From Lorde to BENEE, not a year goes by without a Kiwi artist or group making their mark on music’s world stage.
In honour of International Women’s Month, Rolling Stone AU/NZ unearthed eight female Kiwi acts destined for the top.
The project of Pōneke-based Bianca Bailey, Wiri Donna makes wholehearted indie-rock with a purpose. After stellar supporting slots for the likes of national favourites The Beths and Soaked Oats, Wiri Donna released her long-awaited debut EP, Being Alone, in 2022, and it was quietly one of the fiercest feminist releases of last year.
A headstrong lyricist with the eternal thoughtfulness of Julia Jacklin or Lucy Dacus, her coming-of-age record was a reclamation of personal power, with Bailey realising that finding the confidence to do things on your own is cathartic. “He told me what to do with my body,” she sighs in the title track, before ferociously adding, “I should have told him it was my fucking body.”
With the impressive songwriting backed by muscular guitar riffs, it’s exciting to think what Wiri Donna could achieve on a full-length release.
When your independently-released debut album is re-pressed by Flying Nun, you know you’re doing something right. That’s what happened last year to Erny Belle, the moniker of Ngāpuhi singer-songwriter Aimee Renata, and it was a well-deserved honour for the gently beautiful Venus Is Home.
Retreating to her family hometown in Maungaturoto, Northland, a touching fondness for rural Aotearoa fills the record. Trips to the local Four Square are mentioned in her lyrics, while her close family repeatedly pops up, particularly her late grandmother, whom the album is named after. Escaping from the big city clearly afforded her a sweet nostalgia for pastoral life.
Belle delicately mixes folk and alt-country — the latter genre currently enjoying a contemporaneous revival overseas thanks to artists like Faye Webster and MJ Lenderman — and once the songs on Venus Is Home breezily weave their way into one’s mind, it’s difficult to invite them to leave again. Listening to Belle is to wish you were sitting on the family porch, surrounded by your nearest and dearest, playing music against the dying sunlight.
RS Recommends: “Burning Heaven”
Initially formed as a duo of close friends Paloma Schneideman and Olli Jones, PollyHill is now the solo endeavour of Schneideman, the producer and rapper who has been an underground favourite for several years.
PollyHill has an achingly cool sound that would fit in anywhere, from Berlin to Melbourne to Mexico City. Influenced by the likes of MF Doom, she combines a love for old school hip hop with trippy lo-fi beats. She’s also proudly DIY, self-producing her music on her beat pad.
After impressing on the her Greatest Hits EP in 2021, her twisty track “Pulse” was one of the strongest dance releases of last year, and was inspired by witnessing a local Tāmaki Makaurau bar transform into a happily inclusive space for queers and artists. It also helped that the track was intricately assembled, full of fuzzy vintage production flourishes and Schneideman’s tight delivery.
And at the end of last year, PollyHill also impressed at The Others Way Festival: “She’s an invigorating producer… and showed herself capable of effortless genre-hopping,” Rolling Stone AU/NZ wrote of her energetic set.
An indie-pop supergroup of sorts, Dateline proves geographical barriers don’t matter when it comes to making excellent music.
The project of Hastings-based Katie Everingham, the singer-songwriter furnishes the band’s relatable songs before taking them to her Auckland bandmates, local performers Ruby Walsh (Lips), Callum Devlin (Hans Pucket) and Priya Sami (Bub).
Dateline’s grunge-pop is filled with self-deprecating and self-aware songwriting by Everingham. Their drolly-named debut album, Dumb For My Age, was released last year, consisting of songs detailing the conflicting emotions of growing up and getting older. Everingham always shows a deft touch when it comes to combining crunchy guitar lines and earnest melodies.
RS Recommends: “If You Want It”
Growing up in a Samoan and Māori family, Moana Ete grew up surrounded by the sounds of church choirs, and its imprinted power has lingered into her own music as Mo Etc. years later.
First and foremost a stirring soul singer, always performing with supreme vigour, her songs are embellished with intoxicating electronic and alternative touches, the shapeshifting artist unwilling to be pigeonholed as a performer.
Her 2021 album, Oceanbed, was a piercing study of love, loss and self-discovery, and Mo Etc. followed it up last year with the sublime single “Underwater”, a hazily atmospheric song that also came with a vital message of resilience; as Moana knows, we all struggle under the weight of anxiety and expectation, and it’s how we contend with these feelings that makes us human.
With support from local label Always Be Glowing, Hanbee feels like the best-placed artist to break through internationally.
It feels inevitable really. Making blissful and introspectively thoughtful indie-pop that recalls Clairo or girl in red, the Korean-Kiwi artist has been racking up the streaming figures, while she closed 2022 by supporting Fazerdaze on her national tour.
Hanbee Jeong makes music that captures the ups and downs of being in your twenties, dealing with the ecstasy and agony of trying to make it big.
An impressive array of collaborators, including noted local producer Hans., have helped her get to this point, but it’s Hanbee’s stunningly smooth vocals and bright beats that should ensure the fledgling star keeps flourishing into 2023 and beyond.
Prolific is the ideal word to describe Vera Ellen. Formerly a member of Kiwi bands like Maple Syrup, the singer-songwriter also counts herself a member of the Los Angeles-based feminist group Girl Friday.
After returning to Pōneke from LA in 2020, Ellen signed to Flying Nun and released the acclaimed album, It’s Your Birthday, in 2021. The following year, it was nominated for the prestigious Taite Music Prize, and also earned her the award for Best Alternative Artist at the Aotearoa Music Awards.
Not that the prizes are what really matters to an artist like Ellen. She possesses the unceasing consistency and lacerating honesty of songwriters like Courtney Barnett or Sharon Van Etten, resoundingly honest and definitively herself. Even if the music stopped, even if her career came to a halt, a pure musician like Vera Ellen would still be writing wonderful lyrics forever.
When your sister is one of the biggest pop stars of her generation, the pressure’s on, but Indy is out to prove that she’s her own artist. Lorde’s younger sibling has released just a handful of songs, but all have been impressive in their confident command of alternative-pop.
Growing up in the sleepy Auckland enclave of Devonport, India Yelich O’Connor moved to Los Angeles aged just eighteen, before eventually settling in New York. Inspired by the artistic city around her, and voraciously reading writers like Frank O’Hara and Ocean Vuong, she took her time preparing her music career, and that patience has paid off.
She’s a magnetic vocalist and controlled lyricist on songs like “Threads” and “Killer”, singing wearily about finding self-confidence and battling anxiety. Lorde may have provided her with the template, but Indy’s evidently talented on her own. Expect her debut full-length album, when it eventually arrives, to make waves on the global pop scene.