18 Nov 2016

'Be adventurous in your listening' is a message the NZ Music Awards needs to hear

2:28 pm on 18 November 2016

Why are the awards recognising the best local music scared of something a little unexpected?


The red carpet at the New Zealand Music Awards.

The red carpet at the New Zealand Music Awards. Photo: Supplied

Once again, electro-pop duo Broods were the big winners at the New Zealand music awards, picking up a swag of awards off the back of the release of their second album Conscious. They make nice pop music, sure, but to win four and then five awards over two consecutive years? I’m not so sure about that.

Where were the nominations for the likes of Lontalius, Street Chant or one of the Young Gifted and Broke releases?

Of course, I’m not arrogant enough to think that the nominees for New Zealand music’s most important awards should adhere to my personal tastes exactly, and of course I understand that Recorded Music NZ and Mediaworks have a commercial imperative to make the awards appeal to as many people as possible. But to not see any recognition for these other artists who have been working tirelessly for years was just bewildering.

Thank goodness for Aaradhna. The singer picked up the award for Best Solo Female earlier in the evening, acknowledging her fellow nominees Hollie Smith, Ladyhawke and Tami Neilson.

“If only I could break this into pieces and give it to each of you, because we are all equal,” she said on stage, Tui in hand. 

But it was when she was announced as the winner of Best Urban/Hip Hop album that she spoke some true real talk, in what was the most memorable moment in an otherwise beige evening.

Aaradhna said the title track of her album ‘Brown Girl’ was about her experiences with racism and being placed in a box - and if she were to accept the award, she wouldn’t be true to the song.

"I feel like I've been placed in a category of brown people," the daughter of a Samoan mother and Indian father said. And if she accepted the award, it wouldn’t be fair because she’s a singer, not a rapper.

Then she gave her trophy to Auckland rappers SWIDT.

After the ceremony, she was a little shy, unaware of the discussion that had erupted on social media because of her comments.

“I had been wondering about that ever since ages ago but I was just thinking, okay, if I do win something, I need to speak my mind and let it all out and I did,” she said.

“I didn’t want to come off as ungrateful to win the award or, doing something like that. I’m very grateful to win an award. It’s an awesome win, but of course there’s a more important message and I had to say it.”

For an art form that is so closely tied in with personal politics, why is that the awards recognising the best local music are scared of something a little unexpected?

As someone who goes to gigs every week, I was surprised that “New Zealand Music”, as it was presented last night, was completely foreign to me. These aren’t the bands for whom I will stand in a crowded bar with a poor sound system, just for a chance to see them perform. These aren’t the albums I have on repeat.

An artist named KINGS won Breakthrough Artist of the year, for his song ‘Don’t Worry Bout It’, which was apparently number one on the singles charts for seven weeks. I had literally never heard it before yesterday. My flatmates can attest to how much cheesy pop bangers are my not-at-all-guilty pleasure, so it’s not like I live in the musical equivalent of a “post-truth” bubble. 

(Disclaimer: I have since listened to it half a dozen times this morning, it’s a catchy lil earworm and maybe I should be embarrassed about not having heard it before)

My fingers were crossed for Leisure to win best breakthrough, for their sold out shows and a handful of singles that capture their essence and are just solid tunes. Their self-titled debut will be eligible for nominations - yes, “nominations” plural, all going well - at next year’s awards.

Similarly, it felt like what I define as New Zealand music was foreign to some of the people there.

After running down to the media room from my seats way up in the bleachers to speak with Aaradhna after her mic-dropping speech, I asked a woman standing next to me if Aaradhna had come through yet. 

She looked perplexed. 


“She just won the award for Best Urban Album and gave it to SWIDT.”

That name did not register either.


Hollie Fullbrook of Tiny Ruins said it best when she was presenting the award for Best Alternative Album, which took place during an ad break in the broadcast.

“I encourage you to be adventurous in your listening.”

This was an appeal to the people watching at home, but I hope the members of Recorded Music New Zealand will also consider it once today’s hangover wears off.

PS. I’m starting a campaign to get Anika Moa and Stan Walker to host the awards next year. #Stanika2017