December 1, 2023

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Spy: Aotearoa Music Awards take 17-month hiatus to address concerns about diversity and ‘tension’ at event

5 min read

The new century has seen Fur Patrol, Lorde, Ladyhawke, Gin Wigmore, Stan Walker, Anika Moa, Six60, Brooke Fraser and Benee clean up on awards night. Photo / NZ Herald

The next Aotearoa Music Awards won’t take place until May next year after a 17-month hiatus while organisers looked into concerns about the makeup and diversity of the judges as well as “tension between the in-room experience and the key role of the awards”.

Tickets for the glitzy televised event – once the hottest on the awards season calendar – were hot property, as were the after-parties.

Held at packed-out arenas, the awards honoured New Zealand music’s biggest names – from Ray Columbus, Hello Sailor and Dave Dobbyn’s Th’ Dudes in the 1960s and ‘70s, to the Dance Exponents, Mutton Birds, Shihad, Che Fu, Bic Runga and The Feelers in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The new century has seen Fur Patrol, Lorde, Ladyhawke, Gin Wigmore, Stan Walker, Anika Moa, Six60, Brooke Fraser and Benee clean up on awards night.


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Six60 and Coterie perform on stage together. Photo / Supplied
Six60 and Coterie perform on stage together. Photo / Supplied

But in recent years, the event has been plagued by issues.

In 2016 R&B singer/songwriter Aaradhna refused to accept her Tūī award for Best Urban/Hip-Hop Album after being placed in what she called a category for “brown” artists. She said on stage it didn’t make sense for her, as a singer, to be up against rappers and hip-hop artists and chose to give the Tūī award to SWIDT.

The following year two new categories emerged, one for soul/RnB and the other for hip-hop.

In 2020 the awards were rebranded from the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards to their current name. A press release said at the time the change was to recognise te reo Māori as the first language of New Zealand and to reflect the importance of the country’s tangata whenua and Te Ao Māori in the music scene.


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Then last year, the event went from a big Aotea Centre event to a scaled-down party at Everybody’s in Fort Lane where L.A.B. won Te Pukaemi o te Tau Album of the Year, and three other awards.

L.A.B. were the big winners at the 2021 Aotearoa Music Awards. Photo / Supplied
L.A.B. were the big winners at the 2021 Aotearoa Music Awards. Photo / Supplied

NZ Musician said the event “had lost sponsorship support and become unaffordable in its traditional large-scale televised format”.

“The Aotearoa Music Awards is the country’s longest-running awards show, celebrating the best in local musical talent,” says Sarah Owen of Recorded Music NZ, which organises the event.

“We replaced the usual ceremony with a scaled-down event in 2022, to give us time to review and reflect on AMA and its role, collecting valuable insights from artists and industry that we are using to recalibrate the awards and the event that delivers them.”

This year’s awards were canned while Recorded Music NZ held a review, sourcing feedback from more than 350 people, the majority being artists or artist managers, about the way the awards were run.

“While we know that we can’t please everyone, we acknowledge what we’ve heard through the review and will be making some changes,” the organisation said.

“Many people acknowledged the tension between the in-room experience and the key role of the awards to serve as a platform for artists to reach fans and media and to drive engagement with music from Aotearoa.”

Recorded Music NZ is reassessing the award categories, including a review of the criteria, how they are communicated and whether they are still reflective of the modern industry. They are ensuring that the voting and judging academies are gender balanced with suitable Māori and diverse representation.

They are also looking at the overall event format with “a focus on creating a great live in-room experience and celebrating the diverse music community, while still providing artists with unique promotional opportunities and ways to connect with fans”.

They said social media avenues will be a big focus to help bring tangible promotional benefits for artists, for both nominated and Tūī winners, that can raise their profiles and contribute to their commercial success.


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“The practicalities of holding a broadcastable ceremony were of concern to the music community”.

Owen said last year that formats for award shows were under pressure all around the world due to sponsorship losses post-Covid and the backdrop of social change.

“AMA will be back in full force in May 2024 and it’s going to be a very special, unmissable night,” she tells Spy.

Next year, the awards will take place in May, nicely tied in with NZ Music Month and will celebrate 60 years. The new format will be unveiled this November.

There are plenty of other music award events this year in its absence. The APRA Silver Scroll Awards, which recognises achievements in songwriting, will be held on October 4 at Spark Arena, the Pacific Music Awards are on this Wednesday at the Due Drop Centre and in April, the Taite Music Awards at the Q Theatre awarded Princess Chelsea the top prize for her album, Everything Is Going To Be Alright.

And music bible Rolling Stone is putting on a huge bash next month to celebrate Kiwi music with an invite only-event at St Matthew-in-the-City in Auckland on September 20.


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Princess Chelsea. Photo / Coco Campbell
Princess Chelsea. Photo / Coco Campbell

Best Record, Best Single, Best New Artist, and the Rolling Stone Global Award are all up for grabs, with Princess Chelsea, COTERIE, Six60, The Beths, TE KAAHU, Fazerdaze among the artists up for gongs.

Also included is the prestigious Rolling Stone Global Award, judged by Rolling Stone’s global staff members to acknowledge a Kiwi artist whose release broke through into the international public consciousness.

Auckland-based Rolling Stone Australia NZ online editor Conor Lochrie tells Spy, they hope to never be seen as a competitor to any other New Zealand awards shows.

“Our Aotearoa Awards are more a big party to celebrate the country’s music community. We work collaboratively with the local music industry, and our entry into the music scene has been received overwhelmingly positively.”

“We’ve been pushing Rolling Stone New Zealand hard over the past year and can’t wait for the awards next month,” he says.

Last year Rolling Stone held a smaller event at the Glasshouse in Morningside with Six60, Stan Walker and Hamo Dell, and Rob Ruha & Ka Hao all performing.


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Lochrie says this year’s bash is going to be bigger and better with more than 350 guests and a long waiting list for tickets.

“The guest list is a true representation of Aotearoa’s music industry: diverse, community-driven and full of star power.”

Among this year’s VIPs and nominees this year will be a wide array of Kiwi artists, record labels, execs and industry members of note.

“We’re very invested in elevating New Zealand music through our print issues, dedicated online site, and, of course, our Aotearoa Awards,” says Lochrie.


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