Songwriting royalty

by Mike Chunn / 22 December, 2014
The right song at the right time can set the world alight, writes Mike Chunn.
Lorde, Ella Yelich-O’Connor
Ella Yelich-O’Connor: catalyst for her generation. Photo/Getty Images


When Lorde dragged the back of her hand across her lips at the end of Yellow Flicker Beat at the American Music Awards in November, there was a tumultuous response. In my corner of the planet I thought one thing: Lorde had achieved the same as Jimi Hendrix when he set fire to his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Both disregarded propriety with sweeping, fiery imagery.

I was 15 in 1967 and in awe of the Hendrix moment, which sealed the vision of me and my bandmates – we were ready to follow. That year I bought a bass guitar. Around me, the older generation – my parents excluded – snorted at Hendrix’s immature and cancerous nonsense.

Lorde’s master stroke, I’m sure, got a similar response from the same demographic: “Tut tut – how unbecoming.” But what of the young? Twitter gives a clue. Helen Showalter (California): “Can we talk about the moment when Lorde smears her lipstick because I don’t know this woman personally but I will now go to war for her.” Keiran Lyons (US): “Lorde has made me fall in love with my generation again.” Matt Bellassai (senior editor at BuzzFeed in New York): “I just want Lorde to look me in my eyes and whisper ‘You’re free.’”

What underpins both these reference points of the past 50 years is the songs. Hendrix’s Purple Haze was embraced in the midst of the youth revolution as heralding a new era. Every savvy teenager knew it. It launched the whole package of who and what Hendrix was and is.

Lorde’s extraordinary Royals, which achieved world domination with 383 million YouTube views, has done the same. The music of today’s youth has been jolted by a song. With a smear of lipstick across her face, the complete entity that is Lorde – other­wise known as Ella Yelich-O’Connor, of Auckland’s Devonport – was realised.

Lorde’s arrival has caught the imaginations of tens of thousands of young New Zealanders. There is ambition in classrooms, playgrounds and the homes of teenagers who want to get to grips with the imaginative mix of words and music and play in the same arena as her. No matter how small their corner, no matter how hung in shadows it might be, the hunger exists.

And this is the moment. From ukuleles, keyboards and drum kits to electric guitars, young Kiwis will have received Christmas presents with which to begin their musical adventures. That, coupled with holidays, sets the scene for songwriting and performing.

The Ministry of Education does not recognise songwriting in NCEA. In New Zealand schools we teach teenagers how to write tunes (composition). We teach them about poetry, plays and short stories (creative writing). In media studies we teach them the skills to conceive and film documentaries. We must also give them the encouragement, support, feedback and mentoring to write songs, which the introduction of an NCEA achievement standard would do.

This is about the voice of young people. Songs give us our individual and collective frames of reference. They are the launch pad for those able to claim the hearts and minds of millions of people through writing, performance, recording, image and character. It’s that simple.

2015 needs to be the year when an achievement standard in songwriting is approved and the means to that end put into play. The Ministry of Education can now, in the reflected glory of Lorde’s global domination, say: “Songwriting is the core of any nation’s musical tradition. Songwriting must be in our nation’s schools.” The time is now.

 

Mike Chunn played with Split Enz and Citizen Band and is the head of the Play it Strange Trust, which promotes songwriting and musical performance by young New Zealanders.

Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.

 

Latest

The enduring sandwich: What's not to like about bread and fillings?
94342 2018-09-23 00:00:00Z Food

The enduring sandwich: What's not to like about br…

by Margo White

Despite an apparent backlash against bread – against carbohydrates and gluten – the sandwich endures.

Read more
Humanity is on 'the highway to digital dictatorship', says Yuval Noah Harari
96527 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Social issues

Humanity is on 'the highway to digital dictatorshi…

by Andrew Anthony

The author of worldwide bestsellers Sapiens and Homo Deus says our free will is at stake. We talk to Yuval Noah Harari about his new book.

Read more
Why there's no 'clash of civilisations' between Islam and the West
96558 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Social issues

Why there's no 'clash of civilisations' between Is…

by Yuval Noah Harari

There is just one civilisation in the world, writes Yuval Noah Harari, and the West and Islam are joint participants in it.

Read more
The Kiwi cicada expert who's just 11 years old
94985 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Science

The Kiwi cicada expert who's just 11 years old

by Ken Downie

Hamilton entomologist Olly Hills isn’t in high school yet, but he’s already a world expert – and he wrote a book.

Read more
Thackeray's Vanity Fair gets a clever update for the millenial age
96633 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Television

Thackeray's Vanity Fair gets a clever update for t…

by Russell Brown

A new TV version of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 19th-century satirical novel taps into today's celebrity-Instagram culture.

Read more
The debate over the Serena Williams controversy was a dialogue of the deaf
96659 2018-09-22 00:00:00Z Sport

The debate over the Serena Williams controversy wa…

by Paul Thomas

Serena Williams’ US Open outburst was unbecoming but the umpire made a mess of his response.

Read more
The classical blokes saluting unsung women composers
96670 2018-09-21 14:16:06Z Music

The classical blokes saluting unsung women compose…

by The Listener

The suffrage celebrations get a soundtrack from all-male ensemble NZTrio.

Read more
Labour MPs stand behind Jacinda Ardern's action on Meka Whaitiri
96630 2018-09-21 07:31:30Z Politics

Labour MPs stand behind Jacinda Ardern's action on…

by Gia Garrick

The public will have to wait to see a report into an assault claim against MP Meka Whaitiri, who was yesterday stripped of her ministerial portfolios.

Read more