Welcome to weekly series The Singles Life, where known experts Katie Parker and Hussein Moses peruse, ponder and pontificate on the latest and (maybe) greatest in New Zealand music.
It’s been a full - and at times fraught - year for NZ music, but whichever way you slice it some incredible, and maybe even iconic, music was released by our artists. Katie and Hussein pick the tracks that made Kiwi music what it was in 2017.
Mermaidens - ‘Satsuma’
Katie: This is my absolute favourite NZ song of the year. The video is perfect: the tropes of femininity, the 1970s iconography, the incredible setting (courtesy of singer Gussie Larkin’s family home), the fingernails. Larkin told The 405, “there’s something grotesque about these women who are supposed to be sexy, domestic and intelligent at the same time”, and in this perfect way it completely turns that on its head with an eerie, uncanny and totally captivating take on the New Zealand gothic.
That’s not even to mention the song which is a wry, atmospheric slow burn to an incredible climax that gets me very excited from the moment it starts. Love it.
PNC - ‘Iverson 01’
Hussein: ‘Iverson 01’ was the only solo track that PNC dropped this year, but it was all he needed to remind everyone why he's at the very top of his game right now. From the first bar to the last, this is a song that straight-up demands your attention. “I’m operating higher than I ever have,” he told Sam Wicks. “People will say ‘where have you been?’ - then that fuels me. I haven’t gone anywhere, y’know? I’m still doing it.”
MAALA - ‘Crazy’
Katie: Of all the local solo pop acts to emerge this year, New Zealand’s Got Talent alumni MAALA (née Evan Sinton) is easily my favourite and (what a coincidence) the one I think has the potential to actually make a go of it. ‘Crazy’ is a low-key but veerry catchy song that kind of sneaks up on you with its deceptive simplicity. The video (which, in spite of ‘Hotline Bling’ comparisons, I choose to see as a touching homage to the Sugababes ‘Overload’ video) sells it perfectly.
Also, I love his little hat.
Alien Weaponry - ‘Raupatu’
Hussein: It was the stories of Māori land confiscation in the 1860s that inspired Alien Weaponry to write ‘Raupatu’. Known for their mix of thrash metal and te reo Māori, the song would end up scoring the three Northland teens the APRA Maioha Award at the Silver Scrolls and - for good measure - a nomination for Best Māori Artist at the NZ Music Awards. The boys say their music is “destined to endure into future centuries”. That sounds pretty good to us.
Aldous Harding - ‘Horizon’
Katie: Everyone bloody loves Aldous Harding, man. In a year that saw the music industry push a seemingly endless stream of pop acts, it's telling that this self-described “gothic folk” singer, with her unnerving voice, arty aesthetic and penchant for the theatrical, should have made such an impact. ‘Horizon’ is the kind of song that, at first listen, is hard to imagine as a hit but which nevertheless became one of the defining New Zealand songs of the year. Attracting a following that is as diverse as it is devoted (rumour has it that her Auckland concert last week saw bffs Lorde and Jacinda Ardern seated in the same row), Silver Scroll finalist Harding is easily the critical darling of the year.
SWIDT - ‘Little Did She Know’
Hussein: It's not hard to fall for SWIDT. The Onehunga group's formula for short, sharp and shouty raps could win just about anyone over. ‘Little Did She Know’, a song about sneaking out behind their mum's back, is all of the above and more. It's as punk-rock as much as it is hip-hop. Think of it as their very own ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ - frenzied, adrenaline-fueled and, most importantly, heaps of fun.
Openside - ‘I Feel Nothing’
Katie: Auckland band Openside have been on the come-up for a while now and this year, with their incredible song ‘I Feel Nothing’, they took things to a whole new level. Lead singer Possum Plows told Coup de Main earlier this year that they feel that this was the first song where the band felt like everyone was on the same page and it shows: its the perfect piece of modern, angsty, but somehow still super fun, pop punk and maybe the catchiest song of the year. It’s also one of the most progressive: Plows has spoken really openly about being non-binary and the YouTube comments for the ‘I Feel Nothing’ video are full of people who are just super psyched that to see a band flying a flag representing the trans community. Opening for Fall Out Boy in the new year, 2017 seems like the year things started falling into place for a band that should by now be on everybody’s radar.
TEEKS - ‘If Only’
Hussein: With a perfect voice, great hair and a solid EP under his belt, TEEKS has all the makings of a popstar. Anyone that saw him at this year's NZ Music Awards, where he won the Tui for Best Māori Artist, could testify to that. ‘If Only’ draws inspiration from his late Grandfather and TEEKS has spoken openly about how the lead-up to the EP was one of the most difficult times in his life. “Losing my feet for a minute, losing people I loved, exhausting all my emotions and walking through time trying to gather my thoughts. The journey wasn't easy but I'm incredibly proud to say I've finally arrived at my destination.”
Stan Walker - ‘New Takeover’
‘New Takeover’ - the song, the video and even just the title - signalled a pretty explicit change of direction for Stan, everyone’s mum’s favourite reality show sweetie pie. Racing along the beach on that whopper of a horse, flying the Tino Rangatiratanga flag, and performing with dancers from the Hawaiki TŪ theatre company, the video is nothing short of iconic. With lyrics like Young boy ain’t no more / I got dem scars, like a soldier, the track itself is a rallying cry. In a year that saw about a million bad op-eds published questioning the place of Māori in the media, it is super exciting to see an artist like Stan foregrounding and celebrating traditional and contemporary Māoritanga on a mainstream platform.
Lorde - ‘Green Light’
Hussein: What’s left to say? ‘Green Light’, the pent-up first single from Melodrama, won Lorde the Single of the Year award at the VNZMAs and her second Silver Scroll in five years. By June, she had the number one album in America. As Katie put it, most of her early songs spoke with a kind of collective voice (“We’ll never be royals”; “We live in cities you'll never see on screen”), but with ‘Green Light’ she finally produced something personal and singular which weirdly made it feel more universal and relatable. No other New Zealand song came close to having the sort of impact that this did. Hopefully we won’t have to wait long for it to happen again.