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.
It’s not too often that a reality TV talent show contestant is able to shake off the cringe factor, but with a nifty name change, some snazzy production and some serious industry buzz, MAALA seems to have made the leap. So what makes the artist formerly known as Evan Sinton so special? Katie and Hussein are here to find out.
Hussein: MAALA is a major label artist who - from the outside looking in - has felt like more of an underground one since he came on the scene. But last year’s excellent single ‘Kind of Love’ saw the beginning of that sea change, resulting in a handful of nominations at the NZ Music Awards and a win over Lawrence Arabia, Dave Dobbyn and Avalanche City for Best Male Solo Artist.
It seems he’s ready to take things one step further with ‘Crazy’, an understated but totally undeniable chart hit waiting to happen.
Katie: My first impressions of this track are… It’s great! And very catchy! With a very cool video! All of which I find quite surprising given that I had somehow just assumed MAALA was not my cup of tea.
But actually, prior to this, I didn’t really know anything about him. I was not aware, for instance, that he got his start as a teenager on New Zealand’s Got Talent playing acoustic guitar under his normal people name Evan Sinton. Nor did I know that he changed that name to MAALA partly because it was the trend at the time, partly to distance himself from his reality talent show roots and partly because, as he told The Spinoff, he thinks his name sounds like an accountant and “I can’t release my music as an accountant”.
It’s the kind of origin story I love and it’s also remarkable considering how far he’s come since then. He’s definitely been scooped up as part of the current Kiwi pop machine - think Theia, Mitch James et al - about which I’m really fairly ambivalent. But, to me, this really, really works.
Hussein: I'm with you on that. If we were to power rank the “next big things” we've been inundated with in the wake of Pure Heroine, I reckon MAALA would be pretty close to the top. (Same goes for Thomston, whose new single ‘Ride’ with SACHI somehow manages to channel both The-Dream and Disclosure at the same time.)
When it comes to ‘Crazy’, it kind of feels like MAALA is hitting the reset button. He seems worlds away from the guy that tried to sell us on mystery and faux-hype just a couple of years ago. Besides, to succeed you've got to take the lead, not follow it. Both the song and video are simple but well and truly effective - which is really the recipe for any good pop song - and here he looks and sounds totally in his element.
One question: how do you feel about the 'Hotline Bling' comparisons?
No no, I kid I kid.
I mean I see it, but I think it's a nice comparison. And Drake doesn’t have a monopoly on dancing awkwardly wearing funny sweats in pleasantly lit white studios DOES HE?
It’s such a great video: super simple, super watchable, perfect with the song and just enough of a sense of humour (I LOVE the dude popping up in the bottom left window). Even the mustard and burgundy colour scheme (theoretically diabolical) is strangely pleasing.
Actually, you know what it reminds me of?
Hussein: That’s not the only one.
Here’s a fun fact: Jordan Arts, who directed the video, was once in a little-known group called Kids of 88. He keeps busy these days with LEISURE and his solo project HIGH HØØPS, as detailed in this profile written by none other than political wunderkind Chloe Swarbrick.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that not winning New Zealand’s Got Talent was a blessing in disguise for MAALA. He’s come a long way from the days of being a “dorky singer-songwriter” and being judged by certified doomsayer Jason Kerrison.
Katie: Let’s just thank our lucky stars he didn’t follow Kerrison’s advice and make an album of cover songs.