The Annabel Fay debacle

23:22, Apr 18 2011

It was disturbing to see some of the advance press for Annabel Fay's new album. She was interviewed for a Sunday Star Times cover story. The writer tried to argue a case that Fay was being picked on for coming from wealth; that being the daughter of Sir Michael Fay was a handicap to her.

The other, more disturbing angle was the idea that Fay is having a go at "pop" music and should therefore be applauded for tackling it.

This suggestion falls back to what New Zealand music defenders are worst (and by that I also mean best) at: suggesting that local artists have every right to create some inferior version of something global, that it deserves to exist as "our" version, and that anyone knocking it is in fact suffering from that boring old (close to meaningless now) cliché that is Tall Poppy Syndrome. Or "the classic Kiwi knocking machine". We've been taught to trot these lines out - like "it's PC gone mad" too. They're all catchphrases for and by the inane - all attempts to have a point without having an opinion and/or an opinion without a point.

Annabel Fay has just had her second album released by EMI. It is called Show Me the Right Way and it is, to these ears, a horrible collection of tasteless and meaningless mangles of notes masquerading as music. It has nothing to separate it from the pack; it is just another faceless/nameless load of boring radio-ready pop-music dregs. It is about how this boy is the one, and how this girl just wants to have some fun but is searching for a way to be herself don't you know. It is about how no one - in a musical sense - has in fact shown her the right way. It is about how the dreams of a singer without talent can be realised with the help of NZ on Air, the bumbling funding body; the equivalent of the Milton character from Office Space.

How did NZ on Air make Fay's dreams come true? Well in a couple of (very telling) ways.

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First off, a $5000 video grant enabled Fay to fly to Cuba to shoot this video. Yes, to reflect New Zealand culture, the funding body allowed Fay to travel to Cuba and shoot an awful video for an awful song. Annabel Fay used the Sunday Star Times article to say how grateful she was; how she'd always wanted to go to Cuba. She was essentially thanking Jane Wrightson and Brendan Smyth for shouting her a trip to Cuba. We know already that her grateful dad flew Smyth and the commercial radio people to his island holiday home (I covered that here). But here was Annabel Fay, whether she knew it or not, further rubbing it in.

But she did thank the taxpayer too - in a roundabout way. She used the same advance publicity interview to crow about how receiving album funding from NZ on Air was like "being given a gold star". She actually said this. Artists with something to say about our country, with something unique to offer, could be justified in feeling pretty angry and upset when they heard that. It's a small pool and you can't give money to everyone so why give it to someone with a rich dad?

Well this is the other part of the defence campaign: people have been writing about Fay and saying that a discussion of her music deserves to sit without mention of her father and without mention of the NZ on Air debacle.

But that's not going to happen - and nor should it. You see, there is a line in the funding application that points to artists exhausting other avenues for securing money. And the video shoot for River - the trip to Cuba - ballooned up over the $5000. I don't know, but it's fair to speculate, isn't it, that at least some of the overrun was covered by the Fay fortune?

The funding of Fay's album and videos - when she is on a major label - is crucial to any discussion of her music. So is the mention of her father: he all but guaranteed he'd be more than a footnote in his daughter's musical career when he loaded up the choppers in a bid to ensure his daughter's musical career would itself be more than a footnote.

And now we have apologists. Reviews are being written by people normally uninterested in this radio dross suggesting Annabel Fay's album to be "good for what it is" and other non-sequiturs. How insulting for writers to suddenly decide that the most commercial chart fodder is okay too - in fact that it deserves to be defended because "it is what it is" (one of the dumbest things a person can ever say).

Annabel Fay's album is terrible. It has nothing going for it - her voice is without character. The songs are bland. The element of "polish" to mask the cracks and gaps in the songs leaves it as a cold experience.

It is Supre, that fermenting party-pill zone of retail boiled down to a set of songs.

There is a ridiculous cover of Spooky which has no reason to exist. And there are a few songs that might have a few teenagers singing into hairbrushes while they bounce on their rebounders. Well, that sort of music is always going to exist. It's usually best we ignore it rather than come up with one of the stupidest defences ever: that a poor little rich girl is being picked on.

I saw Annabel Fay perform live and heard her first album. This is no improvement on those soul-crushing experiences. And even if it was, she would still have a long way to go. And that would be the case without the funding debacle.

Annabel Fay will have no future in the music industry. And that's a good thing. Because she's not here to make music - she's taking the piss. And we're paying for it (in all senses).

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