As Lorde and her minimalist pop masterpiece ‘Royals’ gradually conquered the world in 2013, fans and critics alike in the US and Europe – and to a lesser extent in Australia – declared it a watershed moment for New Zealand’s music scene.
While this reaction wasn’t unexpected, it belied New Zealand’s impressive track record of locally bred artists, from a broad range of genres, who have found success overseas.
That’s something worth remembering now that Lorde is no doubt soon to be back with her sophomore album, and the claims that she “put NZ on the map” can begin anew. Here are eight artists that prove our Trans-Tasman buddies aren’t one-trick ponies in the music department.
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
New Zealand’s most famous opera singer began her career as a pop star in local clubs in her teens.
But after winning a grant to study in London in 1966 Te Kanawa quickly made a name for herself singing Verdi, Mozart and Puccini, and portraying princesses and countesses on stage. Now 72, she continues to perform.
Beyond her musical achievements, Te Kanawa helped set up the Kiri Te Kanawa foundation in 2004, which continues to provide financial and career support to young artists from New Zealand.
The Naked and Famous
Centered around the talents of vocalist Alisa Xayalith and guitarist Thom Powers, this Auckland indie-electro outfit cracked top 10 in the US alternative charts at the start of the decade with shimmering, uplifting anthems like ‘Young Blood’ and ‘Hearts Like Ours’.
The band’s overseas success has been consolidated thanks to their songs being used in the promos and intros to TV shows including Gossip Girl, Skins, Secret Circle and Degrassi, and a third album is on the cards.
Fraser is one of New Zealand’s best-selling singer-songwriters in history, having started writing when she was 12 and releasing her first album at 18. She’s since gone on to be certified 15x platinum.
Her most successful work is 2008’s ‘Something in the Water’ from the album ‘Flags’, the latter going top 10 across western Europe.
With a raw, sassy voice reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, the Auckland-born Wigmore began her rise to prominence in 2008 when she won the International Songwriting Contest in New York.
An EP and two albums later, Wigmore’s seductive and arresting folk-pop have found their way into worldwide Johnnie Walker and Heineken commercials. Wigmore herself made a cameo in the James Bond-inspired latter commercial, and she wouldn’t be out of place singing the theme song to a future 007 film.
While us Aussies like to think they’re ours really, the truth is singer-songwriter brothers Neil and Tim Finn are the Kiwis’ to take credit for, at least for this crucial early stage of their careers.
Neil joined Split Enz in 1977, soon to be followed by Tim. It marked the end of the Auckland band’s five years experimenting with acoustic folk and prog rock, and a shift to an eclectic, sometimes vaudevillian, style of New Wave.
They remain one of the most successful NZ acts in history, securing cult followings and chart success in the US and Canada in the early ’80s before their split in 1984.
These guys came charging out of Cambridge in late 2002, in a blaze of fuzzy distortion, welding guitar solos and shrieking vocals that cemented them as NZ’s offering to the garage rock revival of the early noughties.
Their eponymous debut album was received to critical acclaim in Europe, and such was the hype around them at the time that BBC Radio 1 sensationally dubbed them “The future of rock”.
While this praise almost proved the kiss of death of the band – they’d fail to achieve the same success with follow up records – the Datsuns continue to churn out the Sabbath and Purple-inspired Hard Rock today, touring and releasing albums to good reception locally and in Scandinavia.
Flight of the Conchords
They might call themselves “New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo”, but really Jermaine Clement and Brett McKenzie have no competition in the Kiwi comedy band stakes.
The duo’s skill at delivering deadpan – and dead funny – punchlines in song earned them a Grammy for best comedy release in 2008. They followed this up with two more albums and a multi-season HBO TV Show where they stuck true to their quirky humour.
Clement and McKenzie have pursued solo film ventures in recent years, most notably when the latter won an Oscar for best original song for Man or Muppett in 2011.
Since making a name for herself as the second voice on Gotye’s multi-grammy-winning smash ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’, Kimbra has been doing all she can to ensure she’s remembered for more than just this triumph.
While her debut Vows showcased her determinedly individual vocal stylings and electronic soundscapes, ”90s music’ from 2014’s The Golden Echo proved she also has a talent for witty songwriting.