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.
The New Zealand top 40 singles chart can be a pretty dire place for local music, but Stan Walker’s latest summer jam might be just what we need to turn things around. Katie Parker and Hussein Moses take it all in.
Hussein: New Zealand pop music is anything but popular at the moment. There is only one (!) local song in the entire top 40 singles chart (Don’t Worry Bout It, by Kings – a track that actually came out last year) and the number one song in the country (Closer, by The Chainsmokers and Halsey) sounds like DOA EDM.
So let’s thank the big chief above for Stan Walker, who has just released his first new single since Truth & Soul came out last year. Stan debuted You Never Know at NZ Fashion Week recently – “I felt like a little pork dumpling next to all these tall, skinny models”, he said of being there – and the song just might be exactly what we need to save us from this dark little corner of pop hell we’ve found ourselves in.
Katie: I’m so glad Stan is back! Not in a movie, not on The X Factor NZ, not with a covers album, but with original fire content that we so sorely need.
Not that I’m against any of that stuff. Stan’s ubiquity in New Zealand popular culture is A-okay with me, and he’s so lovely and watchable and completely perfect that I would watch him in any form. But I also feel like this song and video are a reminder of how truly talented he is as a performer. As a pop track, You Never know is catchy and modern and relevant without feeling like any kind of imitation. The little pork dumpling thing kills me. God I love Stan.
Hussein: What I like about You Never Know is that it’s fully on-trend with what’s happening in American pop music, which is something we often struggle to nail in New Zealand. But you’re right about it not feeling contrived at all. Drake, Justin Bieber and Rihanna have over the past year all released songs that borrow (or just straight-up steal) from Caribbean music, and I think this one stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of them. It could be one of the biggest songs in the world if it was Rihanna singing. Hopefully it won’t be ignored because she’s not.
Katie: I know what you mean. Even when someone as well known and widely adored as Stan releases something truly good in New Zealand, it seems to just get lost in the mix when it could easily stand up with the contemporaries you mentioned. It’s like we’re scared of the comparison. We have all these people trying to make faux deep alty-pop, but I’d so much rather see something like this succeed.
Hussein: The video helps. The choreography looks great (that’s Kaili Bright, a former member of ReQuest Dance Crew) and the setting works well, though I did see someone on YouTube ask if it was filmed in Christchurch (not quite – it was Los Angeles). Like the song, it feels pitched towards a US market, but whoever it is that’s working behind the scenes obviously knows what they’re doing.
Katie: Christchurch and Los Angeles are notoriously similar as you and I both know. I agree, the video is great, Kaili Bright is awesome and I love Stan’s blue windbreaker. I hope this gets the attention it deserves – a fashion week debut is all well and good but it also feels a bit obscure. Who goes to fashion week? Stan needs Rihanna style release hype to match his Rihanna level quality and I wish there were more platforms here for him to get it. Stan is a star. Stan should be the only star.
Hussein: Plus, if anyone can make this work, it’s him. This is a guy that can co-exist between wildly different audiences: one minute he’s on the winery tour, the next he’s headlining a 10-date national tour of his own. Just look at his CV: he’s a TV host (The X Factor NZ, VNZMAs), an actor (Born To Dance, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Mt Zion, The Stolen), a musician (he released five albums in six years), and in his time off he does stuff like this. Also, he’s only 25. I feel like he has a Colin Kaepernick political turn somewhere in his future.
Anyway, I’m off to buy a hoodie that’s three sizes too big for me.
Katie: I’m off to look at my collection of photos of Stan wearing see-through shirts.