Updated: May 13, 2022
In honour of New Zealand Music Month, we’re shining a spotlight on some of the lesbian and queer women who have made waves in Aotearoa’s music industry. We’ve compiled a Spotify playlist of genre-spanning tracks created by these incredible artists to help you celebrate lesbian and queer art this month, and every day: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7CMLak4YOizpbOLILK0Ey0?si=54494202ea884e80
A Love Song – Ladyhawke
Wild Things, 2016
A Love Song is the opening synth-pop track to Ladyhawke’s third album, ‘Wild Things.’ Speaking with PrideSource in 2016, the singer explained that her album was inspired by the highs and lows of her marriage to kiwi actress Madeleine Sami. On her identity as a queer woman being reflected in her music, she stated “all things are fuelled by my sexuality, basically. It’s who I am. I can’t really avoid it. And the confusion as well. My songs have always been full of metaphors and confusion; I think it’s part of life.”
In Your Eyes - The Vibraslaps
The Lost Tape, 2016 (recorded 1983)
Vibraslaps were a lesbian feminist band formed in 1983, consisting of Donna Fletcher of the Freudian Slips, Clare O’Leary, Dianne Civil, Gina Cole, and Sarni Darragh. The band had an experimental sound that was quickly adopted by New Zealand’s 1980s punk scene. Speaking with the Charlotte Museum’s founder Miriam Saphira in 2009, the band reflected on their time in Auckland’s music scene. Clare stated, “this really was one of the most inspiring and creative and exciting times in my life. Vibraslaps was fun.”
The song In Your Eyes was among their first-ever recordings in 1983. Unreleased at the time, it was part of their regular setlist and was re-discovered on a lost cassette tape over 30 years later.
Jealous – Amber Maya
Maya is a half Bajan, half Kiwi queer artist currently based in Berlin. The former Wellingtonian was named ‘one to watch’ by MTV in 2017 and has released a number of soul-tronic, electronic and RnB influenced tracks. The music video for Jealous is a captivating commentary on gender and sexual fluidity. Explaining the importance of representation with Sacred Exile in 2018, Amber stated, “as a queer woman of colour from an often very repressive island, where it’s technically illegal to be gay, it was extremely important for me to showcase relationships among queer people of colour.”
Waves - Paige
Tapara is a 25-year-old queer, indigenous singer-songwriter from South Auckland, whose music has been shared by some of music’s biggest stars. Her songs, while leaning into dream-pop and R&B, are full of serious self-reflections. Speaking with The Spinoff in 2020, Paige said “I wrote ‘Waves’ about my 12-year-old self struggling with my sexual orientation. And I still don’t know what to label myself, but I just know that I like people. And in the video, there’s a girl that I crush on. I freeze time, and take her into the realm of what it would be like if we were in love.”
Buttercup - Anika Moa
Anika Moa, 2018
Anika Moa’s self-titled 2018 album was recorded in New Orleans over eight days in a Presbyterian church. As a lesbian woman who had previously been banned from playing a show by religious leaders in Masterton, the irony is not lost on her. She told the Spinoff that while parts of her are sadness, sorrow, and vulnerability, she also believes humour is necessary in a world where everything is kind of funny.
Ko Te Ao Marama – Mahinārangi Tocker
The Mongrel in Me, 2005
The late Mahinārangi Tocker was a seminal figure in lesbian and indigenous culture and music-making in Aotearoa. Her 2005 album The Mongrel in Me spanned many different genres and sounds, with Mahinārangi citing her ancestry as the reason she was able to experiment and write without limits. Mahinārangi wrote over 600 songs in her lifetime and was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in January 2009 for services to music.
Vagrant Heart - Shona Laing
While Shona might be best known for her 1985 single (Glad I’m) Not a Kennedy, she has an extensive discography of incredible music spanning over five decades. Shona came out as lesbian in the late 1990s, and around the same time her music and writing took a turn towards feminist-awakenings, of women finding their power later in life. Vagrant Heart, a reflective ballad, is one of two new songs on her 2020 album Hindsight.
Free Falling - Abby Wolfe
Dunedin-based, queer singer-songwriter Abby Wolfe is about to take Aotearoa’s pop world by storm. Thanks to her honest lyrics and catchy beats, her songs have amassed over one million streams on Spotify. Free Falling is one of Abby’s first hits and was written about conquering her fears of being queer in the music industry. Telling the Aotearoa Music Managers’ Forum in 2019, “I had it in my head that I couldn’t be both. I thought I had to suppress one half of myself so that my career could flourish.”
Just One Kiss – Coco Solid
Jessica Hansell, better known as Coco Solid, is a queer artist of Māori, German and Pacific heritage. She has an impressive resume that includes being a Fulbright Scholar, a New Zealand Laureate for multimedia arts, and a member of Taika Waititi’s writing collective. Coco’s ability to juggle it all while still creating genre-bending music is unparalleled.
Her heritage and queer identity play heavily into her work, with Coco telling ID in 2016, “I hold my own queer identity pretty closely and have always been very holistically immersed in that scene…Femininity is game and masculinity is a game, I throw the coins up every day and don’t know which way they’re going to fall.”
Untouchable Girls - The Topp Twins
Grass Highway, 2009
Rounding out our list are award-winning entertainment legends Dame Lynda and Dame Julie (Jools) Topp, AKA The Topp Twins. At the forefront of Aotearoa’s music, culture, LGBTQ+, and political scen
es, The Topp Twins have been unapologetically themselves since their days busking as Homemade Jam in the 1970s. In an interview for a 1980 volume of Broadsheet Magazine, Lynda stated: “Music is the channel which we convey our lesbianism…We can’t differentiate between being musicians and being lesbians, Jools and I. Because, if we sing, we’re still lesbians, and we’re still musicians. We’re musical lesbians.”
Untouchable Girls was first performed by the duo in the 1980s and was recorded to be included in their 2009 album Grass Highway. It speaks to their strength and defiance and has empowered generations of women and girls. Having recently revealed their struggles with breast cancer, we know that same defiance will get them through. Kia kaha Dame Lynda and Dame Jools, thank you for all that you do.
Written by Starr Ratapu, Collections Technician and Research Support at the Charlotte Museum.