Our pop culture superfans at The Real Pod look back at the local celebrities who defined the last decade in Aotearoa.
If there's any group of people we can turn to in these uncertain times, it's celebrities. And lucky for us, New Zealand suddenly seems to have heaps of them. The definition of celebrity has expanded well beyond the glitzy primetime stars of yesteryear over the past decade, with social media proving that all the world's a stage and everyone deserves their 15 nek minutes of fame.
With that in mind, The Real Pod's Duncan Greive and Alex Casey put their heads together in an attempt to find 10 celebrities that said something about the last 10 years. Please bear in mind that the following list has not necessarily been determined by success or achievement or likeability, but by what each person represented to the broader New Zealand culture this decade. And the winners are....
Nadia Lim: the reality TV star who knew exactly what to do with her win
Most people who take out reality shows in New Zealand walk away with some variety of public infamy and an Instagram following. Nadia Lim ended up with tens of millions of dollars. She was a dietitian for the Auckland District Health Board when she entered the second series of Masterchef NZ in 2011, emerging a worthy winner through an emphasis on healthy fusion cuisine which drew on her mixed Malay, Chinese and New Zealand heritage. Yet rather than spend her post-victory fame in the sun at the Viaduct, Lim instead became the definitive personal brand, teaming up with some very credentialled businesspeople to found My Food Bag in 2013. Six years on, the meal kit in a box turns over more than $150m a year. The business has become an alternate way of buying unprocessed food for tens of thousands of New Zealanders, and an alternate path to market for hundreds of local vendors. Along the way she started a magazine, released seven cookbooks and performed creditably on Dancing with the Stars NZ. Reality TV dominated the celebrity decade in New Zealand, but no one made it work harder for them than Nadia Lim.
Taika Waititi: the director uses his megaphone
Yes, he's made a bajillion great films this decade beginning with hometown charmer Boy and ending with Hollywood anti-hate satire Jojo Rabbit, with a Marvel film thrown in the middle for good measure (because why not?). Yes, What We Do In The Shadows got its own US spinoff series, and his production company Piki films has also made The Breaker Upperers, Aroha Bridge and is working on a new Kiwi film starring Rose Matafeo (see below) and Neville from Harry Potter. That's all obviously great, but it is what Waititi has done with his massive platform that has earned him a place extremely high on this list.
Remember the "racist as fuck" interview, which hit like a freight train? "New Zealand is the best place on the planet, but it's a racist place," he said in conversation with Ruban Neilson for Dazed in 2017. "People just flat-out refuse to pronounce Māori names properly." Remember how he fought for indigenous representation in Thor, both on and off the camera? Remember his casting of a fa'afafine actor to play a fa'afafine character in his next film, which shouldn't be a big deal but is still a pretty big deal in 2019? All that, and he still finds the time to own snobby old Martin Scorsese and the whingey guy who made Joker. What a legend.
Lorde: the redefinition of celebrity
The month 'Royals' came out, as an independent EP in New Zealand, the biggest song in the world was 'One More Night' by Maroon 5, which held #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for all of November 2012. The latter was produced by Max Martin, the sonic architect of everything from Backstreet Boys to Kelly Clarkson, a genius of melody whose signature was multi-tracking everything until it sounded like 100 people were playing every instrument, singing every line. A year later and 'Royals' was #1 for November 2013 in its entirety, and instantly Martin's sound felt dated, almost defunct.
While Lorde has never repeated the ubiquity of 'Royals', that feels like a deliberate act - an eschewing of the glossy magazine-era version of fame for something more hushed and deliberate. Her sound and attitude are now the norm, to the point where Billie Eilish - an artist whose entire aesthetic feels contained in The Love Club - can sell out Spark Arena (a feat Lorde herself has somehow never managed). The idea of celebrity appears deeply boring to Lorde, yet has radically influenced celebrity culture, to the point where most stars affect a disinterest in it, while influencers have replaced them as those who devour attention.
Art and Matilda: reality television's golden couple
"It's always been you." With that historic line, uttered on a beach somewhere in Australia at sunset, the greatest love story of the decade was sealed with a televised kiss. Art and Matilda arrived on our screens at a time where our celebrity sharemarket was plummeting, the idea of influencer marketing was just being forecast as a Hot Social Media Trend and reality television had mostly been about renovations and berating amateur singers. The preposterous world of reality romance is hard to do right and, as we know in hindsight after the banal seasons that followed, Mediaworks really lucked out with the The Bachelor NZ season one.
He was a boy who loved doing kettlebell workouts with no top on, she was a girl who could eat a plate of ribs and have a koala poo in her bellybutton and still somehow look like Miss Universe. Both boasting infinite charm and a dorky energy that makes them seem Just Like Us (they're not), the public still hasn't tired of Art and Matilda nearly half a decade on. Not only have they somehow sustained careers as non-grating social media influencers, they've also permeated every other form of media imaginable from multiple self-help books to wellbeing podcasts, toothpaste advertising campaigns, fashion week catwalks and soon will have both hosted their own reality television shows.
But perhaps most impressive of all is their latest multimedia project: a bona-fide Bachelor baby, the first and probably only of its kind in New Zealand history. We're simply not worthy.
Israel Adesanya: the picture of a modern warrior
UFC was barely considered a sport coming into this decade, and many still recoil at the brutality and blood. Yet no sport has risen further and faster than mixed martial arts, driven in part by combination of its unintentionally perfect design for gif-length highlights, the visceral thrill of total combat and the fact boxing is a long way from having its shit together - to the point where some of its biggest draws are brawling YouTubers.
More than that, though, it's a multinational stew of electric personalities and their idiosyncratic styles which have made the sport travel. Irishman Conor McGregor, Brazilian José Aldo and the all-American Ronda Rousey have, at various times, had the biggest profiles. Yet as the decade ends Israel Adesanya is one of its biggest stars, and embodies all that made it flourish. Born in Nigeria, yet very much a New Zealander, he culturally reps both nations with real emotion. His style is fluid, kinetic, forged in kickboxing yet by no means limited to it. More than anything, it's his personality which has elevated him beyond other champions - his dancing, his taunting, his grasp of the moment and what to do with it. He's a megawatt star in person, and might be the most instantly recognisable New Zealander in the world right now, despite many of a certain age having no clue who he is. And nothing sums up celebrity in 2019 more aptly than that.
Iyia Liu: The influencer's new clothes
When it comes to influence in the online sphere, this was a toughie. Jamie Curry managed to get to 10 million fans from her childhood bedroom in Napier. Shaaanxo has six million subscribers and is a beauty community bajillionaire juggernaut. Jimi Jackson is making his own bottled water somehow. But then there’s Iyia Liu. Although she may not have the same following of those online behemoths, the e-commerce #GirlBoss turned reality TV star simply had to make this list. Because how else do you sum up the bizarre contradictions of the late 2010s influencer economy than with a woman who made millions selling both waist trainers and boxes stuffed with clammy donuts and loose pineapple lumps on Instagram?
Rising to prominence after paying Kylie Jenner $300,000 to wear one of her modern day corsets on Instagram in 2016, Iyia Liu continued to harness the power of social media to launch a protein powder, a clothing line and the now infamous Celebration Boxes. They narrowly missed the food moments of the decade, but these controversial confectionary boxes remain a glorious totem from the same expectations vs reality universe that gave us the sad sandwiches of Fyre Festival. That is to say: a product marketed entirely through Instagram, that exists only to be photographed for Instagram, that turns up looking different to how it looked on Instagram, that prompts angry comments on Instagram, that are then deleted off Instagram. Italian. Chef. Kiss.
Anika Moa: The foul-mouthed slashie
She can sing, she can host live TV, she can crack mean jokes, she can do radio, she can get away with doing a Helen Clark impression in front of actual Helen Clark. Anika Moa is the ultimate slashie of the decade and a prime example of what you can achieve if you don’t give a flying fuck about what anyone thinks of you. And to think: a decade ago at 7pm on TV1 you would have found Mark Sainsbury declaring "it does not seem like summer if you are not listening to Dragon" without a shred of irony from behind his moustache on Close Up. In 2019 at 7pm on TV1, we've been treated to Anika Moa, a proud Māori lesbian with a potty mouth, clapping back at the stuffy Seven Sharp audience member who got mad about her tattoos. She’s also disarmed and charmed some of our most prominent New Zealanders in Anika Moa Unleashed, saved parents nationwide with Songs For Bubbas and is somehow also live on The Hits every afternoon. Basically, in an era where the it feels like the whole floor is eggshells and a single badly-phrased tweet can get you formally cancelled by the authorities, Anika’s blasé zero-fucks attitude continues to a breath of fresh air no matter what platform she's on (just be careful though, the fresh air can also often be a burp).
Kim Dotcom: a giant myth of the internet
For a number of years, New Zealand was largely oblivious to the imposing German who had settled at one of our most iconic houses (originally the Chrisco Mansion, then the Dotcom Mansion, now the Toy Mansion) and tried to live his version of a quiet life. Then the raid happened, he became our Assange, a fugitive from justice whose location was known to all. Afterwards we awoke to who he was, what he had done, how badly America wanted him. Dotcom was a strange moral quandary, both a symbol of the way internet companies had profited off the theft of artists’ work and the victim of the US government being weaponised by movie studios as the world’s most expensive version of Baycorp. In his prime he was famous for any number of deeply weird facts: having a $100,000 bed; being a world-ranked Call of Duty master; creating a phenomenally expensive and profoundly bad album; spending a lot of money and some credible careers on losing the 2014 election. Now, unthinkably, we barely think of him at all.
Rose Matafeo: A horndog is born
At the start of the decade, Rose Matafeo was broadcasting to approximately tens of people from the TVNZ atrium on shambolic lo-fi music show ULive. In the final year of the decade, she has won the world's biggest award in comedy, is making her own series with the BBC and has a stand-up special coming to HBO Max. Her ascent to global stardom seems both astronomically rare and also completely normal if you've ever seen her perform live. Even in her early days of Jono and Ben, the 'Speed Dating' segments radiated with tension and cemented Matafeo's particular brand of highly strung horniness (the show that won her the Edinburgh comedy award was called Horndog).
And while she cut her teeth on Jono and Ben, comedy in New Zealand was changing too. People began noticing the panel shows made of entirely straight white men, our tolerance for racist, sexist and homophobic jokes lowered and we generally started demanding comedy that represented a broader range of New Zealanders. Three's Friday night sketch show Funny Girls, fronted by Matafeo and Laura Daniel, pushed a whole new generation of young comedians and their fierce, funny feminism into lounges across New Zealand, and the country was entirely better for it. Also let's not forget "day five: still bleeding" – probably the joke of the decade too.
Mark Richardson: yelling into the abyss
Mark Richardson's signature expression is a slightly quizzical grin. It comes out on The Block NZ, whenever he's posed a slightly vexed question of a contestant. It comes out in the cricket commentary box, when he's prodding his co-commentators into an opinion. But most of all, it comes out on The Project or The AM Show, when he's said something a bit controversial.
But only a bit - for the most part Richardson trades in comments which are broadly in the category of 'what he assumes everyone else is thinking'. His success and ubiquity comes from embodying a strain of Pākehā New Zealand attitude which is both very common and diminishing by the day. It also comes from his extraordinary malleability - he is able to execute the very different skills of the reality show host, the current affairs host and the sports commentator with unflagging energy and skill.
The quizzical part of that grin comes from everything being something of a pose - from the same deep vein of pragmatism that enabled him to switch from bowling to opening batting without looking back. No position is so deeply held as to be worth dying on a hill for. Instead he assesses his feelings and trots them out. If, as happens far more often than not, the reaction is a roll of the eyes or a chuckle, he moves on. If, as happens once every few weeks, the reaction is loud condemnation from the leftist audience he neither agrees with nor covets, he moves on. Where other hosts - notably his Magic Talk colleague Sean Plunket, and rival Mike Hosking - stew and seethe, Richardson just rushes off to the next gig.
He is kind, courteous, a hard worker and doting father. He once took time out of an incredibly busy day to record a mocking voice-over for The Spinoff, despite our having frequently criticised him for his views. He is also prone to saying misogynist or very callous things which, despite not being deeply held views, are deeply damaging.
He functions in a not dissimilar world to Jeremy Wells. Both are cricket commentators who say appalling things (Wells far more often, though in a far safer space, through a thicket of irony on the Alternative Commentary Collective). Both have emerged from odd corners at the start of the decade (slow batting and Meridian ads) to the most mainstream media gigs you can get in New Zealand. Both have neatly compartmentalised their various audiences, knowing that the Venn diagrams have almost no overlap.
Yet Mark Richardson feels like a far more accurate representation of the decade. He works himself across multiple platforms to the point of saturation. During peak season he can be on television for well over 20 hours a week. He means different things to different people, arousing great passions without seeming to feel many of his own. Most admirably, despite all his flaws, he stayed at his post, loudly yelling commentary on the Three ship, staying stoically as it started to sink below the surface of the media ocean.