In the middle of Duncan Greive’s fab profile of Lorde in the October issue of Metro magazine, Ella Yelich-O’Connor and her manager Scott Maclachlan are discussing why the Lorde videos were made without NZ On Air funding. Maclachlan says the productions were so simple and inexpensive that funding wasn’t needed. Then Lorde drops a bomb, saying of the NZ On Air logo, “You know how much negative power that logo has for my generation?”
It would be easy to dismiss this as just a teen sassing off at the establishment for the sake of provocation, but her other observations are pretty spot-on (David Guetta is gross). But what’s behind it? Why would the NZ On Air logo seem negative to young people?
It comes down to what the NZ On Air represents. All funded music videos must display the logo in their videos (though it can be removed for overseas broadcast). All it signifies is that the video received funding from NZ On Air, and at the bare minimum the funding panel thought the song was good. But the NZ On Air logo is not a mark of quality.
Let’s assume that all songs that receive NZ On Air video funding are of above-average quality. They’re the sort that the funding panel decide have a good shot at getting airplay in New Zealand. But that doesn’t mean that all the videos made for these songs are of above average quality. In fact, the quality of videos greatly varies. Great songs can have poor videos; average songs can have great videos.
No one sets out to make a bad music video. It just ends up that way. Sometimes it’s not having enough money to fulfil the director’s vision. Sometimes the band doesn’t come across well on camera. Sometimes someone’s mate, who said he’d do the video for free, just takes ages to do it and makes a half-arsed effort, despite his best intentions. Sometimes things just don’t work out.
So when all these disappointing music videos end up on TV or the web, they’re all out there with the NZ On Air logo.
Other videos just don’t age well. They belong to a particular time and place (and that’s perfectly normal for pop), but when viewed a few years (or even months) later they seem a bit naff. K’Lee and TrueBliss’ videos had a particularly short shelf life, all with the NZ On Air logo.
A lot of artists who get NZ On Air funding are new, trying to get noticed – and some artists receive funding for only one or two songs before they disappear. It’s these early years, when the artist might still be finding their sound, trying to figure out if this whole rock thing is going to work out.
Compare Bic Runga’s first solo music video – the low-budget “Drive”, which sees Bic hanging around an apartment on her own – with the far more ambitious “Something Good”, with a huge supporting cast and Bic floating above Cuba Street.
But this is good. NZ On Air should be allowed to take chances on upcoming artists without demanding screen tests or video concept ideas first. A lot of the time these chances pay off and New Zealand bands enjoy long careers – Shihad and the Feelers are two who have made the most of NZ On Air funding. And Kimbra took early steps in the mid ’00s before her international success in 2011.
The Metro article notes that Lorde chose not to release any of her earlier experimental recordings, waiting until she was finally satisfied with “Royals”. But not all artists have the luxury of taking their time. For some, they’ve got a decent song, they’ve got music video funding so they’re going to make a video, even though they might not quite be ready for primetime.
In New Zealand, we only experience this with local artists. When an overseas artist has enough potential for their record company to promote them overseas, the label is going to put a lot of effort into marketing to make sure it’s worth it. So we never see the crappy videos from Australian bands who never make it in New Zealand, or the homemade vids for up-and-coming American bands. For example, Fall Out Boy’s low-budget debut video “Dead On Arrival” happily avoided New Zealand screens, but two years later their super slick “Dance Dance” video was all over the place. So because of this, the implication is overseas = cool videos; NZ = rubbish videos.
And then there are local bands who made cool videos without NZ On Air funding. In 2001, the Deceptikonz and Blindspott both released videos without any funding by NZ On Air (“Fallen Angels” and “Nil By Mouth”). Dawn Raid Entertainment funded the Deceptikonz video (and it had a crane shot!), whereas Blindspott’s video was a self-funded, cheap-as, $800 job. Both videos were good and both groups went on to many successes – and received NZ On Air funding for later videos. But the absence of the NZ On Air logo on their debuts seems to have done them a favour. It put them in the same category as groups like Crowded House – New Zealand artists who are so successful that they don’t need NZ On Air funding.
That’s not to say that there’s something inherently bad about NZ On Air videos or something good with independent videos. I’ve watched over a decade’s worth of NZ On Air music videos so far and there are a lot of really good ones in there. Well, at least what I think is good.
And consider the non-funded video for The X Factor winner Jackie Thomas’ debut single “It’s Worth It”. It seems inspired by Lorde’s “Tennis Court” video, but it looks and feels cheap. There’s no magic. Over on her Facebook page, hardcore Jackie fans were really upset that their idol had been given such a poor video.
The NZ On Air logo creates a club of sorts, its brand uniting disparate artists with only one thing in common. The problem is, one artist might not necessarily want to be associated with others in the collection. Does Lorde want to be seen as a peer of, say, a roots band like Katchafire, a serious rock band like the Feelers, or a veteran like Dave Dobbyn? In the article Lorde has a playful dig at Goodnight Nurse, the old band of her producer Joel Little, who received funding for 14 music videos. Does Lorde want to avoid being lumped in with a fun pop-punk band of the ’00s – even when it’s the band of her creative partner?
It’s not that there’s anything broken with NZ On Air. Plenty of artists are more than happy to have the logo on their videos – so far I’ve only come across two out of over 600 videos where the NZOA logo has been obscured in a later edit. It’s more that the logo has covers such a broad range of music videos from 22 years of New Zealand music that it’s come to represent business rather than art.
So while the artist might be striving to create a certain kind of image, along comes this little logo that suddenly snaps the viewer out of the universe of the video and takes them to the reality, of the band manager filling in a form, applying for music video funding, just like hundreds of other artists have done over the past two decades.
Update: What’s missing from this page? The current NZ On Air logo! Here it is in two versions – full colour and the grey watermark. They’re more subtle and deferential – a big improvement on the garish rotating animation of the ’90s.