly content with it.

    C) A song and music video I love is Vampire Weekend’s oxford comma. This song also relates to dangers of materialism and living a simplistic life. The video takes place on a run down old farm. The band members are all in clean, white tuxedos, playing around a bunch of people that look of the exact opposite. It shows you can be completely happy no matter what you own, or where you live. Similarly, it is called oxford comma because having “fancy grammar” or anything relative to make you look better in front of people isn’t the key to a happy life.

  17. A) The Message of “Royals” is that wealth and fame is not what is mopst important in life. Lorde says she isn’t singing in order to be a “Royal” and that she’s not focused on money and stardom. She wants more out of her life than the extreme luxory that often comes with pop stardom. Her message is that this stuff is not as important in life as happiness and joy is.

    B) Royals is similar to thoreau’s Walden. Both creators use their works to critique society and show that people can live happily while leading a simple life. Lorde says in “Royals” that wealth and fame is not important. What’s important is happiness. In the same way, Thoreau proves that living simply is the best way to go. He lives in a cabin in the woods for over two years and is perfectly happy with himself. He preaches self-reliance and simplicity over relying on otheres like most of society.

  18. A) The message of Royals is that they are not in the business for the money, and that they don’t come from backgrounds made of money. She says that she isn’t obsessed with materialism (the love affair.) All she wants is the empowerment of being an artist whose message is heard, to be a ruler. She knows they’ll never be rich and caught up in money like others because she doesn’t want to be and that’s not the type of person she is.

    B) This song is similar to the ideas from Transcendentalism because Lorde is saying that they don’t care what other people care about. If everyone is obsessed with money and possessions, fine. But the don’t care and they won’t because that isn’t who they are. Like Emerson tells us in Self-Reliance, they know that “imitation is suicide.” Their ideas match up with the statement by Emerson, “No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.” They both critique society in that everyone is so concerned with image and materialism, it consumes their mind and lives. They talk about how people just want to appear on top and how they care about image too much.

    C) This is one of my favorite songs, except I know the Mumford and Sons cover better. The song talks about leaving family and comfort for a pursuit of a different life. It is of a different mindset than Transcendentalism but has a similar ring to it in that he asks only workman’s wages and he leaves behind comfort for what he wants.

  19. A) The massage that Lorde is trying to get across is that she is not like the rest of the pop artists of our time. In the beginning of the song she talks about how ” not proud of [her] address, in the torn up town” meaning she comes from a more humble background than most other artists. She then goes on to talk about how most singers these days sing about a glamorous life, wealth, and big money. She doesn’t believe she is in this category due to her background. In the music video she doesn’t make life seems so glamorous also. She goes on to say that even though she is not wealthy she does like to somewhat dream of this lifestyle. Overall the song is about her life rather than the typical pop artist Hollywood life.

    B) Royals mostly relates to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”. This work of literature encourages people to be their own person and not give in and change because of society or others. Lorde’s music video for Royals along with Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” both give off the message that one is better off being their own person and doing what they want is best for them. Lorde just points this out and says that most people will change to impress others and fit in. Emerson on the other hand is much more harsh and says that this is not the right way to live. Being original and unique is better.

    C) In the music video for Mean by Taylor Swift it flashes between Taylor Swift singing and scenes of high school students. The first flash shows a well-dressed boy getting harassed by the school’s football team while holding a magazine, the next flash shows kids pointing and laughing at the girl dressed up for her job at what appears to be the local diner to save up for college. Materialism is key for how people fit in. The one that stinks out the most occurs at 1:58 in the music video. It shows a group of girls with white dresses and pink bows sitting at a lunch table. When a girl walks over with the same dress but with a blue bow all the other little girls ignore her and do not let her sit there with them. It shows the same little girl at 2:42-2:53 sitting in a bathroom stall with her lunch. Finally at the end of the song it shows the boy that was made fun of walking the runway, the girl that worked in the diner in a professional office with a college degree, and finally the little girl with the blue ribbon at a Broadway show watching Taylor perform her song. Mean shows that even though materialism may seem super important, it is not in the long run.

  20. A) The song “Royals” makes fun of the rich life. Lorde’s main goal is to say that people don’t need all these things that rappers and other singers sing about. She says that this is much more to life then money. In the video it shows the two boys who live in a plain house without much but seem to be having a good life without having all the unnecessary materialistic things people make out to be their number one priority.

    B) I’d compare it to Walden. I think in both, the two writers state clearly that people worry about material things and appearance much more then anything else. They both emphasize that life is about having fun, living well, and most of all being happy.

    C) My favorite music video is “Boys of Fall” by Kenny Chesney. I love this video because it shows who great of a sport football is and all the dedication and hard work it takes to play. I’m not gonna lie I love the fact that head coach of the Saints, Sean Peyton, is in it too. He is giving a pregame speech to the high school he played at as a teenager. I think if those men ever watched this they would probably like it. I mean they probably would think it is stupid who much some people are dedicated to a sport in Highschool. In the end I do not think they would mind it.

  21. A) The message of “Royals” is that nowadays, everything is all about money and consumerism, but the singer (and her friends, possibly) don’t care about all that-they don’t need to be rich, and they don’t think they ever will be, and they’re fine with that because, as the saying goes, “money can’t buy happiness.”

    B) Royals, in a way, is similar to what Thoreau wrote-that you don’t need all these things to be happy, and nowadays (back in the 1800’s, too, if Walden is any indication) society seems almost dependent on monetary gain for happiness, even though you’d probably be perfectly fine as long as you have what you need to live (think food, not the new iPhone).

    C) While not my all-time favorite video (my favorite videos are usually AMVs, which are fan-made and probably don’t count), My Chemical Romance’s “SING” definitely has the “Individual Choice” idea. The “world” presented in the video is heavily implied to be dystopic-a large company appears to be controlling society, and their name, “Better Living Industries”, can be shortened to spell “Blind”. The band is standing up to them, and the lyrics (“Sing it out, boy they’re gonna sell what tomorrow means/ Sing it out, girl before they kill what tomorrow brings/You’ve got to make a choice/If the music drowns you out/And raise your voice/Every single time they try and shut your mouth”) seem to be saying “Don’t let them silence you”, because you have a right to speak up and voice your opinion, and you should stand by said opinion instead of conforming. You can decide things for yourself.


  22. A.) The message of Royals is they don’t come from the best backgrounds and don’t have a lot of money but are still okay with that. She says she isn’t caught up in the love affair, materialism, and just wants to be heard as an artist or the ruler. She knows that its not the life for her, doesn’t run in her blood, and its not the life she wants.

    B.)This song reminds me of Walden because they are not obsessed with money and possessions like everyone else these days. They don’t care about stuff like that and that’s not who they are. Like Emerson in Self- Reliance, they know that “imitation is suicide.” Everyone is so obsessed with their image, wanting what other people have, that it takes over their lives.

    C.) One song that came to mind was Wings by Macklemore. The song relates to the dangers of materialism. In the song it talks about how people obsess over the latest Nike shoes even though they are just another pair of shoes.

  23. A) The message behind this song is Lorde saying how she disagrees with the ideals of certain celebrities. She thinks all they care about is money, partying and material things like cars, clothes, etc. When she says she isn’t caught up in their “love affair” she is basically saying that need the things they have because she is happy with her life already
    B) This song is very similar to the transcendentalist ideas portrayed in Thoreau’s “Walden”. Lorde is living all on her own. In a sense it also resembles “Self-Relience”. She relies on herself for everything she needs. She doesn’t have any “Post-Code Envy” and isn’t jealous of what other people have. She is satisfied with her own life.
    C) The song “Ain’t No Love” by Jay-Z is a very good comparison to transcendentalism in today’s world. It talks about how people in the cities make their own lives, relying on themselves. It commends them for not being handed anything in life but instead working to satisfy their own needs

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