Kiwi music crosses all boundaries— especially Australia’s
Ah, how I love our trans-Tasman cousins and their casual (mis)appropriation of successful Kiwis who dare ply their trade across the ditch.
The latest in this long line of territorial pilfering came in July when Australia’s recording industry body ARIA declared Crowded House to be Australian—again. Crowded House, according to ARIA, is “regarded both here and abroad as Australian”. And by abroad they obviously mean everywhere except New Zealand.
But before we get too up in arms, there’s a little more to this than first meets the eye. The music awards for both New Zealand and Australia loom in October—and this is where it gets technical, so stay with me. Eligibility rules in Australia require at least 50 percent of band members to be resident, whereas New Zealand requires 50 percent of them to be a citizen. On those criteria Neil and co become something of a limbo band, being one part Kiwi, one part Ocker and two parts Yank. And before you ask, no, the US doesn’t have any residency requirement to be eligible for the Grammys— the only numbers that count there are the sales figures.
To add further confusion to the mix, the master rights ownership (the ownership of the copyright in the sound recording) of Crowded House’s latest album Intriguer is with Universal Music’s imprint Mercury, which is not in New Zealand, Australia or the US—it’s in the UK. If anything, Intriguer is the very model of a modern international album.
Both the Aussie and Kiwi methods for determining patriality have their pitfalls. Residency for ARIA means living in Australia for a minimum of six months, which is precisely what Ladyhawke did in order to qualify for the awards last year (the same year she cleaned up in the New Zealand awards). Citizenship, on the other hand, means that (theoretically at least) Australians are automatically included into New Zealand’s fold under trans-Tasman reciprocity agreements. To say this causes event organisers here and there a bit of a headache is an understatement, and hence requires the application of some common sense.
Our local RIANZ charts have long highlighted local releases on the Top 40 list so they can be spotted at a glance, and Intriguer was duly designated as such because it met the criteria under chart guidelines. One of these guidelines considers whether New Zealanders are the predominant creative contributors to the band, which seems a sensible test, and I don’t think anyone would argue that Neil is the band’s driving force. The New Zealand Music Awards criteria are different, however, and the band would not be eligible for nomination under the application of a citizenship test alone.
The ARIA Top 50 chart conversely has no immediate way for punters to see what’s local and what’s not, although it does publish a separate Australian Top 20 for cross-referencing. When Intriguer debuted in Australia (at number one no less; number three in New Zealand) it was officially deemed a non-Australian release. ARIA has since used discretionary powers to reverse that decision, presumably under request from the band’s label in the lucky country in order to pave the way for nominations. Australia presents a separate award to those artists who have achieved number-one status during the year, which Crowded House now qualifies for.
So no one really misses out. The band gets the plaudits it deserves, the label gets its second-phase marketing vehicle, ARIA gets more content for its events and Kiwis get to whine that the Aussies are stealing more of our cultural crown jewels.
Is it petulant of us to point out that big brother has nicked our toys? Like any parent, I’d say stop squabbling and share nicely. But this ‘official’ reclassification of the Crowdies has, albeit inadvertently, sent a message that sharing is not an option—the band is Australian and that’s that, end of story. And that’s what proves the irritant in this case. Our creative industries and individuals finding success all over the world are achievements we can be rightly proud of. That’s not jingoistic or misplaced patriotism; it’s an inspiration that in turn drives the next generation of creatives.
On the other hand, we should be flattered that our musicians (like our “Australasian” All Whites) are of such high standards that another culture wants them for their own. By inference, it also suggests there’s not quite enough talent on the other side of the pond to make up the numbers, which might be a card to play next time your mate from Sydney is giving you a ribbing.
Ultimately, there is a rare breed of artists who become truly Australasian—Crowded House and Split Enz, Dragon, Shihad, Evermore and Fur Patrol to name a few. Let’s call a spade a spade and celebrate their talent equally without the need to overstate one country’s influence over the other.
And if it persists, then tell you what, Australia: let’s settle this with a rugby game. Who’s your coach? Oh, right …
Mark Roach is GM digital & new media for Phonographic Performances NZ, and a former label owner and band manager