The Naked and the Famous – Young Blood (2010)
‘Young Blood’ bursts like a pimple, with a joyful synth hook that swerves into a moody bridge, mooches about, and returns to joy. The second single off the award-winning album Passive Me, Aggressive You, it debuted at No.1 on the New Zealand charts in June 2010. It was the first time that had happened in over three years, and in September 2010 the songwriters (Alisa Xayalith on vocals and keyboard and Thom Powers on vocals and guitars) were awarded Apra’s Silver Scroll. ‘Young Blood’ dances in a time that feels endless, but isn’t, and the song and band explore that “in-between” “bittersweet” territory another young Auckland songwriter would mine brilliantly in a couple of years. There’s another key factor in common, too. Its video introduced the world to the talents of directors Joel Kefali and Campbell Hooper (production house Special Problems) who became the go-to video team of the decade. Here we have a montage of guilelessly beautiful young people dicking around, trying to break stuff, carving it up at the skate park, literally floating about. All things you imagined you did at 17 when you’re suddenly 45, but probably didn’t (or did less successfully and ended up at A&E).
Brooke Fraser – Something in the Water (2010)
This “right little thigh-slapper” (thank you, NZ Herald’s Scott Kara) was not only Brooke Fraser’s first New Zealand No.1 single, it also launched her internationally, reaching the Top 10 in Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg. It’s definitely got country swing, but acknowledging its success in German speaking countries, you could also say it has an oompah band feel. You could swing a beer mug along to this tale of giving in to love, and Fraser had inspiration close to home: she married co-writer Scott Ligertwood in 2008. Fraser has been a national success since her first album What to Do With Daylight debuted at No.1 in 2003, and her back-story – suburban girl from Naenae, All Black dad – endeared her to mainstream New Zealand. Joel Kefali and Campbell Hooper step in again for her video; gone is the moody disconnect of horny teenagers, hello to “homespun” fun. Fraser sings to us from her couch while an animation of a portly creature sailing across an ocean with its eyes closed intercuts her address. The mood is cosy. But it’s got clip, your hot-chocolate chaser would be bouncing on the table.
Six60 – Rise Up 2.0 (2011)
In Will Ferrell’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Ron tries to woo his colleague with the immortal line “I don’t know how to put this, but ... I’m kind of a big deal.” Six60 are well within their rights to trot that one out for real, anytime they please. By 2020 their second album (Six60 aka Colours to the confused) had been in the New Zealand charts for five straight years. (Chart monster Adele? Move aside! Your mega-hit ballads will only take you so far in Aotearoa.) In 2019 and 2020 Six60 played Western Springs to sell-out crowds, with more than 50,000 fans at both shows: an historic achievement in New Zealand music. Yes, the Deal is that Big. ‘Rise Up 2.0’ – the first single from their first album (Six60) – reached No.1 in October 2011, after debuting at No.5 weeks earlier. Producer Tiki Taane’s influence is all over it; it’s a ‘Get Up Stand Up’/Bob Marley inspired drum and bass groove. Greg Page directs the video and interprets the call to “stand up and fight” at face value; the band literally rocks out behind a wire fence while a crowd encourages two arm wrestlers, one using a 10-gallon hat for a personality, the other giving off Buddy Holly vibes. Buddy wins and fights another day. The mood? Fight Club, but less blood, more Kiwi, it’s relaxed-as, bro. Is this the “revolution?”
Avalanche City – Love, Love Love (2011)
‘Love, Love Love’ has something in common with another New Zealand No.1 hit from 1981: ‘Counting the Beat’ by The Swingers. Money! Well, being adopted by a big corporation, which is basically the same thing. ‘Counting the Beat’ was snapped up by Australian chains Countdown and Kmart, and played on and on in AM and FM selling something or other. ‘Love, Love Love’ was quickly acquired by TV2 for promotional purposes, and in doing so propelled the song’s overall radio and sales success. Both songs are infinitely catchy and upbeat (although ‘Counting the Beat’ is a far edgier beast), but even the snappiest pop song in the world will eventually induce groans when it’s been adopted by The Man. Avalanche City consists of one songwriter, Dave Baxter, who recorded his first album Our New Life Above Ground in a hall in 2011 and offered it as a free download on his website. Its charm lies in its simplicity and it’s also pretty cool to hear Baxter’s pure Kiwi accent in the line “I-ee heard your hart say-ee ...” The mood? Innocent. Some songs suit an animated video – using actors or super-cool abstract imagery would be too distracting – so here is the second animation of our hit parade from director Josh Smith, with a tale of two penguins on a love (love! love!) boat.
Goyte (feat. Kimbra) – Somebody that I Used to Know (2011)
If this smash hit single was your introduction to Hamilton-born songwriter and singer Kimbra you would need no further reason to check out her impressive solo output. Belgian-Australian songwriter Goyte wrote this prickly kiss-off at his parent’s house in Victoria and it was the second single from his 2011 album Making Mirrors. That same year Kimbra released her eclectic debut album Vows. A classic call-and-response song, ‘Somebody …’ is like an Anzac answer to Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty’s ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’, it’s a little ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’, it’s a reverse ‘Islands in the Stream’, it’s its own heartbroken creation. The composition started life as a rumination on “past relationships” but only caught fire when Goyte decided to ditch the monologue and explore the female perspective. Kimbra wasn’t his first choice for guest vocals, but when she slipped on her headphones she added her crucial magic. A xylophone ditty circles Goyte’s tortured voice, more instruments enter, we hear the other party, tension builds and finally the ex-couple exorcise their hurt at the same time. The mood? Naked. We start by lingering on a very average-looking foot and pan up to the vulnerable songwriter, a warning that there will be no running for cover. Eventually Goyte and Kimbra become painted chameleons in an abstract art psychodrama/nightmare. Kimbra is Louise Brooks beautiful and her vocal elevation at the end of her verse gets me every time. If this song has a cinematic equivalent it’s Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver tearing strips off each other in a rented room in Noah Baumbach’s devastating Marriage Story. It was monumentally successful, hitting No.1 in Australia, New Zealand the US and the UK, making it one of the best-selling digital singles of all time.
Flight of the Conchords (plus Savage, Dave Dobbyn, and a cast of stars) – Feel Inside (and Stuff Like That) (2012)
The comic behemoths that are Flight of the Conchords whip up a song for the Cure Kids charity and of course it’s going to be No.1. They could have probably delivered a straight cover of ‘Thank You Very Much for Your Kind Donation’ and still make No.1. But they didn’t do that because they are genuinely talented songwriters and, as the video attests, had a great time going meta with the concept of “charity song”. Plus they had a blast interviewing kids from Clyde Quay School in Wellington to glean what they thought about it all. Plausible deniability! Don’t ask us about donating to charities, we just reported the facts. Major pop and hip hop names said yes to the job: Brooke Fraser, Dave Dobbyn, Rikki Morris, Boh Runga, Savage, The Phoenix Foundation, PNC, Young Sid. It’s fun to see the clip sticking to the “making the video in-house” format of pop stars laying down tracks and lyrics they only recently clapped their eyes on but – sadly for a Gen X tragic like myself – it lacked the seedy feel of the ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ video (the tangerine hair, the quite obvious hangovers). ‘Feel Inside (and Stuff Like That)’ went straight to No.1 on iTunes within 90 minutes of release in late August, 2012.
Titanium – Come on Home (2012)
The 1990s had TrueBliss, 2012 had Titanium. Six young guys were picked from open auditions run by The Edge radio station, and New Zealand had its latest boy band. I suppose you could describe their sound and look as “déjà vu” smooth, easy on the eye, reminiscent of um, that other one. The video, like ‘Feel Inside’, takes its cue from other “We’ve just got this band together, gee I feel good about this, guys” tradition, the boys josh about, sing sweet R&B to camera, plea for their one and only to ‘Come On Home’, and take it to the studio to pose for the publicists. As with TrueBliss, the months of on-air buzz paid off and ‘Come on Home’ entered the charts at No.1 in September 2012. Titanium had to strike while the hair irons were hot and embarked on an international tour. Perhaps the speed of their now no-doubt “crazy” lives was reflected in the name of its New Zealand leg, the Whatever World Tour. Call me churlish but maybe they could have brainstormed that one for a few more minutes. They released their debut album in December and became the first New Zealand band to have three songs in the Top 40 singles chart at the same time. ‘Whatever’ happened next, and Zac Taylor, Andrew Papas, Jordi Webber, Shaquille Paranihi-Ngauma, Hadyn Linsley and TK Paradza entered New Zealand pop history and proved themselves bankable pop talent. What did happen next was Titanium opened for Mariah Carey on the New Zealand stop of her 2014 world tour and in 2015 moved to the US, minus Papas and Webber.
Lorde – Royals (2013)
Dear Six60, Lorde (Ella Yelich-O’Connor) needs that Ron Burgundy quote (above), and fast. In 2019 Billboard magazine named this song as one that defined the decade. No.1 in the UK, Canada, the US, and New Zealand, with 10-million units sold world-wide. It was impressive on every level: sparse, poetic, an alluring voice and simple beats supporting the melody and enhancing its power. This song is responsible for launching two careers, Yelich-O’Connor and producer and co-writer Joel Little. He also credits it with changing the way pop songs “needed to sound” in the 2000s: heavy hitters such as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry were taking notes (Swift would later work with Little). ‘Royals’ entered the world as a free download, a single off her first EP, The Love Club. Ella was an aspiring teen songwriter from Auckland’s North Shore and like any Gen Zer this was how she reached her audience. From thereon in, social media did the rest and Lorde’s elevation to pop stardom came in a number of days and clicks. For the first half of 2013 the question on the streets of Mt Eden, Tauranga and, crucially, London and Brooklyn was: “Have you heard this song?” Just grabbing any line will make you smile, “torn up town”, “we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams”. ‘Young Blood’ could be a cousin to ‘Royals’, but while the former mooches around in its own head, Ella takes a wider view: she describes the fevered hip-hop dream and the suburban kids dreaming it, and we are on her side. It was a critical and popular hit. You have to feel for the other, no doubt impressive, songs that made the Silver Scroll finalists for 2013 – I don’t imagine they bothered preparing speeches. Ella got a few friends together for Joel Kefali and Campbell Barry’s video shoot and asked them just “just jerk around” for the camera. It was all pot plants and endless afternoons, skinny torsos, wide streets and pent-up energy. There’s also a lion-maned 16-year old who instructs us to “call me Queen B”. Yes, your Majesty.
Lorde – Tennis Court (2013)
The second single from Lorde’s first album Pure Heroine, and her second New Zealand No.1. To say it had more modest success than ‘Royals’ means it still enjoyed major global airplay. The musical palette is similar to her first monster hit but the song has more clip. Lorde’s voice is still the main instrument and lyrically she draws on what was her (increasingly distant) life as an unknown on Auckland’s North Shore, “getting pumped up on the little, bright things” she’s bought, and “catching my first plane”. She knows this is all about to change: “how can I f**k with the fun again, when I’m known”. Joel Kefali again takes the director’s chair; the video is a long, confident stare-down, with Lorde’s hair up in Helga braids, a young Goth queen checking out the troops before battle. All she does is lip synch “yeah” but she’s not here to pretend sing, this video feels like a victory poster after a successful campaign. The random and (if you live in Takapuna) mundane location – where Ella’s friends “talk it up” to pass the time – is specific and universal, it’s the tennis court, it’s outside Westfield, it’s the carpark at Countdown, it’s the common room.
Ginny Blackmore – Bones (2013)
Virginia Blackmore was another teenage singer from Auckland who, like Lorde, knew she wanted to work as a songwriter by age 16. Singer, songwriter and producer Daniel Bedingfield was an early champion for her talent and provided the teenager with the equipment to get started. She left Auckland for London and secured a publishing deal, working on songs for the likes of Christina Aguilera and Adam Lambert. Her debut single ‘Bones’ is a big ballad, big production, big pop sound – and I have to confess it’s the first time I’ve heard it. After hitting No.1 in July 2013 the ‘Bones’ success story continued, reaching platinum sales in August the same year. It’s a sound America loves: ‘Bones’ had wide US airplay and appeared on two Billboard charts (Adult Pop and Dance Club). Blackmore isn’t interested in awkward teenage transitions or identity crises, there are no yeah yeahs to say what can’t be articulated, she’s a confident, attractive woman goddammit, and her man (going by the video) isn’t giving her enough love. The mood? Moody. A bit European cinema, adults with adult problems. Men and women emote next to each other, Blackmore emotes into a mirror, her man (a young William Dafoe lookalike) seems a little too engaged with the mirror. It ends with this viewer intoning “dump him” and waiting with interest for Blackmore’s ‘All the Single Ladies’ follow-up.
Jackie Thomas – It’s Worth It (2013)
Enter the first New Zealand X Factor winner. This young singer from Greymouth rode a wave of public interest and debuted at No.1 in July, 2013 – bumping ‘Bones’ to No.2 . By the time ‘It’s Worth It’ topped the charts, a week after its release, New Zealand had watched her “journey” through pop boot-camp, elimination, redemption and triumph in the X Factor grand final where she first performed this song. Thomas’s self-titled album came out in August; it was a package of all the songs she had worked with in the competition. ‘It’s Worth It’ is a sustained piece of pop drama, slick and ardent. The song’s sentiment (“keep going”) suits the earnestness in Thomas’s voice and presentation, and it’s a tad more interesting than the love gone wrong/right/ooh baby playbook. The video is a straightforward walk towards the camera through gloomy light effects. Like a long list of other highly produced pop dramas there are a few too many lyrics. If she sings it once she sings it three times in a slightly different way. It’s the kind of song Lorde’s label might have pitched her before she broke through, and they would have received an icy stare in reply. But that’s not to diminish the decent way Thomas handles it: she’s got that sincerity thing down pat. Radio catnip. Thomas released her follow-up EP, Until the Last Goodbye, in 2015.
Ginny Blackmore and Stan Walker – Holding You (2014)
Blackmore and Walker had worked together as mentors on X Factor and joined forces to write and record this duet, leaving their lungs on the floor and delivering the big vocal performances so beloved of TV talent shows. It’s a layered pop melodrama with altogether too much going on: multi-track vocals, synth lines and a lot of impassioned lyrics. (Walker and Blackmore released a stripped-back piano version soon after.) This was the second No.1 New Zealand hit for Blackmore and Walker respectively, and it went platinum in September 2014. The video was directed by Jessica Sanderson. The mood? Mythological. Sanderson draws on the Māori foundation myth of Rangi and Papa, and Blackmore and Walker make impressive superior beings, circling each other slowly as lightning bolts crack, hoodies are pulled and drapery floats. I’m sure it’s a popular first-dance song, as you’d only have to slow hug throughout – there’s too much “song” to hang moves on.
Six60 – Special (2014)
We’re still in the land of love, but this time it’s got more of a backyard-barbeque feel. Six60’s second No.1 hit this decade is another heartfelt “thank you for loving me” song and contains the band’s major ingredients: reggae guitar, vocalist Matiu Walters’s sweet falsetto and a general “feel good” vibe that Aotearoa seems to lap up. If ‘Special’ fought ‘Holding You’ for the title of Most Popular Kiwi Wedding song, it would be a resounding win. It was the first single from their second self-titled album and hit No.1 in November 2014. It bears repeating again: Six60 is a phenomenally successful New Zealand band with a large, loyal audience. In this clip, Walters and Ji Fraser perform an acoustic version for The Edge around the time of the album release in February 2015, making the song even more Kiwi (if that’s possible). The pair sounds like the best buskers in New Zealand and they’d make hundreds of bucks in one afternoon, no lie.
Timmy Trumpet and Savage – Freaks (2014)
Forget about your love life for a sec, what’s happening in the club? A massive hook, a thumping bass, a build and then the payoff. So, just the usual: why not add trumpets? Australian DJ Timmy Trumpet hooked up with New Zealand hip hop star Savage (Demetrius Savelio) and they kept it simple and stuck to their shtick. Savage uses his gravelly voice to challenge freaks who enjoy brass instrumentation to “get out on the floor”, and they quickly RSVP. ‘Freaks’ hit No.1 in New Zealand in August 2014, made No.3 on the Australian pop chart and was the Ministry of Sound’s highest-selling single of all time. It was big in the European clubs too, charting in Poland, Hungary, Sweden France and Belgium. (‘Freaks’ eventually went triple platinum in New Zealand.) It’s a club song that grabbed the mainstream and before your brain could process what was going on, your hands were in the air. The horn riff shall never leave you. Hopefully it inspired a new generation of brass players, but more likely it inspired a new generation of bedroom DJs.
Avalanche City – Inside Out (2015)
What a video for the mid noughties. An angelic-faced boy, beautiful native bush and wild deer. An airborne threat hovers over his world. It feels like an off-cut from a survivalist feature film. Did director Chris Lane intuit the hysterical mood of the coming decade, or is it just a metaphor for “break ups really suck”? It works both ways. ‘Inside Out’ was the sole local No.1 on the New Zealand pop charts for 2015 and it stayed in the charts for months, eventually reaching platinum status. The quiet, heartbroken song rests on a delicate hook and some pretty devastating lyrics (“so I’m cleaning out the back seat and getting my stuff”). Dave Baxter avoided the usual cliché of break-up lyrics by delving into mundane detail. It’s not over-written, and he lets the guitar hook, bass and brass (not trumpets! No!) make the song. A quiet plea: could he please write a song for Jackie Thomas? Nature was a prime inspiration for Baxter’s second album We Are For The Wild Places and Baxter added ‘Inside Out’ as a “last minute inclusion”. Great snap decision Dave, go with them more.
Lorde – Green Light (2017)
Lorde teased out the first single from her feverishly anticipated second album in true superstar fashion. ‘Green Light’ hit No.1 in New Zealand soon after its release in March, 2017. In the space between ‘Royals’ igniting the pop world and the official release of ‘Green Light’, Ella Yelich-O’Connor had become a bona fide big deal. She’d ticked off most pop milestones – the cover of Rolling Stone, playing Letterman and cracking the States – but she’d also left her teens and had been attempting to enjoy a private life as Star with One Name. For Melodrama Ella partnered up with eclectic pop producer Jack Antonoff and explored mixing her signature sound with club influences. We’re again dealing with heartbreak and, like Baxter, Ella knows what details to pick: “she thinks you like the beach you’re such a damn liar”. Visually and sonically Ella opens the song in familiar territory, staring down the camera, her voice dominating sparse chords. So far, so familiar, but then the feted “house piano” comes thumping in, and Lorde reveals her real purpose: to dance. Anyone who’s seen Lorde live knows her “no choreography, no worries!” style of unabashed body slamming is a key part of her appeal. Her 2013 videos focus on her face, but in director Grant Singer’s ‘Green Light’ video she’s on the move: a purple flash of hair, hips and hands and watch out, New York. As morning breaks around her, Lorde ends our dance through another New Zealand decade of hits with one final stare. I think she’ll be okay.