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
When Matthew Young first emerged in 2015 he was a mystery wrapped in an enigma, with neither a press release nor a headshot to his name. Cut to now and with hundreds of thousands of Spotify plays and one of the catchiest pop hooks this year, his low-key strategy may just be paying off.
So who is Matthew Young?
Katie: Haven’t heard of Matthew Young? Well I hadn’t anyway, until I came across him during a wee peruse of the NZ singles charts (as you do) and immediately got excited. In a sea of mediocrity he stood out and further investigation suggested it wasn’t just a one-off.
Hailing from Auckland and making his musical debut in 2015, Young’s career got off to a stylised Lorde-esque start: concealing his identity and only releasing photographs of the back of his head for the five months following the release of his first single, he was, from the get-go, a bit of a mystery.
After a year off in 2016, a time which he describes as "blurry and difficult", Young is back and - with the help of ubiquitous Kiwi pop producer, Leisure’s Josh Fountain - is producing the kind of immediately catchy pop-R&B that I love getting stuck in my head.
His new single ‘Hey’ is totally worth your time
Hussein: There’s a familiarity about those high-pitched vocals you’ll find on the hook for ‘Hey’ that makes you wonder if Young just went ahead and sampled Connan Mockasin. The song, by the way, is very good and fun and catchy and quirky and also way more gratifying in a way that a lot of pop music coming out of New Zealand doesn’t seem interested in being. I look forward to hearing it on the radio until I’m sick of it.
He wants to let the music speak for itself
Katie: In addition to his shroud of anonymity, Young ensured his debut was about as low key as it gets: no cringey press releases, no courting of media, no nothing. Instead he quietly dropped first single ‘Lean Close’ in 2014 on Soundcloud and let word of mouth do the rest.
It was, he told Sniffers, an experiment “to see what would happen with very little build-up or preparation on our part and just see how well the music would do if I just dropped it out of nowhere“.
It’s a pretty big gamble in market hell-bent on producing next big things by the day but, considering the immense rage I experience every time a Mitch James ad pops up in my Instagram stories, I like it. And hey, three years and several hundred thousand Spotify plays later it seems like it worked!
He takes inspiration from ‘80s pop superstars
Hussein: Young has made no secret of taking inspiration from the pop titans of the ‘80s, name-checking Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna as a few of his favourite artists. New music doesn’t really do it for him, he says, and instead he keeps his focus on the legacy artists that have stood the test of time and proven their success over and over again.
“Most of the music I listen to is from that golden pop era during the 80s where everyone just decided they wanted to write big hooks. I really like artists that have made a real impact, like Madonna who is a superstar in part because of the way she was marketed and her persona, etc., but if you stripped that all away the music she created was really the strength – it was the backbone of her entire career. That’s what I’m gunning for. I want to be in the same ballpark where I can play that same game.”
No pressure whatsoever.
Katie: While I feel like I read 100 interviews a week of doomed would-be pop stars saying things like "it’s destiny!" or some shit that guarantees you’ll never hear of them again, Young seems a little bit more canny about what he needs to do to get where he wants to go.
“I think your personality is as important as your product both aurally and visually and your product has to be high quality”, he told Sniffers. “People can see through what’s good and what’s bad, people have a nose for sniffing that out. There are not a lot of people that will latch on to something that isn’t quality. I think it takes being absolutely confident, having a vision, chasing it and working really hard to achieve it.”
And it’s a good thing he seems savvy - he has, shall we say, a lot of ambition:
“Eventually I want the whole shebang; I want the whole Beyoncé band and the fire on stage and all that but right now I just want to keep it stripped back and focus on just getting the aesthetic touches down and putting on a good show.”
But he’s playing the long game
Hussein: Despite the buzz he’s got so far, and the competition he’s up against in the world of pop, Young doesn’t seem interested in rushing himself whatsoever. As he put it to Sniffers, it’s crucial to have realistic expectations when it comes to finding your way as a young artist.
“You can complain all you want about not getting paid for your music but who gives a shit. If you want to make music these days and you’re expecting to get the pay cheque at the end of the week, as a new artist, you’re fooling yourself. It takes time.”
‘Hey’ is more proof that pop music in NZ is in a good place right now
Hussein: Sure, there’s been plenty of local music released this year that we’ve rolled our eyes at, or at least felt somewhat ambivalent towards, but let’s take a moment to appreciate that pop music in New Zealand has found itself in a pretty good place lately.
Even just in the past few months we’ve had stand-out tracks from MAALA, Openside, Stan Walker, Teeks and basically everyone that was nominated for this year’s Silver Scroll award. Judging from ‘Hey’ and his previous single ‘Collect’, it seems like a safe bet to add Young to that list.
(In other news, Six60 have an album on the way so don’t expect this positivity to last long.)
Katie: I only bring this up because I think people who are scared of moths and butterflies are so weird. Moths maybe cos when they’re really big they have quite scary faces? But butterflies are all floaty and swoopy and basically iconographic of joy so I dunno. Sorry this isn’t important. Listen to ‘Hey’!