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 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.
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.