As we approach the end of 2022, this Tone Deaf series celebrates some of the artists from Australia, New Zealand and beyond that have impressed us this year. The music industry may be slowly returning to normal, but the past few years have been tough on musicians. The artists in this series are proof that creativity always endures, even in uncertain times.

Everything is going to be alright: at some time in the past several pandemic years, you’ve probably had someone say this platitude to you. 

It’s also the title of the latest album from cult Tāmaki Makaurau singer-songwriter Princess Chelsea, which, befitting a record created during the pandemic, is what she’s termed her “nervous breakdown album.”

Knowing all of this, one would be forgiven for expecting a wave of sonic sadness, an album filled with crushingly downtempo songs, but Everything Is Going To Be Alright sounds firmly the opposite: these 10 enchanting and entrancing songs never wallow in self-pity, and instead feel like a deeply felt expression of hope. 

It feels disingenuous to call Princess Chelsea, the artistic project of Chelsea Nikkel, a “cult” artist – she regularly tours outside of Aotearoa and one of her most well-known songs has been streamed over 80 million times on YouTube alone – but it still feels true. 

Over her first four albums, Nikkel produced some of the most majestically crafted pop songs of the 2010s, and nothing has changed on her fifth release. 

The length and breadth of pop explored on Everything Is Going To Be Alright is impressive. There are ethereal gems that Kate Bush would have undoubtedly approved of; there are some grunge throwbacks; she knows when to lean into confident contemporary pop, pretty baroque flourishes abound almost everywhere else. The track ‘Forever is a Charm’ alone is better than most critically-adored pop of this year. 

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The excellent arrangements are enhanced by Princess Chelsea’s live band, who she brought into the recording experience much more on this album. It’s mostly heard on ‘The Forest’, which was recorded live in one take, and shakes and hums with the energy only a tight ensemble can create. 

Just returned from a huge European tour, Princess Chelsea will be touring New Zealand throughout December (find dates and tickets here), and anyone in the country then would do well to catch the unique experience live.

Her band members are drawn from some other great Kiwi projects, including Jasmine Balmer, the person behind indie-pop outfit Being., and Simeon Kavanagh-Vincent, who performs in dream pop band Phoebe Rings and also produces under the Lucky Boy moniker. The sublime pop of Princess Chelsea’s music is purely felt on record, but really comes alive theatrically up close. 

We recently caught up with Princess Chelsea to find out more about her life and music, which you can check out below (if you’re fond of Waiheke Island, you’ll especially want to read on). 

Princess Chelsea’s Everything Is Going To Be Alright is out now via Lil’ Chief Records/Secretly Distribution.

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How did your artist name come about?

It came about on my first tour when I was in a band called Teenwolf. I was 19 and my best friends Brand, Vincent and me were a bratty three-piece.  They nicknamed me Princess in the van I think to annoy me, and because it was funny as I was often really disheveled and looking pretty rough. 

How would you describe your music to your grandma?

It sounds like an old movie soundtrack, Grandma, if it was set in space and Julie Andrews sang on it, but she wasn’t quite as good at singing. 

Tell us about a few of your tracks; their titles and what they’re about?

‘The Forest’ is about overcoming adversity, doing whatever you need to do to get yourself out of a bad situation, or a bad head space. Great song to go running to when you’re upset – which is how it was written. 

‘Forever is a Charm’ is really about love bombing and emotional manipulation. It’s about a person who is charming initially but after a while reveals that the charm is a manipulation technique. They are dead inside, and make you feel the same whenever you’re around them. Watch out – Forever is a Charm!

‘I Love My Boyfriend’ is about the complexities of long-term relationships. When you feel attracted to other people which cannot be helped, even though you love your long-term partner.  We all experience this, but people feel uncomfortable when it’s presented so simply in a song. It’s about resisting temptation because you don’t want to lose the person you love. The protagonist doesn’t end up doing anything because there is “nothing in the world” she wouldn’t do for her boyfriend.

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What do you love about your hometown?

I live on Waiheke Island and it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in the world. It’s home to rare and endangered native birds and plants only found in New Zealand. There are 100km of walking tracks of native forest and bush and it’s a dark sky sanctuary. There are dozens of beaches to explore often visited by dolphins and occasionally orca whales.

The whole of New Zealand is stunning – I’ll never leave it. The Waiheke Bowls Club has the best karaoke night in the world hosted by a man named Noroa. There is a man called ‘the voice’ who travels to the island every Wednesday by boat and bus (a two hour round trip), so he can sing Roy Orbison songs with sunglasses on. The cast of characters that attend are an inspiring bunch for me as a performer.

As for Greater Auckland – my family and friends and the music community.  The music scene in Auckland is so far removed from the international music scene. That’s why New Zealand historically and currently produces so much great music, because of an insular and supportive musical community that does not have its sights on appeasing a wider industry because we are simply too far away. I’m sure some of the best bands in the world are still most likely playing dive bars in Dunedin, or Auckland’s Wine Cellar right now.

Career highlight so far?

I think watching ‘I Love My Boyfriend’ and ‘Cigarette Duet’ take off and reach a really wide audience has been pretty amazing.  This is especially so as it’s a grassroots growth – my audience and fanbase made that happen for me just by passing it around.  It really speaks to the power of the listener which I love.

Fave non-music hobby?

Video directing and in particular editing – I have directed and edited a couple of music videos for Jonathan Bree (‘In The Sunshine’ and ‘Politics’ yet to be released), and quite a few for myself (‘I Love My Boyfriend’, ‘Growing Older’, ‘All I need To Do’, ‘Yulia’, ‘Ice Reign’, ‘I Miss My Man’, ‘The Forest’).  I mean I guess that is music related, so maybe I should say rock fishing! Also my other favourite hobby.

What’s on your dream rider?

Verve Cliquot Champagne, Lgavulin 16 scotch whiskey, diazepam and clove cigarettes.

Dream music collaboration?

The Drums – I think this music is really pure of heart and special.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Probably delving into a different type of music – electronic or classical maybe. I’ll be doing music in one way or another. Perhaps I would have formed another project. I am a third year student of psychology now so maybe a doctor if I keep going haha. 

What’s your go-to karaoke song?

Madonna – ‘La Isla Bonita’

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

You can’t control other people, you can only control how you choose to let them affect you and how you react to them.

What’s one obsession you have that no one would guess after listening to your music?

The music of Lucinda Williams. I reckon I have all her albums – I’ve loved her since I was 17.

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