Things I did in Stockholm, according to my Instagram

In May I flew to Stockholm to watch the Eurovision Song Contest, one of those big bucket list things I’ve always wanted to do. And given how hot 4 Eurovision Sweden is, when they’re hosting, that’s the time to go see it. This is what happened, according to my Instagram account.

Visit the place where Stockholm Syndrome happened

I was delighted to discover that my hotel was just a few blocks down the road from the former Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg where in 1973 a group of hostages taken in a bank robbery were noted to have felt sympathy toward their captors. The thing I love the most about it is the later idea that “Stockholm Syndrome” is really just “being Swedish”.

Heard “How Bizarre” playing in a 7-Eleven late one night

It had been a long day. I was so tired, sleep deprived and jetlagged (I tried to pay for my sandwich with euros) and suddenly “How Bizarre” comes on the radio. I looked around to see if the other customers (90% drunk) were as delighted as I was, but they were all too busy buying energy drinks and dropping their credit cards. But still, it felt like vindication – New Zealand can produce amazing pop music that holds its own in a country that is overflowing with popstastic goodness.

Spent most of the time indoors at a converted ice hockey arena

The press centre for the Eurovision Song Contest was located in Hovet, an ice hockey arena, with the ice replaced with carpet tiles. But weirdly, some days the floor would be really cold, and I kept thinking OMG, what if someone has accidentally turned the freezer back on. It didn’t happen, but it was a concern. In this photo, the press centre isn’t even close to being at capacity. I sat with the team from wiwibloggs, under the small TV screen in the top-right corner.

Visited the Swedish Music Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame can be found lurking in the corner of the ABBA Museum, and of course it’s filled with tributes to just the best artists, both international stars (yeah, ABBA are there) and Swedish legends. I got kind of emotional seeing the tribute to Neneh Mariann Karlsson aka Neneh Cherry, whose transatlantic cool-girl style had a huge impact on young Swedes.

Visited the former home of Cheiron Studios

This tiny little building, surrounded by apartment blocks in a pleasant, leafy residential neighbourhood, is where Cheiron Studios was located. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, it’s where the songwriter and producer Denniz Pop works (along with his apprentice Max Martin), creating iconic hit singles for artists such as the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. Just down the road from it is a little corner park, and I wondered if the Backstreet Boys came down to play hacky sack during their breaks. I bet they did.

Voted in the Eurovision Song Contest

This is not normally a luxury afforded to me as a Eurovision viewer in New Zealand, but in Stockholm, with a Tele2 sim card, I was free to make my 20 votes. This is me voting for Serhat from San Marino and his discotastic song “I Didn’t Know”. Sadly Sweden didn’t award San Marino any televote points but only just missed the top 10, coming in 11th place with Sweden’s televotes. (Also 2.15am! I don’t even know what time zone I was operating in.)

Watched Sergey Lazarev soundcheck at the #wiwijam

Sergey Lazarev is a the biggest pop star in Russia, and regularly packs out stadiums in his home country and neighbouring lands. He performed at the #wiwijam, a little concert that wiwibloggs organised on the Wednesday night between the semi-finals. So he shows up in the afternoon to soundcheck, first running through his Eurovision song “You Are the Only One”, and then just casually doing his total banger “Take It Off”. And I’m just dancing away, metres from this huge pop star, just doing an amazing warm-up. And he was just the nicest guy.

Watched the Eurovision semi-finals in the Globe Arena

It is utterly thrilling to be in the audience while an expertly produced live television show takes place. They start technical rehearsals months in advance, using performing arts students to stand in for the artists. This is Australia getting set up in the second semi-final, with 30 seconds to set up the screens and to position Dami Im on her cube. The audience is going crazy because “The Sound of Silence” was a huge fan favourite. I wasn’t particularly fussed by this song until I saw it at the semi-final when suddenly I was all overcome with emotional and I completely got it.

Watched the Eurovision grand final in the press centre

I missed out on tickets to the grand final, but the alternative turned out to be just as good. The atmosphere in the press centre was amazing, with most people more in party mode than serious journalist mode. And it was worth it to see the room erupt when Ukraine won, along with the Ukrainians singing along with “1944” when Jamala reprised it. Also, here is video evidence of me at the time of the winner’s announcement, being so tired that I couldn’t even manage a half-hearted “yaaaaasss”.

Enjoyed fika

Fika is Swedish tradition that is actually just morning tea or afternoon tea. The day after the grand final, the world was feeling grey and straight so I went to Modern Museet, hoping that some modern art would cheer me up. It to a point, but the best thing was sitting down to enjoy a kanelbulle and a coffee. There’s just something about a cinnamon bun that cures all ills in a way that gingernuts could never do.

Wandered around Gamla Stan

Gamla Stan is the old town, full of cobblestoned streets and dozens of buildings that predate the Treaty of Waitangi. It was also the moment when I realised that I actually knew a bit of Swedish after 15 months of study. A lady came up to me and asked, “Pratar du svenska?” and I immediately said “no”, before realising that I had automatically understood and answered her Swedish question, even though I’d answered in English. So actually, ja, jag pratar svenska. And that’s worth travelling to the other side of the world to discover.

Until the Last Goodbye: 2015 in New Zealand pop

Last year I did a summary of New Zealand pop and I noted that it had been a slow year. This year it’s even slower.

In 2014, 23 songs by New Zealand artists charted; in 2015 only 15 did. And that’s in an X Factor year. But the chart has been slower in general, due to streaming data now helping determine the charts. So songs stick around for longer – if a song is popular on Spotify, it’ll still chart.

But somehow songs by New Zealand artists usually aren’t popular streaming choices. Of the top 100 tracks listened to by New Zealand users of Spotify in 2015, only four were by New Zealand artists, and of those, three were by Six60 (the other was Savage). I have a few theories as to why this is happening.

  1. We speak English so we can happily listen to music from other English-speaking countries, without the need for a local music industry making music in our native tongue. And it means that local English-language pop is up against the best from the UK, America and Sweden.
  2. New Zealanders have a weird attitude towards pop, the national equivalent of a teen who has started wearing black and declaring that they only listen to “real” music by “real” artists who play “real” instruments.
  3. 15 years ago, “supporting New Zealand music” meant buying physical recordings. But now, once all the friends/fans/family buy the mp3, a song needs to be genuinely popular for it to make an long-term impact on the chart. That’s hard to do if the song isn’t a keeper.
  4. It’s hard to get behind amazing pop from New Zealand artists when there just isn’t a lot out there.

But there were still some good tunes released in 2015. Here are 10 in some sort of order.

Disclaimer: If you haven’t listened to chart pop since the ’90s or whenever, you will probably not enjoy anything on this list and should probably just go off and listen to your Smashing Pumpkins compact disc.

Disclosure feat. Lorde “Magnets”

Praise the Lorde. No matter what else New Zealand artists release, we still have Lorde to come along and make everything ok. “Magnets” was a cool and saucy piece of electropop, in collaboration with UK production duo Disclosure. The video has just as much effort put into it, imagining Lorde as a sci-fi SoCal seductress hitwoman. The musical equivalent of #redpeak.

Avalanche City “Inside Out”

This was the only New Zealand song to reach No.1 this year, following one-man-band Avalanche City’s previous chart topper, the cheerful “Love Love Love” in 2011. “Inside Out” is bleak, the heartbreaking tale of a broken relationship, and it seems perfectly attuned for the “crying into a glass of Chardonnay” demographic.

MAALA “Touch”

For ages MAALA’s record company wasn’t saying anything about him, letting his music speak for him, etc. Then finally his true identity was revealed – Evan Sinton. Wait, who? Why was his name obscured? Oh, because he was a contestant on series two of New Zealand’s Got Talent which is approximately the least cool thing ever. As MAALA, Mr Sinton got to reinvent himself with some cool indie electro pop styles, far removed from his crazed NZGT fans and reality TV haters.

Gin Wigmore “New Rush”

2015 was the year of Wigmore dropping the twee folksy pop of previous years and fully embracing her tattooed, pierced, punk-arse style. “New Rush” was noisy and obnoxious and her live performance of the song on The X Factor was one of the few bright moments on that train wreck of a series. The “New Rush” video is very slow-mo Hunger Games.

Jackie Thomas “Until the Last Goodbye”

From what I can tell, Jackie’s new single was delayed to coincide with the second series of The X Factor. But a lot of the heat around her had cooled since 2013, and most Jackie fans would have been happiest if she’d just sang “Skinny Love” again. Instead she had “Until the Last Goodbye”, a sterling piece of Nordic pop, with plenty of that dad-pleasing Lana Del Rey style that saw Jackie win series one. But it didn’t work. She went on a national radio tour, performed it live on The X Factor and did loads of other promo, but the song just didn’t stick. *sadface*

Ginny Blackmore “Under My Feet”

I was going to include Ginny Blackmore’s “Love Me Anyway”, but it throws in an old-style-Eurovision key change and I cannot be seen to condone that sort of behaviour. Instead here’s “Under My Feet”. Blackmore is a good songwriter and a good singer, but a less convincing pop star. But nonetheless, “Under My Feet” is a really enjoyable piece of diva pop.

Beau Monga “King and Queen”

Despite the general awfulness of series two of The X Factor, the winner’s single most unexpectedly ended up being an original composition and one featuring lots of beatboxing. It reached No.2 in the charts, 26 years after Double J and Twice the T’s beatbox heavy song “She’s a Mod/Mod Rap” also charted at No.2. Tbh, I don’t really enjoy beatboxing (ugh, mouth noises), but other people do and this song deserves a mention.

Stan Walker feat. Samantha Jade “Start Again”

In theory, this song seems like it should have been a hit – Stan Walker singing the theme song of a hugely popular dance movie feat. Parris Goebel. But what was it up against in the chart? Really cool stuff like “I Can’t Feel My Face”“Lean On” and “Where Are Ü Now”. Stuff that makes “Start Again” sound so 2013. It had woah-oh-ohs when it should have had heys.

#KiwisCureBatten “Team Ball Player Thing”

How does streaming (or lack thereof) affect the modern charity single? Compare and contrast with the Flight of the Conchords’ 2012 charity single “Feel Inside”. It debuted at No.1 and spent 12 weeks in the charts on sales alone. Whereas “Team Ball” was released in the wild, uncertain world where streaming data contributes to the charts. It debuted at No.2, then quickly dropped to 33 and disappeared entirely the next week. Arguably the song wasn’t as strong as the 2012 single (essentially the same comedy format rehashed), but it wasn’t bad. Just not the sort of song that can even come close to standing up against Bieber and Goulding with streaming.

Six60 “White Lines”

2015 belonged to Six60, so I have to include them. “White Lines” is like a New Zealand version of “Semi-Charmed Life”, a song about taking drugs which matches the manic energy of the drug in question, making its upbeat groove hugely appealing to listeners. Just like cheap speed. Or it can also not be about drugs and just be about getting high on life because New Zealand. It was a double-platinum hit for Six60. And check out the video: made from fan-submitted clips, it shows dozens of New Zealanders hamming to the camera as they get down to their favourite song by their favourite band and it doesn’t even matter what the song is about. A band like this – with their charming, old-fashioned undergrad reggae-pop – can only be huge in New Zealand, but they are properly huge.

Worst New Zealand pop moment of 2015

Before Rachel Platten’s original version of “Fight Song” had even been released in New Zealand, The X Factor final 12 covered it for charity. Despite the individual talents of the contestants, it sounded more like a group rehearsal exercise than a cohesive performance. And then bloody Brendon Thomas jizzed a guitar solo all over it, like it was the 1980s and/or Albania. The X Factor‘s version disappeared from the top 40 after two weeks, while Rachel Platten’s version (sans guitar solo) quickly shot up the charts and became one of the biggest songs of the year. The X Factor version of “Fight Song” symbolises everything that was wrong with series two, post Kills/Moon.

What I actually listened to in 2015

The end of the year is when music critics release their best-of lists, but these lists always seem too neat, too curated. I thought instead it would be super masochistic if I presented the top 10 songs that I’ve actually been listening to on Spotify this year. Guys, I feel very vulnerable right now.

1. “Hey Mama” – David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha and Afrojack

I was on an island watching a French music video channel and they kept playing this song. I love how it feels like it’s assembled from parts, that everyone contributed bits and pieces via Dropbox. Bebe Rexha wasn’t original credited, which is crazy because she sings the best part of the song.

2. “Girl From Sweden” – Eric Saade

I can explain (can I?). Saade is a Swedish pop star and this song wasn’t even a hit in Sweden. But one day I was listening to it on Spotify and decided that the instrumental of the song was dope and I stuck it on repeat and listened to it enough to be my second most listened to track of 2015. FML. The video is fun, at least.

3. “Lush Life” – Zara Larsson

More Swedish pop, this time from Zara Larrson who currently has a legit international hit with “Never Forget You”. “Lush Life” was a massive summer hit in north-west Europe. It is such a tune. If there was any pop justice in the world, it would be a summer hit in New Zealand, but I’ve given up wishing for stuff like that.

4. “Saxofuckingfon” – Samir & Viktor

Sigh. Maybe my excuse is that as I’m learning Swedish, it’s good to have simple lyrics i svenska that I can listen to and understand. Or maybe it’s just fun to listen to novelty pop by a fashion blogger and a reality TV star. Or maybe it’s the thrill of a song with the F-word in it that doesn’t get bleeped and even ends up on compilation albums of songs 4 kidz because Sweden doesn’t care about English swears.

5. “Cool for the Summer” – Demi Lovato

Demi’s ode to summer holiday lady love was co-written by Max Martin, who writes all the good songs. Btw, do you read my weekly Tumblr post Max Martin NZ Chart Watch? If you like over analysis and/or under analysis of chart pop, you’ll love it! Every time I think I’m getting sick of this song I listen again and am reminded of how cool it is.

6. “Froot” – Marina and the Diamonds

This was the first track I put on my Spotify playlist 2015 aka Hot Jamz, so I ended up listening to it quite a lot. Marina uses plenty of fruity sexual innuendo and then throws in her own stuff. And that melody in the chorus though. That’s quite good.

7. “You and I Alone” – Daphne & Celeste

When this song came out, a lot of people alerted me to its existence. I was never into D&C in the ’90s, but I’m happy to pick up where they left off. The song was written and produced by alt pop producer Max Tundra. Best thing – all the confused comments at the Guardian from guys whose logic circuits was nearing meltdown at the thought of a cool producer working with naff ’90s novelty pop girls.

8. “Meet Me Downtown Tonight” – Magnus Carlsson

The video is for the original Swedish version, “Möt mig i Gamla Stan”. This song is schlager, that particular kind of European pop that sounds super cheesy if you’ve been raised on New Zealand chart pop. But somehow something flipped it in my head and I dig it. The song is basically “bb, meet me in the Old Town because I want u”. Jag älskar det.

9. “Elastic Heart”

At the beginning of the year, I did not especially like Sia (I thought she was shouty) but now she’s ok. She writes good songs! The video is great – Shia LaBeouf and Maddie Ziegler do the dirty leotard dance of destiny. They both represent different aspects of Sia’s personality.

10. “Earned It” – The Weeknd

Even though 50 Shades of Grey is one of the worst films ever made (with its shitty fan fic roots painfully evident), it had a really good soundtrack. “Earned It” wasn’t even The Weeknd’s biggest song of 2015. I’ve used the lyric video because the official video is a bit rude, but you can watch it here. Meanwhile in Romania…

11. “2 On” – Tinashe featuring SchoolBoy Q

I’m adding an eleventh track because I want at least one cooldude song. This is from 2014, but I listened to it a lot this year. The song is about smoking marijuana. Tinashe has even explained the song lyrics on Genius.

Here’s my full list of the tracks I listened to the most. I feel like I need to explain the presence of “Sex Show” the 2001 album track by the Feelers.

I was looking up something for 5000 Ways when I saw there was a song called “Sex Show”. And after listening, I realised it was essentially a New Zealand response of Nsync’s “Digital Get Down”, an artefact of the awkward relationship that people had with digital hook-ups in the early 2000s. And it has quite catchy chorus. I eventually started listening to it a lot in private mode, but the damage was done.

How to choose a flag

I was not interested in the debate around changing the New Zealand flag during the public submissions process. Public opinion seemed to be split between people lolzing at all the badly designed attempts at flags involving jandals, sheep, and fish and chips, and people raging that the government was spending money on the bloody flag referendum instead of addressing child poverty, the TPPA and other difficult matters.

But then the long list of 40 designs was announced and I realised, yeah, I can do this. I can wade in and have opinions and put my expert analysis skillz to work.

So to save the Flag Consideration Panel further work, I shall now go through and eliminate all the unsuitable designs which will leave us with the one true flag that will guide as, as a nation, through the new millennium and beyond.

flag-full-list

Step one: eliminate all designs that look like a civil defence tsunami warning sign

Tsunami warning sign

Korus are nice and all – and people like them because they are highly symbolic – but the ones included on the flag designs all look like the giant wave of destruction on a tsunami sign.

This will mean that if one of those flags is chosen, people will look at it and think “Arrgh! A tsunami is coming! Run to higher ground!” Or worse – they’ll see a tsunami warning sign and instead of fleeing to safety, they’ll instead feel strong patriotic pride in New Zealand, go Kiwi, etc.

So let’s cull those korus:

flag-koru-gone

Step two: eliminate all designs that look like the logo of a sports funding agency and/or the basis of the national costume worn by a Miss New Zealand in the 1980s

Sport NZ logo

It’s that darn silver fern. The trouble is, people are so in love with the Canadian flag. They look at it and say, “Canadia has a leaf on their flag, so why don’t we have a leaf on ours?” Because New Zealand is not Canada. We have no obvious ties to Canada. Unless you count Céline Dion’s three No.1 albums.

1986-miss-universeAs well as being a popular symbol in the New Zealand’s sporting world, there’s a much more serious risk. If any sort of silver fern design is selected, this will also do immense retrospective damage to New Zealand in beauty pageants of the ’80s.

As I have previously examined, a popular design for the national costume section was a black gown with a silver fern motif. If this becomes the flag, then all these Miss New Zealands (and the Duchess of Cambridge!) will suddenly look like they’ve dressed up in the flag, which is about the tackiest thing ever. And prior to this there was absolutely nothing tacky about their dresses.

So let’s make like the early settlers and clear those ferns:

flag-fern-gone

Step three: eliminate all designs that look inspired by the 1990 Commonwealth Games logo

1990 Commonwealth GamesSo much symbolism! It’s round which resembles a ball, which is used in a lot of games. But the round shape also resembles a globe and therefore the red stripe is the mighty British Empire. The stripe also represents a running track, which is used in a lot of other games. The four stars represent the Southern Cross because it is not possible to live in the southern hemisphere and not have strangely erotic feelings about the Southern Cross.

So anything with too much symbolism (which, let’s be fair, is a lot of the designs) and/or with more stars than Celebrity Treasure Island cannot be included. Just think of the headache.

The Games are over and so is that Southern Cross:

flag-stars-gone

Step four: And that leaves us with…

I thought this elimination process would be useful, but honestly it’s turned out to be a bit of a disaster.

flag-remnants

The circular flag design looks like a modified goatse and/or a ’90s body piercing loop. The interlocking koru is just Gordon Walters lite. That leaves us with the two triangles. One is almost a square (ugh, Switzerland!) and I find the chopped-off corners of the triangle to be geometrically distressing. I don’t like feeling geometric distress.

This leaves us with the one with the red base. It is simple and geometrically pleasing and not drowning in symbolism. I like it, but do we want it as a flag? I can see it as the emblem of the resistance movement in a dystopian kidult TV series, but I’m not sure if it would work flying from Parliament.

Step five: I don’t even know anymore

But the emoji New Zealand flag will always be there for us.

NZ flag emojiNZ flag emojiNZ flag emojiNZ flag emojiNZ flag emoji

The mousse that will torment me 4 eva

Whenever I feel bored with my blog, I find the thing that works well enough to unbore me is changing the WordPress theme I use. So say hello to Twenty Fifteen, the most recent default WordPress theme.

I went to New Caledonia in June. I think it’s one of my favourite places, probably because it’s only a couple of hours’ flight from New Zealand but it’s all exotic and French. Not that I got to put my two years of high school French to much use. I’m currently deep in the midst of learning Swedish (more on that later?) and I found it had pretty much taken the place of what French I knew. I could happily order en kaffe, snälla, but not un thé, s’il vous plait. Fortunately most hospo staff there knew how to recognise the look of panic on an English-speaking tourist.

Who needs friends when you have a menu to dine with?

Best experience – Au P’tit Café in Nouméa. This is the deal – it’s only open four days a week, Tuesday to Friday. It’s not open on weekends because the owner wants to keep his weekends free. The menu changes every week based on what’s available, which is quite a wise choice when you live on an island. Each week the menu only has four main meal options and four dessert options. And that’s it.

The food is OMFG-so-good quality and – this is the crazy part – the prices are not insane. Like, they’re average for a Nouméa restaurant and a lot less than what you’d expect to pay for food of this quality in New Zealand (and the exchange rate was a lot kinder back then). The restaurant building itself is not at all fancy – a small (petit!) building with a large covered deck where all the tables are. In fact, from the outside it’s a really ordinary looking café in a really ordinary neighbourhood.

It was so good I went there three times. This is the chocolate mousse I had once. It actually makes me feel a bit sad when I see this photo because I know that I will probably never again have something as perfect as this. But what do you do in a situation like this? Don’t be sad that it’s over, be glad that it happened, I guess. But still. (Crying face emoji)

‘Laide night special

Last month I went to Adelaide, as some sort of vague birthday-related travel. And also because I wanted to make a “‘Laide night special” pun, which I did, even (accidentally) managing to take two photos with vanishing points that kind of mirror each other.

Adelaide is a nice city. It’s like a more populous Christchurch if the city hadn’t started to abandon the CBD about 20 years ago (and if there hadn’t been a massive earthquake, obvs). It was quite hot when I was there, but it was a pleasant dry desert heat, not the filthy sticky humidity of a New Zealand summer. For the first time in my life I understood why people are normally so in love with warm weather.

I just wanted to have a nice chilled out holiday and not have to worry about wine tours of the Barossa Valley, or whatever it is that tourists normally do in South Australia. These were my highlights.

Pie floater

My main priority in Adelaide was to enjoy the South Australian cultural heritage icon that is the pie floater. This is a meat pie in a bowl of thick pea soup. I found a bakery that specialised in them and ordered one.

There’s no magic – it is literally just a meat pie in a bowl of thick pea soup. The whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. But I ate it and it was fine.

It would probably have been a million times better if I had it at the end of a long day/night of drinking. Or the morning after. In fact, thinking about this I kind of want to go back to Adelaide, get pissed, then have a pie floater the next morning. Oh yeah.

Pie floater

10c bottle refund

For years I’d seen the little notice on the back of Australian fizzy drink bottles that promised a 10c refund in South Australia. It seemed like the promise of a distant utopia, a land where rubbish had a cash value. So while in Adelaide I carefully collected my five used water and iced tea bottles, determined to get back 50 cents.

But it turned out that the nearest recycle depot was out in the suburbs and the bus fare to get there would have cost far more than 50 cents. So instead the bottles went into my hotel room’s rubbish bin.

But with such a lucrative booty at stake, I’m sure someone, somehow made sure that bottle got refunded. By the way, the scheme is a huge success – apparently 79.5% of bottles sold in South Australia are refunded, and bottles make up only 2.2% of litter.

Bottle deposit

South Australia Music Hall of Fame

The possible highlight of my time in Adelaide was when I accidentally discovered the South Australia Music Hall of Fame. It seemed to have been constructed by volunteers in a few spare rooms in a municipal building. It was mostly posters and clipped articles about giant-haired stars of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. There was a hint of the ’80s (Barnesy was raised in Elizabeth, SA), but nothing newer than that.

The web tells me that contemporary artists have been inducted into the hall – people like Guy Sebastian and Sia Furler – but I couldn’t find the ’00s or ’10s corner in the hall.

The Hall of Fame was more likely to have a photocopy of the hit parade from the 1960s with “THIS BRINGS BACK MEMORIES!!!!” scribbled on it. But I appreciate that the Hall of Fame is probably a volunteer effort, created by people who probably mainly care about the rock ‘n’ roll of their youth and wouldn’t know what to make of “Chandelier” or “Tonight Again“.

South Australia Music Hall of Fame

The palm trees in the “Uptown Funk” video

At the moment “Uptown Funk” is the number one single in New Zealand and various territories around the world. Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ infectious pop-funk song is a bona fide international mega hit. But right now I’m obsessed with the palm trees in the music video.

The video sees singer Bruno, producer Mark and their posse hanging out in a New York-ish but nonspecific “uptown” street. It’s all very neat and cinematic, but it’s clearly a film studio backlot.

That in itself isn’t so remarkable, but later in the video things get interesting. Palm trees can be seen in the background, something that doesn’t fit with the New York-ish buildings. And it’s not one accidental shot – they’re in a lot of scenes.

Uptown Funk palm trees

So there’s obviously no attempt to pretend this is real uptown Manhattan. It’s more like a fantasy world where suddenly stretch limos are cool and not transport for drunk teens. The uptown of the “Uptown Funk” video is like how you imagine New York to be when you’re 12. And the presence of palm trees makes perfect sense because they have palm trees in America and New York is in America, right?

“Uptown Funk” is going to be one of those songs that gets on the playlist of popular bars and wedding DJs, the sort of song that fills the dance floor and who cares what trees are in the video. But right now I just want to have a little moment of obsession with the palm trees in the “Uptown Funk” video and endow them with more symbolism that they were ever intended to have.

Letting live and letting die

On New Year’s Eve, Kanye West released a new single “Only One”, which was also a collaboration with Paul McCartney. This was followed by a few tweets from people joking about how Kanye was a great talent spotter and surely the collaboration would mean great things for this Paul McCartney chap. And then that in turn was followed by outrage from others, highly bothered that the youth of today did not know who Paul McCartney was.

I saw a news report where a reporter asked various teens if they’d heard of Paul McCartney and most of them hadn’t, though the name was vaguely familiar to a few. And it got me thinking. How crazy is it for a teen of 2015 to have not heard of Paul McCartney?

It made me wonder if the teen Beatles fans of 1965 were berated for not knowing the music hall legends of 1915. It’s not quite an equal comparison, because in 1915 – right in the midst of World War I – recorded music wasn’t the thing it was today. Gramophones were still a luxury item and popular radio was about a decade away from starting. People experienced music through music hall shows and home performances using sheet music. There were music hall stars, but in a way, the song composers were better known.

It’s only been since the advent of the recorded music industry in the mid 20th century that the fetishisation of pop stars has started. That leads to Paul McCartney, a man who has been working in the music biz for over 50 years.

Is it reasonable for a teen of today to not know who he is? The Beatles had a huge, excited teen following in the 1960s, but who goes to Paul McCartney concerts now? Other old people. Teens are off see One Direction or Taylor Swift shows. Meanwhile, Macca is off jamming with Dave Grohl and making music for other rock dudes. But maybe some lucky teen might get taken to a Paul McCartney show by their grandparents.

Paul McCartney doesn’t court teen audiences anymore, so why should teens know who he is? Is it the duty of parents and teachers to teach kids about popular music of the 20th century? And if so, how much would that suck the life out of pop?

When I was a kid, Paul McCartney was the guy who sang “Say Say Say” with Michael Jackson. I didn’t start to explore the Beatles until I was about 19, when I could relate to it on my own terms, not via the lens of the previous generation.

I read once that people get angry about things that remind them they’re going to die. Maybe this is one of those situations. Paul McCartney isn’t a floppy-haired teen idol anymore. He’s not even an earnest rock dad singing songs about picturesque Scottish peninsulas. He’s a grandfather with dyed hair, but one who can still write good songs and entertain his fans. Teens don’t know who Paul McCartney is; you’re old, you’re going to die.

There are still going to be teens out there who listen to the Beatles and Wings (especially the super fun ones who declare that all modern music is rubbish), but it’s not unreasonable for a teen to not be familiar with old music.

Unless this whole shemozzle is an elaborate stunt orchestrated by Kanye West. In which case, well done.

Make yiz mine: 2014 in New Zealand pop

It’s the end of 2014 and there are year-in-review lists galore, but I haven’t been able to find one that’s looking at the year in New Zealand pop music. So I have taken it upon myself to produce such a list. There’s more to New Zealand pop than Lorde, you know (but not much more).

First, it has to be noted that 2014 wasn’t an especially great year for New Zealand pop. It’s one of those quiet years where not many New Zealand tracks end up in the charts, but not every year can be as almighty as 2004 was. I was going to make a top 10, but I couldn’t even come up with 10 worthy songs, so instead here’s the golden eight, in some sort of order.

Benny Tipene “Step On Up”

Thank eff for B. Tipene. He also had success with two other singles in 2014 – “Make You Mine” and “Lonely”, but it’s the aggro-folk sound of “Step On Up” that gets him on this list. B-Tipz is like the ideal X Factor contestant: not burdened with winning, and with enough talent and experience that he can immediately start writing, recording and touring without having to first learn the ropes doing gigs at community fun days.

David Dallas feat. Ruby Frost “The Wire”

This is the opening track of David Dallas’ album Falling Into Place and it’s a hearty dose of sonic coolness. Ruby Frost manages to sweep clear her pink-haired X Factor judging niceness, while Ddot gives the best hip hop vocals of the year (lol). The ending is a bit anticlimactic, but the rest of the song is quality.

Broods “Bridges”

Broods specialise in bittersweet electro-pop, and also had success in 2014 with “Mother & Father”. They brother-sister duo work with Joel Little, who is best known as the lead singer of ’00s teen pop-punk band Goodnight Nurse (and he also won a Grammy for “Royals”) so there’s his skilful minimalist electro sound mixed with Georgia Nott’s delicate vocals. And the brother does something as well.

Lorde “Yellow Flicker Beat”

I feel like I’m cheating putting this in the list, like somehow Lorde doesn’t count as a New Zealand artist because… nah, I got nothing. “Yellow Flicker Beat” might have the kind of drama, attitude and sophistication that you don’t normally get around these parts, but it is still coming straight outta Devonport. It feels like the next step between Pure Heroine-era Lorde and whatever form her next album will take. Like, it’s really good, but the thrill comes from knowing that even better things will come. No pressure.

Stan Walker feat. Ria Hall, Troy Kingi & Maisey Rika “Aotearoa”

The X Factor is all through this list. I take great comfort in series judge Stan Walker. In a patchy year, Stan is still there with two quality songs. “Aotearoa” was released for Maori Language Week, cruelly kept from the No.1 spot by the Madden Brothers. It’s a wonderfully upbeat song, and the video will be emotional catnip for homesick expats for years to come.

Six60 “Special”

This is the power of Six60 – “Special” debuted at number one, has not yet left the top 10, is the 10th highest selling New Zealand single of 2014 and the music video hasn’t even been released. Forget Moorhouse or Titanium – if you’re looking for the New Zealand equivalent of One Direction, it’s Six60. Five good looking lads conveniently disguised as a laid-back roots band. It’s the only way a boyband could be accepted in New Zealand.

Ginny Blackmore & Stan Walker “Holding You”

Stan and Ginny met on the set of The X Factor – she a guest performer, he a judge. They combined forces, wrote a song and created a mighty pop ballad. “Holding You” has a comfortingly old fashioned sound, and it’s only the restrained production style that outs it as a release from 2014. By the way, the video is pleasingly nuts and might even be referencing the Bush/Gabriel hugfest of the “Don’t Give Up” vid 28 years prior.

Timmy Trumpet & Savage “Freaks”

10 years ago, Savage was a popular rapper in his own right. After a few quiet years, he suddenly made a comeback via a remix of “Swing” by Australian producer Joel Fletcher, charting at No.2 in Australia. So with his vocals on “Freaks” by Timmy Trumpet (another Australian producer), Savage seems to have found a new niche as an Australasian Lil Jon, shouting exuberant vocals (“The mighty trumpet!”) over dance tracks. The pro-trumpet propaganda anthem charted at No.1 for five weeks and was the best-selling single by a New Zealand artist in 2014, but as it’s a modern producer-led track, Savage only features on the verses, with the chorus role filled by Mr Trumpet’s digital trumpet. It brings to mind the line from “Swing”: I heard somebody yell ‘Savage, where the chorus at?’ Where indeed, Savage. New Zealand pop single of the year? This is what 2014 has given us.

And here’s a Spotify playlist with the eight tracks, plus a few extras from B-Tipz and Broods.

Life continues at 40

About a week ago, or whenever, I turned 40. It was even more low-key than my 39th birthday. I guess it’s the power combo of having a birthday three days before Christmas mixed with people just not caring so much about birthdays in adulthood. But hey, I got two presents so that’s something.

40 doesn’t really feel old – or at least it doesn’t feel anywhere as old as I was led to believe by Dave and the Dynamos’ 1983 No.1 hit single “Life Begins at 40”. And I know that whenever someone complains about being old, there’s always someone older who gets angry and tells them to make the most of their youth and stop complaining. But I’m thinking that maybe 40 is the kind of age where you can start saying “I’m too old for this shit” without irony.

A year ago I made a list of things to achieve before I turn 40:

  • Finish reading Ulysses.
  • Come up with a few more things to do before I turn 40.
  • Explore historic Northland.
  • Learn to say “Hi, my name is Robyn. I am 40 years old.” in 40 languages of the world.

My progress report:

  • Lol, as if. It’s still sitting on my bookshelf.
  • Well, yeah, I already did that one.
  • I did this, driving up the east coast and down the west. Highly recommended.
  • Um, je m’appelle Robyn. J’ai quarante ans. Aw, guys, I can’t even say it in Maori.

Glasses are so much cheaper now that you can order them online. All up, these cost about $200 less than the ones I got in 2000.
Glasses are so much cheaper now that you can order them online. All up, these cost about $200 less than the ones I got in 2000.
I have reading glasses, but I don’t really need them. Or rather, I had another thing wrong with my vision and my optometrist added a +1.00 magnification to the prescription. I guess it makes things slightly easier to read, but I’m not at the stage of complaining about the size of type in the phone book or a newspaper (lol “phone book”, “newspaper”).

I hardly have any grey hair, which is fun. A few years ago I decided to grow out my roots, expecting some sort of Bride of Frankenstein look, but my natural hair was just this fairly inoffensive shade of light brown, and in such better condition without all the battery from colouring. So I’ll make the most of that while it lasts.

I’ve been paying attention to people in showbiz who turned 40 in the last year. My fellow 1974 babies include: Robbie Williams, Mel C, Carrie Brownstein, Joaquin Phoenix, Chloë Sevigny, Kate Moss, Posh Spice, Li’l Kim, Jimmy Fallon, David Faustino and Miranda July. They all turned 40 and kept doing cool things, so I knew everything was going to be alright.

But I still don’t own a table.