27 Sep 2017

The Singles Life: Who will (and who won’t) win New Zealand’s most unpredictable music award?

11:03 am on 27 September 2017

Welcome to weekly series The Singles Life, where known experts Katie Parker and Hussein Moses peruse, ponder and pontificate on the latest and (maybe) greatest in New Zealand music.

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Photo: Unknown

Hussein: I doubt I'm the only one that's still a little scarred from seeing ‘If I Move To Mars’ take out the Silver Scroll last year, a moment that felt like a worst-case scenario come to life in real time.

It's part of the reason why it's hard to know what to make of the awards anymore. If history is anything to go by, anyone could win this thing. “New Zealand's most prestigious songwriting award”, as APRA themselves like to call it, has basically become “New Zealand's most unpredictable songwriting award”. Your guess as to who might win is really as good as mine.

But these are peer-voted awards, after all - the finalists and winner are determined by APRA members who rank their favourites from a long list of 20 songs - which has got to give us some kind of insight. Plus, who doesn’t love to make some bold predictions only to pretend you never said any such thing later on?

Katie, should we do this?

Katie: *Jacinda voice* let’s do this!

Confusing things even more this year is the very surprising and history-making fact that all five of the finalists are women.

Now if I were a more suspicious Katie, (or if the finalists weren’t decided by APRA’s very above board voting system) I might say that this was a cynical move to capitalise on the current “yass kween” phenomenon rather than a heart-warming indication that the music industry has become a more welcoming and hospitable space for women.

To be honest I’m still not totally convinced of the latter. The turnover of young women popstars going from next-big-thing to washed-up-has-been never seems to slow down, but the fact that all these women have risen to the top this year is a rare and precious thing indeed, given just how gendered that singer-songwriter sphere tends to be.

While I’m obviously ecstatic that the men allowed us gals into their little club for once, this does complicate things. We’re used to comparing men as each other’s peers: as has been pointed out elsewhere, nearly every bloody list seeking to rank, categorise or canonise musicians is wildly disproportionate in terms of gender. But put together a group of women and that comparison becomes suddenly super loaded - as though the reward for each of these women’s improbable rise to the top is to suddenly be pitted against one another like a musical Battle Royale in which there can be only one victor.

For that reason, I don’t want to talk about what’s best. I want to talk about who might win - and why.


The Star: Lorde - ‘Green Light’

Katie: As we all know, in this and every other New Zealand based scenario, Lorde is the top dog. The big cheese. The head honcho. So much so that she is too busy to even be attending Thursday night’s awards, and in the event of a win will have to receive her award in absentia, as they say. Things are looking pretty good for Lorde: her album was a big international hit, the song she’s nominated for is programmed into the mind of every Kiwi at birth and she’s already won a Silver Scroll in the past.

Why she might win: She’s bloody Lorde.

Why she might not win: Too ~mainstream~?


The Underdog: Chelsea Jade - ‘Life of the Party

Hussein: Do you ever feel like you're an introvert living in an extrovert's world? Then this is the anthem for you. Chelsea Jade describes 'Life Of The Party' as a “bratty, sad girl song” that is “the most honest I've been - or the first instance of total honesty.” While she might not have quite as big of a profile as the other finalists, it makes Chelsea Jade the perfect underdog to root for.

Why she might win: Very relatable.

Why she might not win: Underdogs usually lose.


The Prestige Choice: Aldous Harding - ‘Horizon’

Katie: With her unnerving voice, arty aesthetic and penchant for the theatrical, self-described “gothic folk” singer Aldous Harding is perhaps the most out-there contender on this list.

In this way, Harding has a lot of things going for her: she’s loved by many women; hated by many men; endorsed by the Lorde herself; and has the kind of opaque, enigmatic, enchanting audacity that makes industry types swoon. She’s the riskiest. She’s the artist. She’s the most likely to make Simon Sweetman mad and you can't put a price on that.

Why she might win: Critical darling.

Why she might not win: Weird = Inaccessible.


The Safe Choice: Nadia Reid - ‘Richard’

Katie: To say Nadia Reid is the safe choice might sound mean, but let me explain. Nadia Reid is lovely. She has a lovely voice and the song for which she is nominated, ‘Richard’, is a soft, slow, sad tour through the subjective tragedy of heartbreak that is at once wrenchingly personal and very universal (i.e. it’s everything old school songwriters ever wanted in a song). And that’s fine! It’s more than fine in fact. This classic, nuanced tale of love and woe, delivered in the kind of dulcet tones more akin to, say, an ANGEL might just win Reid the gong.

Why she might win: Gentle harmonious melody never goes out of style.

Why she might not win: Voters might be feeling frisky this year.


The Heavyweight: Bic Runga - ‘Close Your Eyes’

Hussein: Name me another New Zealand musician who is still firmly in their prime over 20 years into their career. Bic Runga won the Silver Scroll back in 1996 for 'Drive' and in the time since she's released five albums and collected more Tuis than any other solo artist in history. She even got inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame last year, and it still feels like we don't celebrate her enough.

Why she might win: 'Close Your Eyes' is as good as anything she's ever done.

Why she might not win: C'mon.


Will any of these wildly untested predictions come true? Check out RNZ’s LIVE (!) coverage on Thursday night to find out.

Follow Katie and Hussein on Twitter.