Let’s face it, how many times have you heard the phrase “unprecedented times” this year? We’re living in a crazy moment in history. Many of us are feeling anxious, unsettled, and scared by the uncertainty of how long this pandemic is going to continue and the repercussions which will come afterwards. By nature, humans are social creatures who crave attention, love, and gratification. So as much as social distancing is absolutely necessary, it can be hard to accept it as our reality. For artists, where recording music and touring is not only a way of life but their income, the struggle has never been more real.
However, in times of adversity the music industry has always learned to adapt. Sometimes the most beautiful moments can be born out of hardship. Artists creativity has been well and truly tested as they’ve found ways to connect with fans in new and innovative ways. And our Kiwi artists have been great examples of this, not only vowing that the show must go on but cheering on one another when they need it most.
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Global sensation BENEE has had her best year yet. Putting out her debut album, embarking on what was the biggest tour in the world (at the time), and hosting an immersive pop-up experience. Collaborating with both Grimes and Lily Allen is no easy feat when you’re half a world away, but she made it happen thanks to the wonders of technology. Without having met either of them, the magic was made on other ends of the phone line. Resulting in tracks ‘Plain’, and ‘Sheesh’. A lot of credit also needs to go to our team of five million for eliminating Covid-19 in New Zealand, not once but twice. As a result, we’ve been able to regain some kind of everyday normalcy. This also means that concerts can happen again, which is something other countries can’t even fathom right now. Being surrounded by strangers in a sweaty mosh pit had never felt so good, and the crowd and BENEE herself were definitely not taking any second for granted.
With some global artists unfortunately having to postpone their album rollouts, it created a huge opportunity for our local talent to make a name for themselves. Emerging NZ artists deryk and Gino October have both used this time to write and record their debut EPs. Auckland-based deryk needed an outlet for her inner dialogue, which she channeled into her five-track debut EP WOMb released back in October. All three music videos for breakout alt-pop singles ‘Call You Out’, ‘One Star’, and ‘goodtimes’ were shot and directed by deryk herself on her iPhone during lockdown. Hip hop rising star Gino October also put in the hard mahi during lockdown, releasing his debut EP Look How Far We’ve Come. After simmering on the scene for a few years now, Gino has finally begun to bubble over, with his refreshing poetic R&B hooks, and cool confidence.
Our favourite Wellington born lads, Drax Project, have not only released dreamy collab ‘Firefly’ with Fetty Wap and AACICIA, but they’ve stayed connected with their fans by hosting frequent livestreams on Twitch. Avondale MC and urban poet Melodownz not only brought the heat with a couple of fire singles, but also channeled his creativity into the viral video series Kava Corner. Sharing a few shells of the feel-good bevvy with the likes of John Campbell, Joseph Parker, Chlöe Swarbrick, Paddy Gower, and more Kiwi icons, this couch series was the quality content we needed during a time where binge-watching was a daily activity. NZ’s coolest twins eleven7four hit the road on their The Edge School Tour, performing tracks from their debut album What’s The 1174? (Side 1), and Mikey Dam released the song of the summer ‘Time’, for those who may not be able to make it home in time for the holidays.
Niko Walters, a name that now no longer needs the introduction as the “younger brother of SIX60’s Matiu Walters” has had a stellar year. No longer waiting in the wings, and fresh off dropping his debut album Escape just last month. Niko is the name on the tip of everybody’s tongue as he transcends genres with his unique blend of contemporary soul, R&B, and pop. Summer single ‘Not My Neighbour’ hit #1 on Shazam in NZ, has taken over every radio station from Cape Reinga to Bluff, and has already amassed over 1.4 million streams. His musical journey may only be just beginning, but there’s no reason that he can’t follow in the same footsteps as brother Matiu. Unsurprisingly, SIX60 haven’t let a pandemic slow them down one bit. Earlier this year they made history once again with a sold out crowd of 50,000 at Auckland’s Western Springs, released their first ever documentary SIX60: Till The Lights Go Out in cinemas around the country, brought back SIX60 Saturday’s and dropped new anthem ‘Fade Away’ to make our summer even better.
Despite facing heavy income loss and uncertainty, our Kiwi artists have risen up and reminded us what the NZ music industry is all about. Supporting each other, making sure that all musicians and behind the scenes workers are valued, and that music has the power to heal. As Kiwis, we can consider ourselves lucky for the situation our country is currently in thanks to everyone’s hard work during all alert levels. And as the year draws to a close, there will be a lot of posts with people sharing how much they achieved in 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic. But in case any of you reading this need to hear it, simply making it to 2021 is an achievement in itself. That alone is something to celebrate.