In 2013, Devonport resident Ella Yelich-O’Connor generated one hit single and 600-million web hits. An album lasting 37-minutes generated hundreds of articles, dozens of interviews, an embarrassing amount of thinkpieces and open letters, and some very poor satire. Ella gave us a gift that will last a few minutes on a car stereo, half-a-minute on the ringtone of a missed phonecall, and an entire year in the digital press.
Never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, the nation and globe viewed pages where Lorde could be seen hanging out with David Bowie and Tilda Swinton, in Eleanor Catton’s hotel room, and at a local beach with her boyfriend through a telephoto lens. The media couldn’t get more creative product from Lorde, but they could create an endless supply of pageviews by turning her life into a product.
Along the way, detractors and supporters of these pageviews alike ruined the past 20 years of cultural studies’ influence with an endless and very profitable cycle of pathologising and medicating issues of race, class and gender. One clickserve count meant we were being saved from the reprobate materiality of ’04 Roc-A-Fella, another adclick dollar meant she was insecure about the alpha femininity of born-millionaire Taylor Swift. Blogs trying to explain that ‘Royals’ absolutely was not racist got really racist themselves. When identity politics didn’t bring ad revenues, the online media switched to generational appeals; anxieties over Western teen life were variously amplified and calmed. The modern media knows this: you sell a lot more antidote when you sell the poison as well.
Critique and celebration were laid bare as a secondary industry, aside from the remarkable talents of the artist herself. In 2013, pageviews weren’t the engine of fame, they were the endpoint.
All of this solidified our impression of the Internet as the medium of comment and commentary – a place more capable than radio or TV or print of breaking a creative work into the smallest commodifiable pieces, and then serving them back to a public who want viewpoints instead of vision. Go listen to the album for a while, the pop-up ads and pre-roll videos will still be here when you get back. - Dan Taipua
2. The X Factor NZ
Let me just start this with a little disclaimer for all you ‘WELL ACTUALLY’ dudes in the comment section: I’m not talking about what happened afterwards. We all know that Jackie’s album was a hot turd. We all know that Benny Tipene’s sanded down all potential edges for an assured role as a minor general in the Parachute Army (he’s prolly still posting a LOT of bad puns on Instagram though. Someone else check). Whenua Patuwai? He’s actually kinda killing it in the very specific manner that he was destined to, and good for him; Stan Walker’s becoming Howard Morrison, so someone’s gotta fill that role. Christmas in the Park happens tomorrow, as I’m writing this, so I’m sure we’ll find out what everyone else has been up to pretty soon.
For now, though, I want to talk about the show that preceded this minor, quite predictable disappointment. Boasting performers of a standard that’s obviously long existed in this country, but has never really been tapped like this (looking at the wildly misnomer’d ‘New Zealand’s Got Talent’ here), and production values stratospheric by comparison to any other local work, the X Factor NZ was a legitimate phenomenon. People tweeted and texted and attended live shows and wrote power rankings and generally gave a shit, and for a while it felt like we were consuming something that might actually matter. Even as both the performers and the viewing public suffered from fatigue in the latter stages, the show may have lagged but it never rested on laurels. The first season of New Zealand’s version of Simon Cowell’s masterwork gave us Gap 5 (!!!!), Moorhouse (!!!!!!) (new single dropping soon!!!!!!!), Benny Tipene awkwardly acknowledging his resemblance to a young Heath Ledger, Ruby Frost as mother of the nation and Stan Walker as father of a vernacular, don’t front like you won’t watch next time as well. See you on the tweets #xfactornz – Matthew McAuley
3. Indie Music Manager
Actually, let’s not even get into it. Just read this.
On the upside, NZ On Air’s online fund did give us Audioculture. No book has ever been able to come close to covering the full scope of local music, so Audioculture is gradually becoming a one-stop-shop for New Zealand music history, with nice interlinks between the artists so you can see the connections. There’s some great music journalists working for the site, but it’s often the personal stories that help reflect the mood of the time – like these images of 70s punks in Auckland or Simon Grigg (co-creator of the site along with Murray Cammick) talking about Russell Crowe’s enthusiastic attempt to start his own music career in Auckland during the 80s. - Gareth Shute
5. Stan Walker
It’s been a crazy year for our favourite-Jesus-thanking musician (no disrespect to Dave Dobbyn). Stan has acted in an award-winning film (Mt Zion), modelled clothes for Hallensteins, hosted X-Factor NZ and the NZ Music Awards and appeared at Christmas In The Park. Plus he got some good press coverage from supporting Beyoncé in NZ, Perth, and Sydney. He’s become a middle-of-the-road entertainer like Ray Columbus or Sir Howard Morrison, who is totally everywhere. Mums like him and so do the bros. By next year, expect to see him reading the Lotto results, appearing in Woman’s Day with a famous fiancée, and doing guest spots on ‘Seven Days’. You’ll hear his voice constantly warbling in the distance, like an R&B musical shadow, even if you miss his slot at Parachute next year… - Gareth Shute
6. TVNZ U
It’s reasonably hard to write impartially about the demise of a youth-orientated television network, especially when a) you lack any trace of empirical data on the topic and b) you actually, personally, quite liked it. So for the sake of finishing this piece by deadline and also because ‘ratings’ and ‘expert opinion’ are strictly the domain of major nerds, I’m going all-in on the subjective.
U was designed by its parent network to be the youth wing of TVNZ and, though its stay lasted only 17 months, it served this purpose absurdly well. There’s probably a valid complaint to be made for the near-uniform insanity of its almost-exclusively F-grade reality show programming, but its true value lay outside this supercheap boilerplate, in the daily televisual kedgeree that was U Live. Presented mainly by comedian Rose Matafeo, ex-bFM host Connor Nestor, nice guy Tim Lambourne, Squirt graduate Matt Gibb and a revolving cast of dudes with cuffed chinos, it was an oft bizarre sort of M-rated What Now? analog, notable for its broad selection of guests and the steadfast refusal of its hosts and producers to pander to anyone, ever, for any reason.
Switching on between 4 and 7 on any given evening, you were as likely to receive advice on being Very Positive Always Including In The Kickboxing Ring Or The Ring Of Life from Richie Hardcore as you were a very serious Duncan Greive delivering sermons on the evils of Karmin. Of course, this resulted in shows that were uneven almost as a rule, but it was this low-grade chaos that made the channel so captivating. It was the joy of watching a cobbled-together cast of talented but inexperienced young adults learn how to talk at a camera for hours on end, the joy of interviews unencumbered by best practice guidelines or strict time limits, the joy of an entire weekend of Made in Chelsea, interrupted only by increasingly manic in-studio pieces about which cast members had so far kissed which other cast members. If that last part sounds confusing, it’s because it was, and that’s why it was great.
TVNZ U is dead, and given its commercial performance that’s hardly surprising. Though it would’ve been amazing to see the channel continue in its role as a de facto television D-League, decisions in entertainment are rarely dictated by culture over profitability, and so this past August the one significant rough patch in mainstream New Zealand broadcasting was ploughed and re-sown as Now That’s What I Call Timeshifted TV. Though I may be in the minority, I do and will continue to miss U. Saturday afternoons just aren’t the same. R.I.P. - Matthew McAuley
7. Big Day Out
It’s changed venue and hopefully the lower overheads might make this a more healthy long-term prospect, especially with consent locked in for the next five years. There’s even promises of no more headliner clashes, which would be nice. More than a few people were bummed about Blur pulling out (along with DIIV) and rumours were rife – the Aussie promoters wanted Blur to play in the afternoon or not to play a sideshow or didn’t pay an advance on time. Maybe we’ll never know the real reason. At least there’s some good sideshows lined up from Snoop/Mudhoney. Campbell Smith seems more in control than in previous years, due to buying a part stake in the NZ leg off the Aussie owners and it’ll be interesting to see if he can improve the wasted-teenagers-getting-sunburnt vibe of the event by introducing art installations and fancy food options. Kinda doubt it to be honest … though we’re still happy to see BDO back. - Gareth Shute
8. Rip It Up
Locally the last of its kind, Rip It Up wouldn’t face the deathblow delivered to Real Groove and Volume. Instead, news came that some big changes were on the way following Satellite Media’s sale of the company to Groove Guide owner Grant Hislop. The rehaul, which removed the cover charge also included a change from a bi-monthly to a monthly print run, a redesign which shrinked the magazine to A4 and about 80 pages in length, and most significantly, it’s the Groove Guide team who now sit at the helm. But perhaps it’s just dying a slow death, one where we get to watch it steadily decline, devolving into what is essentially a bumper issue of Groove Guide that drops once a month. I’ll add that it looks better than ever and although the clean design is favourable, the rebrand still feels like a facade – with some really good writers hanging about for roll call, there’s still an obvious lack of editorial guidance. The mag has shrunk in size yet the reach remains just much too big, with a movie promo pic for “Anchorman: The Legend Continues” as the latest cover, a focus on fashion (“Style Like Ron Burgundy”, because, of course), and a gaming section backhandedly-titled “Geeks”. And yeah sure, you could poke holes in some of the content decisions from a bunch of the past RiU editors, but why bother even buying into the name if its pages echo what we’ve had from Groove Guide all along? - Hussein Moses
9. Brooke Fraser
Brooke Fraser finally took the ‘Most Performed Work Overseas’ award from Neil Finn (at this year’s APRA Silver Scroll Awards) for ‘Something In The Water’. Neil has held the title for over 20 years, aside from 4 years (96-99) when OMC took it from him. ‘Something In The Water’ was also the most performed work locally in 2011 and 2013. Even Neil himself is probably thankful that someone else has broken his run. - Gareth Shute
10. Square Wave Festival
I struggle to make Christmas lunch happen for three people so thinking about the work put into organising the first Square Wave Festival – a two-week event that consists of 60+ electronic music acts playing 34 shows across five cities around the country – just kinda makes my head spin. It’s run by A Low Hum’s Blink (a.k.a. Ian Jorgensen), a man we’re not sure has time to sleep at night and a man who when asked about the event sounding like a logistical nightmare says that “though some would think that 34 shows in 5 cities is pretty big – for me it’s just dipping my toe in”. The event, held back in November, would see Awesome Feeling artists Black City Lights, kariiiba, The Shocking and Stunning, Totems and West Coast Bullies all included on the lineup, and as Blink’s said, it’s a model without limitations, so who knows how we can expect to see the festival evolve next year. On top of that, Blink’s still running Wellington venue Puppies and of course there’s Camp A Low Hum which takes place in early February. You deserve a rest, bro. - Hussein Moses