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

Funny Girls gets serious about suffrage in new comedy special
96571 2018-09-20 00:00:00Z Television

Funny Girls gets serious about suffrage in new com…

by Russell Brown

A comedy special with the Funny Girls sheds light on New Zealand women’s historic winning of the right to vote.

Read more
How to ease symptoms of IBS and endometriosis with the right diet
96373 2018-09-20 00:00:00Z Nutrition

How to ease symptoms of IBS and endometriosis with…

by Jennifer Bowden

Diets low in fodmaps are a saviour for people with irritable bowel syndrome and endometriosis, helping to manage the gastrointestinal symptoms.

Read more
The web browsers’ war on user tracking
96529 2018-09-19 13:01:40Z Tech

The web browsers’ war on user tracking

by Peter Griffin

The reach of tech giants Facebook and Google goes well beyond their own websites to capture your web browsing. So how can you stop them tracking you?

Read more
Emails between Clare Curran and Derek Handley to be revealed
96499 2018-09-19 08:04:02Z Politics

Emails between Clare Curran and Derek Handley to b…

by Gia Garrick

Copies of former minister Clare Curran's personal emails to tech entrepreneur Derek Handley are expected to be released to Parliament this afternoon.

Read more
Suffrage 125th: We're not there yet, but with each generation we get closer
96160 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z Social issues

Suffrage 125th: We're not there yet, but with each…

by Genevieve O’Halloran

It's 125 years since women got the vote, but full equality eludes us. The motherhood penalty curtails careers and the gender pay gap remains.

Read more
How gender barriers blighted the career of a Kiwi psychiatry pioneer
96491 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z Social issues

How gender barriers blighted the career of a Kiwi …

by Robert Kaplan

Mary Barkas' significant achievements in psychiatry in the early 20th century made little difference to her career prospects.

Read more
Did your ancestors help win women the vote in NZ?
96082 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z History

Did your ancestors help win women the vote in NZ?

by Sharon Stephenson

A new exhibition recognises the some 32,000 NZ women who signed the Suffrage Petition 125 years ago, paving the way for women to be able to vote.

Read more
How NZ women won the right to vote first: The original disruptors & spiteful MPs
96463 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z History

How NZ women won the right to vote first: The orig…

by Vomle Springford

Is it right that while the loafer, the gambler, the drunkard, and even the wife-beater has a vote, earnest, educated and refined women are denied it?

Read more