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.
Gin Wigmore is back and she’s also fed up with an industry that, once fawning, has grown frigid. Can Gin carve her own path?
Hussein: People seem to forget that there was once another singer from Devonport that took New Zealand by storm. At the turn of the decade, Gin Wigmore was the biggest artist in the country. She helped to break a 23-year-old record for the longest consecutive run at no. 1 on the New Zealand chart when she appeared on the hook to Smashproof's unforgettable hit 'Brother'. Her debut album, Holy Smoke - recorded with Ryan Adams' backing band The Cardinals - went triple platinum and she would also go on to win what felt like endless music awards behind its momentum.
Remember that weird James Bond ad? That was her, too.
Wigmore would push everyone to take local pop music seriously at a time when we were stuck with artists like J. Williams and Dane Rumble.
But things change. Fast forward seven years and Wigmore is disillusioned with the fickle industry she once embraced. It's a topic that's apparently inspired her new song 'Hallow Fate', the latest release from her much-delayed new album.
Katie: Poor Gin! It seems like she’s had a rough time, though I can’t say I’m surprised - the New Zealand pop machine has a bit of a habit of eating young women up and then spitting them out (Zowie, Ruby Frost, Kimbra et al.). What’s rare is any of them speaking out to admit that things didn’t go as promised.
Gin seems to be ready to harness that bitterness though. In this NZ Herald interview, she’s pretty straight up about her frustrations with industry types who “love you to be a certain way and when you don't fit their ideals, you can be dropped like a stone."
She also calls traditional music rollouts “old school” and says she doesn’t want to “put all my horses into that race any more”.
Her solution is this: a squad-esque female artist collaboration scheme called Girl Gang where one song from her upcoming album will be released each month alongside some kind of art or work from another female creative. The first instance of that, it seems, is the video to accompany ‘Hallow Fate’ in which LA tattoo artist Briana Sargent takes inspiration from the song to create a *ahem* very...nice...tattoo…
Hussein: How you create a buzz around your music is a question everyone is asking, but the fact is there's not a one-size-fits-all answer. Wigmore is right that it feels kind of old school to just put out some music, make a video and then go on tour. But there's a risk that comes with thinking outside the box, too: it usually works in favour of musicians of a much bigger stature. Not many artists could've put a 'pay what you wish' price-tag on their music when Radiohead did it. Even fewer can drop an album out of the blue à la Beyoncé and hold anyone's attention span.
There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about this idea and it's a stretch to even call it a collaboration. It's just a video of someone getting a tattoo inspired by a line in a new Gin Wigmore song. The video also feels very 'behind the scenes', which just about takes the emphasis away from the music altogether. Here’s the main concern: why does it feel like a comeback instead of a continuation?
Katie: It’s funny - her last album was released in 2015, which is not that long ago, but it does feel like this is being posited as a bit of re-jig.
I totally agree about the video. I mean, it's a nice idea, but if this is her plan to revive things then I can’t say I’m feeling it. For one thing you can’t even hear the song in that video and the other YouTube vid just shows a static (and not super well composed) image of the arm with the tattoo. Unless there is yet another video to come, it seems like a waste. A lyric video would have made way more sense.
Hussein: It's a shame because the song hits the mark. It’s in much the same vein as a lot of her other material, but it doesn’t come off as overcooked as her previous effort ‘Dirty Mercy’.
The piano’s a nice touch, as are those backing vocals that build the song up as it goes on. There’s not heaps to it, but because her voice is so compelling it never feels that way at all.
Katie: I think what is really interesting here is the way she, like so many other New Zealand female solo artists, is trying to reimagine and rework the conventions of the industry and the system they exist within. And it just seems that when these women get to a certain point in their careers nothing they do seems to get traction.
We’ve seen Kimbra rebranding and Brooke Fraser do a greatest hits album. Even the goddess Bic Runga did a covers album. One way or another you get the feeling that they’ve all, somehow, been left behind.
Though I’m not nuts about the execution of this project, I appreciate and admire what Wigmore is trying to do. I just don’t think it will work.
It’s a bummer. She’s a talented performer and there should be space for her. Perhaps that’s why it annoys me so much the way we go on and on about how proud we are of bloody Lorde going to number one in the US.
The reality is, if that hadn’t happened, then this could be her too: another female creative, past some arbitrary expiry date, “dropped like a stone”.