Armin Lizama is 19 years old. He is a recent high school graduate who lives in Mérida, Mexico. Just another teen in Yucatán’s capital city, he also counts 20-year-old New Zealand pop star Lorde, among his (long-distance) personal friends.
Lizama, of course, refers to the singer by her real name, Ella — her full name is Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor — and says she gives great advice. “I get to talk to her and ask her questions, not only about music but [also] personal struggles, like relationships and stuff,” Lizama told The Verge in a phone call. “She’s super nice and cool.”
They met because of @LordeDaily, a Twitter account he’s run since September 2013, the same month Lorde’s debut album was released. The account has amassed 30,000 followers, including publications like Pitchfork and Variety, record industry professionals such as Pure Heroine producer Joel Little and Republic Records, as well as Lorde herself. And, for some reason, Justin Bieber.
Lorde followed the account in October 2013, just weeks after it launched. Lizama sent her a direct message on Twitter shortly after. He thinks the reason his account is so popular is because people know he has easy access to her. “Whenever there was a question about a video or a photoshoot or some lyrics or something, I would ask her,” he says. “For example, some of my friends in the US were waiting outside the venue for her at a show, and I told her so she could go outside. I even got to help this girl go to a concert of hers because she couldn’t get a ticket. Ella was like, ‘Okay, just come in, we’ll sneak you in.’” Lizama has become a figure in the fan community, not as towering as Lorde herself, but widely known as as a way to rapidly cut down one’s degrees of separation.
“When I first discovered her,” he explains, “she was so hypnotic, quirky, and strange, and so cool that I fell in love with her attitude. When I started to learn more about her, I saw that we were just both teenagers and had the same experiences.” She invited him to a concert in Mexico City as her personal guest in the summer of 2014, and though she had to fly to Las Vegas immediately after the show for what became an infamous performance with Nirvana, she FaceTimed him a few weeks later.
“She said it was the least she could do [after] leaving so abruptly and not getting to say hi to me at the show,” Lizama remembers. “She complimented my eyebrows.”
Lizama is part of an active community of Lorde fan account operators, and he says they organized in a group chat when her long-awaited single “Green Light” — the first new solo song she’d released since The Hunger Games “Yellow Flicker Beat” in September 2014 — so they could decide on hashtags and promotion strategies: “We tried to finally get some people organized to support our girl.”
The group also organized an online streaming party in September 2016, on the third anniversary of Pure Heroine. This party was different than those organized by other fandoms to boost streaming counts in hopes of bumping songs up the Billboard charts. It was more explicitly about celebrating an album that had dropped off the charts long ago. “We just stream it on Spotify or Apple Music and we tweet about it, we tweet our favorite lyrics. [Lorde] actually went through the hashtag of the listening party and favorited a few tweets. She was lurking on our accounts.”
As something of a 24/7 volunteer publicist, Lizama does everything from his iPhone, and he does it whenever there’s news. “When ‘Green Light’ came out, I was in school and I had to ask to go to the bathroom to hear the song. I didn’t even think about it, that’s kind of what I do.”
His process for aggregating news about Lorde is pretty straightforward. @LordeDaily started back when Lorde was just springing onto the international music scene, and at the time, there weren’t any huge fan accounts. “I used to go on Instagram and go into the Lorde tag to find new pictures from photoshoots or whatever. When I posted them on Twitter, I became a fan account, because other fan accounts started to follow me.”
Lorde’s promotion cycle around Melodrama started in earnest only a few months ago. Before that, she’d been mostly silent for years. But Lizama found ways to keep busy and to keep the account active. He reposted anything Lorde shared on Instagram, including comments she posted on other accounts, or fan questions she responded to. He posted quotes from collaborators, like producers, writers, and close friends. Now that Lorde is back in action, he says he spends about two hours per day maintaining the account.
“I basically follow most of the Lorde accounts, and whenever there’s something new and they start to talk about it, I get it from them. I go on the Lorde tag on Google News and Instagram. Instagram tells me a lot. When there’s concerts or [an event like] the listening party that was [Tuesday] night, I go through the Lorde hashtag to get photos from it. That helps a lot.”
Lizama is a detail-oriented, dedicated fan, and increasingly, those are characteristics that professionals in the entertainment industry are noting and taking seriously. Online news outlets source plenty of information from fan accounts — even if they wouldn’t immediately call it reliable, journalists often take pieces of information from fan accounts back to primary sources to get them confirmed, then publish them. “It’s still a surprise whenever I see my tweets in posts or in news articles on the internet,” Lizama says. “But sometimes they have reached out to me to ask me questions about it.”
Lizama says he’s been in contact with Lorde’s tour manager, her label (both Republic Records and Lava Records), her publishing agency Songs Publishing and its president Ron Perry, her ex-manager Scott Maclachlan, and others. He has an ongoing friendship with Republic Records president Charlie Walk’s son.
This spring, the organizers of New York’s Governor’s Ball Festival reached out to Lizama, he says, offering him general admission tickets to all three days in exchange for three tweets of promotion. “I told my whole family, but they were like ‘No, no, no, you can’t go to New York alone, so sell those tickets and you can go to a tour date in 2018.’” That was the first time, he says, that he was a little bit intimidated by the reach of his account.
Then Billboard reached out for help promoting the Billboard Music Awards, asking him to tweet about the show and sending him photo assets to accompany the tweets. Lizama says he appeared on the Billboard Snapchat account briefly during the show, before Lorde performed.
Lizama isn’t the only fan to be acknowledged by the celebrity whose life he’s dedicated his own to documenting. It’s well known that Taylor Swift pulls from the pool of online devotees when organizing intimate listening parties and sending out holiday gifts. Lizama’s friend Megan Sagar, who lives in New Zealand and runs a major Swift news account, went to a 1989 party at Swift’s home in 2014. Kim Kardashian has fostered relationships with this type of fan before, too, inviting one to sit with her at a Kanye West concert in 2013. Members of UK boyband One Direction arguably set the bar for this kind of backchannel, rising to global popularity almost exclusively off the springboard of social media.
But when he starts college in August, Lizama will be studying communications, business, and management, with the hope of breaking into the entertainment industry, ideally doing something with live music or sports. “Running this account, I’ve learned a lot of stuff that I didn’t know about the music industry,” he says, including the ins and outs of promoting an album, how Billboard charts work, how a release date is chosen, and other industry tricks. “It’s what I want to study, and what I think I’m good at.” This decision reflects one of the newer, broad philosophies of online fandom — that the skills you learn by way of being a fan can actually become integral to your life and career. What’s the difference, after all, between turning a coding hobby into a career and turning a PR or journalism hobby into a career?
Lorde’s long-awaited sophomore album Melodrama is out today in New Zealand and Australia, and worldwide tomorrow, but Lizama doesn’t have big plans for the news account for that moment. “When [Melodrama] comes out at midnight I’m just going to kind of listen to it on my own, and just do my thing, enjoy the new songs. That’s it, I guess. I’m just so excited for the US tour, and hopefully I can make it and go see her. I’m pretty sure she’s not coming this time to Mexico, so I think I’ll have to go to New York or Texas or Orlando or wherever I have friends so they can have me there.”
Finally, I asked Lizama what he thought about reports that Lorde has secretly been running an Instagram account dedicated to reviewing various onion rings. He said, “Let her and her onion rings live. She’s a weirdo, yet a genius. I completely adore so much.”