So Lorde’s won Best Song and Best Pop Solo Performance at the Grammys. This isn’t really a blog post about that as such: instead, it’s a shameless attempt to use this as an attempt to talk about cultural policy, because I think it is important to acknowledge the extent to which policy choices created the space within which Lorde has been spectacularly successful. Lorde hasn’t received direct state support, but has benefited from a series of policy choices. Chris Finlayson will no doubt tell you it’s all part of a #goldenage, but if it is, it is not one he has had a great deal to do with.
The first, and absolutely most important position (both as government policy, and as a societal ideal) is feminism, for reasons which, I am sure, don’t need elaboration.
But there were also more specific state choices. By the time Joel Little received his Grammy nominations, we’d spend $370,000 of NZOA money on his previous two projects, Goodnight Nurse and Kids of 88. (And let’s be clear, if you’d told me that Goodnight Nurse were incubating a future Grammy winner, I’d have laughed and laughed and laughed.) That state funding, quite apart from the value we got out of Goodnight Nurse and Kids of 88’s music, helped make sure that Joel Little could have a career where he ends up co-writing Royals.
When Labour came into office in 1999, we had made noises about a policy of introducing a youth radio network to sit alongside National Radio and Concert FM. In the end we didn’t implement it, choosing instead to trade it away for a voluntary NZ content quota on commercial radio. The NZ quota helped, along with the direct NZOA support, to protect an ecosystem, to sustain a New Zealand music industry. This meant that when the opportunity came along, there were professional, skilled people in place who could capitalise on it.
In future, what conclusions can we draw? Well, there’s the importance of nurturing and protecting developing artists, and making it possible to move through viable career paths. But I think the most important take away is that bold arts policy works. If you had asked what the point of the fifth Labour government’s music policy was, a teenage girl from Devonport beating a creepy rapey man from Hollywood to a Grammy with a song about inequality and cultural distance would definitely be one of the answers. That’s not to say that you can make Lorde happen by shifting levers in the Ministry of Culture and Heritage — but you can make Lorde possible, and more likely, that way.