Steph Matuku reviews the new book Young Queen by Parris Goebel – dancer, superstar, role model for Polynesian youth.
Parris Goebel is so driven and motivated I had to read the book lying down just to catch my breath. Short story: realised at a very young age that she loved dance and dropped out of school at 15 to pursue it. Ten years later, has a stack of prestigious international dance awards, worked with mega celebs like Ariana Grande, Rihanna and Justin Bieber, for whom she directed the fourth most watched music video on YouTube (I checked the view count and it looks like a serial number), and won a bunch of "you're f**king awesome" awards including Young New Zealander of the Year. She's also established a dance studio which has produced some of the best dance crews in the world, recorded her own music, started a charity with her sisters, and spends the rest of her time just casually being an inspiration to the world.
Must. Lie. Down. Now.
Her book is written like you're just sitting down having a chat with your glamorous auntie who's trying to get you to figure out what you want to do with your life. It's targeted towards youth sure, it's colloquial, littered with lols and reads like a long blog, but even if you're an old, white banker on the cusp of retirement, you're going to want to read this. You'll probably end up hiking the Amazon or something, Parris prodding your arse every step of the way with an adidas-shod foot.
She bangs on constantly about doing the mahi, getting stuck in, pushing herself to her limits. She has such incredible focus and dedication that when she's in the middle of a project she sometimes forgets to eat (I can't even with this, I am eating right now and there are crumbs in my keyboard), and she makes even the wildest dreams seem possible because she’s realised hers.
She shares her creative process, where her ideas come from, how she manages to get everything done (spoiler – hard work), and what inspires her. She talks about the importance of collaboration, and how if you want things done, you better learn how to do them fast.
There are beautiful moments where she talks about her family with such tenderness and appreciation for their support and love that it made my eyes leak. I wondered if she didn't have that safety net around her, would she have done so well? I guess she may have got there purely because of her refusal to give up, but she may not have acquired such a strong desire to give back. Parris is all about raising others up, and getting joy from watching others succeed.
The book has a magazine type feel – glossy pages, lots of photos from various tours and from her personal collection, huge captions, multiple style fonts, framed quotes ("I could never thank u enough for whippin' me into shape and remaining so humble and inspiring" – Nicki Minaj), and handwritten letters, some written by herself to herself outlining her goals and dreams. There's a lot going on visually. Most of the book is styled in black and white, which looks pretty sharp and makes a statement about showing Parris's life as raw and unedited, but honestly, I wanted to see all the clothes (and her ever-changing hair and makeup) in colour. Cos, fashion, y'all.
Parris's fierce femininity is invigorating. In a world of carefully put-together Insta-Barbies, she’s unafraid to both express herself and to love herself as she is. She talks with disarming frankness about her early teenage years dealing with acne, frizzy hair, depression, self-doubt, low self-esteem, and dealing with people who thought her career choice was stupid.
She writes about overcoming personal challenges a lot, but doesn't mention the Pepsi ad she worked on, the one starring Kendall Jenner at a protest march who hands a can of Pepsi to an armed police officer and, funnily enough, doesn't get shot. The ad was ridiculed and criticised across social media for co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement and Pepsi ultimately pulled it and apologised. I'd have liked to have known how Parris dealt with the backlash, but I suspect she would have just ripped it up, chucked it in the bin and forged on. She writes, "One unique thing about me is that I never get disappointed and I don't let things bring me down. If something doesn't work out… I don't dwell on it – I just move on."
I liked this book. I liked it a lot. I think it should be in every school library in the country. Because Parris isn't just a New Zealander doing well. She's a young Polynesian woman doing well. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. I know what it's like to be the only brown kid in the class and to be misjudged and written off before I even opened my mouth. I know what it's like to pick up a book and never see myself. And I know what it's like to turn on the telly and see people who look like me portrayed as criminals, thugs and underachievers. Parris's life story can give our young people hope. It will inspire them to reach their potential and show them what can be achieved with persistence and patience. Representation and role models are so important, especially for kids who don’t get a hell of a lot of either.
My six year old daughter was flicking through the pages and came across a picture of Parris as a little girl. She held it up and said, "Mama, she looks just like me!"
And her voice was full of wonder, her eyes lit up like stars.
Steph Matuku is a guest writer at The Spinoff