29 Sep 2017

Where are the Silver Scrolls we deserve?

9:54 am on 29 September 2017

It’s time to overhaul “New Zealand’s most prestigious songwriting award”, writes Hussein Moses.


It was a long night. A baffling two and a half hours from its 8:15pm kick-off before we would find out that Lorde was the recipient of this year’s APRA Silver Scroll Award. It’s the second time she’s won in five years and it wasn’t hard to see why. ‘Green Light’, the song that took her over the finish line, was an obvious, and undoubtedly popular, choice. All in all, it’s the most complete and relatable thing she’s ever released. ‘Green Light' slaps, you might say. Sadly, the Silver Scrolls do not.

For those who had bothered to tune in, no one would blame you for not sticking around; there just wasn’t a lot to keep you watching. We heard songs from the finalists who were up for the main award, yet didn’t so much as get a glimpse of them IRL. Most other A-list musicians were nowhere to be seen, either. The biggest star of the night, judging from the crowd’s reaction, was Jacinda Ardern. If only she had packed her Serato.

Lorde beamed in with a pre-recorded speech from overseas, where she’s in the midst of a tour, but that would only end up adding to the anti-climatic nature of the evening. There were plenty of other no-shows too and, keeping with tradition, long speech after long speech. Do we really need to hear from the organisers? It felt like sitting through a work function where you’re not allowed to let loose until the big boss has said a few words. Even then, the payoff was never really there.

The most refreshing aspect of it all was that it didn’t feel so damn Auckland-centric. Holding the awards in Dunedin this year was a nice touch and it was something that was long overdue. The performances, curated by none other than Shayne Carter, said it all: who else would get Ron Gallipoli, an artist who openly admits to generating a certain amount of contempt from his audience, to perform a cover of one of the most well-liked songs we’ve seen this year?

We were spared from any type of Napoleon Dynamite-inspired dance routine, fortunately. Instead, it was a reminder of just how good the original was and why it deserved to win. Same goes for all the other finalists - Bic Runga, Aldous Harding, Chelsea Jade and Nadia Reid - who you can argue all you want over, but they all had good reason to be in the top five.

So no, unlike last year, there was never going to be a chance that one of the worst New Zealand songs of the year would win the award for best New Zealand song of the year. It wasn’t the music that was the problem at these Silver Scrolls. It was everything else.

The awards are now being broadcast and live-streamed by multiple media outlets, yet it still feels very much like watching an industry event from another era. Even poor Jesse Mulligan, who seemed haunted by whoever was in his earpiece, had little chance of saving it. Getting rid of those endless speeches would be a start, and actually showing the finalists would be another, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to get people to buy in at this point.

And that’s before you even consider the numbers. The finalists and winner are determined by APRA members who rank their favourites from a long list of 20 songs. That’s long been sold to us as a 10,000-strong group, but keep in mind that in the past only about 10% of them actually take part in the voting process. According to APRA, that’s up to roughly 20% this year, which is a decent increase any way you look at it, and hopefully a sign that those numbers will keep rising.

But this is “New Zealand’s most prestigious songwriting award” we’re talking about. So why does it feel like it doesn’t benefit the artists the way it should? Where are the Silver Scrolls we deserve?

Perhaps it’s just time for an overhaul. What’s the point in it if all it makes you want to do is change the channel or close your browser tab? The show has been far from required viewing for ages now and, really, that’s not so surprising. It hasn’t changed for years. Now would be the perfect time to breathe some new life into it.