Kiwi girls can rule the world

GRACE CUSSELL: 'New Zealand has been such a good place to grow up,  but it’s very safe and it’s very small. I’d like to try to go beyond New Zealand in whatever I do.'
GRACE CUSSELL: 'New Zealand has been such a good place to grow up, but it’s very safe and it’s very small. I’d like to try to go beyond New Zealand in whatever I do.'

Something's been going on this year with Kiwi teenage girls.

Lorde (real name Ella Yelich-O'Connor) monstered the US music charts. Fellow Aucklander Lydia Ko seemed incapable of hitting a golf ball in anything but the right direction. Meanwhile Hawke's Bay's Jamie Curry, who posts a 30-second joke video on her Facebook page Jamie's World most nights before doing her homework, earned herself a global audience of millions.

Ko is 16. Lorde and Curry are 17. And they're all doing something that would have been next to impossible only a decade or two ago.

TE MAAMAE SIALE-TOU: 'I'm not saying I regret anything about her, but if I didn't have her I'd still be on my dreams, to be a sports star or something.'
TE MAAMAE SIALE-TOU: 'I'm not saying I regret anything about her, but if I didn't have her I'd still be on my dreams, to be a sports star or something.'

Lorde's meteoric rise was possible partly because of social media's ability to expose the entire planet directly to the virally infectious sound of Royals, rather than requiring her to slowly gig her way into America's affections. Curry's fame, too, could only have happened in a social media age.

Even Ko has chosen just right moment in history to be as brilliant as she is. Only recently has women's golf received the pay-TV attention and prize purses it warrants.

It is possible, of course, that these girls are blips, random deviations from the usual settings. What seems more likely, though, that Lorde and Ko and Curry are in fact the vanguard of something awe-inspiring: the rise of the world-conquering New Zealand teen girl.

MIA MELHOPT: ‘Not everyone can be famous; not everyone can have the same achievements.'
MIA MELHOPT: ‘Not everyone can be famous; not everyone can have the same achievements.'

With that in mind, the Sunday Star-Times tracked down half-a-dozen more of their kind from around the country, and asked them about their plans, their thoughts on their famous peers, and who the real role-models are in their lives.


15, Raglan, Waikato

SHERYL LOPEZ: ‘Since I was little I’ve always dreamt really big. It’s sometimes a bad thing . . . but you’ve got to dream.’
SHERYL LOPEZ: ‘Since I was little I’ve always dreamt really big. It’s sometimes a bad thing . . . but you’ve got to dream.’

Just completed Year 10 at Raglan Area School

I think Lorde is really cool, how she's got out there and become really famous in America. But I also feel a bit sorry for her, because she can't really have a normal life. It'll be hard to adapt to being famous. Lydia Ko - she's the golfer, right? We talked a bit about her at school - that she was really young and she's really good at golfing.

I don't know if I'd ever be able to get there, but it's nice to know that someone does. It makes me a bit jealous, to be honest.

My dream career is to become a model. I got asked in the street to do some modelling for a shop that's just opening in Raglan, so that'll be happening soon.

If not that, then something scientific or environmental. I like the environment, and want to keep it green, so perhaps inventing something that can really recycle.

I want to travel the world once I hit 21. It would be nice to try new jobs and meet new people, but my family's here.

My mum left school at 16 and started working for a newspaper. She had her career planned out. I'm a bit more confused than her. There's more option these days but you have to get ‘excellences' so you can get to university, and there's a lot of pressure.

Trying is a big thing for my mum; it doesn't matter if I succeed just as long as I try. I guess she's pretty confident that I'll succeed in at least something.


16, Merivale, Christchurch, Just completed Year 11 at Christchurch Girls' High

It's inspiring for teenagers my age - that if they want to get where Lorde is they need to work hard. With Lydia Ko it's the same.

Still, not everyone can be famous; not everyone can have the same achievements. Sometimes another person's achievements are publicised to the point where it makes you think ‘I haven't got that far, so maybe I'm not good enough to ever get that far'. It doesn't need to be someone like Lorde - it could be someone in your own school.

I used to want to be like Marilyn Monroe, because I thought she was so beautiful and her whole life intrigued me. I used to read books and books about her. But I also get inspired by small things that anyone does or says. Not so much a celebrity, more like family or close friends. They'll say something and I'll think, I really want to do that - I'd like to get there.

I've been acting with the Christchurch Court Theatre for about seven years now, because acting is one of my passions. Another is writing. I write to the point where my hands ache. It's not just a way to release everything; it's like when you start writing it's a different world that comes alive.

I want to study at NIDA in Sydney - the National Institute of Dramatic Arts. I've got family there. I can't see myself living further away, such as Europe or the US, because I'm quite a homebody.

My family are really supportive of my creativity. I used to get really badly bullied at the beginning of high school. My self-esteem dropped and I started getting really sick. So for my parents it's about me being a happy, healthy human being.

It can be a struggle for teenagers. In Christchurch it seems to be a thing of follow the sheep. Someone's doing this, so we've all got to do this. You know - let's get in this car with this boy because this is cool and I want everyone to know me - but not necessarily for good reasons.


15, Whitford, South Auckland, just completed Year 11 at Baradene College, Remuera.

When I leave school I'm going to do a gap year in England. I want to go to Spain, because I love Spanish, but obviously unemployment there is a bit of a factor, so I'll go to England and take trips there.

Then I want to come back and do a law degree, then a postgrad in communications, then go into journalism. My ultimate ideal is to have my own magazine or something.

I know everyone's like, journalism is impossible, but I have real passion for it, because of the voicing-of-opinions side of things. So even if it's impossible I don't care. Everyone says music is impossible, but look at Lorde.

Lorde is an amazing person. It's just such a weird combination, how she's 16, she's from New Zealand and she's topping Miley Cyrus. That doesn't happen!

And I think the amount of dedication Lydia Ko's shown - I'm so proud of her even though I don't know her.

We're quite a golf-y family - we live near Whitford golf course and dad's a golfer.

Other role models? I have so many. Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson - I think they are like really good spokeswomen for women who have worked really hard. I've always wanted to be the next Hillary Barry. I haven't researched her life, but I'm sure she's worked super-duper hard.

My parents keep me grounded. They keep me minded of the fact that I need a source of money. They're letting me do what I want, within reason. They talked me into some sense when I said I wanted to become an actress, because that's probably harder than anything else, and the only fulltime acting job is Shortland Street.

New Zealand has been such a good place to grow up, but it's very safe and it's very small. I'd like to try to go beyond New Zealand in whatever I do.

Social media has changed our opportunities. Jamie Curry is my age and she's made a funny page on Facebook and she's got four million likes or something. If you get noticed now, which is so much easier because of social media, you can get opportunities.


17, North Shore, Auckland, just completed Year 12 at Rangitoto College.

There's nothing as thrilling to me as performing on the stage, whether it's dancing, singing or acting. I'll be in the Young Auckland Shakespeare Company production next year, which is Macbeth. I'm also in a Youth Theatreworks production of Sherlock at the end of term one, then the school production at Rangitoto.

Since I was little I've always dreamt really big. It's sometimes a bad thing, because it gives you false hope, and not everybody can succeed in the industry, but you've got to dream.

I think Lorde's incredible. She has very earthy lyrics, very soulful and honest. I think that's something the music industry lacks these days. Lydia Ko - is that the tennis player? Golf? Haha. Yes I read about her. To be out there on that level in golf is just incredible.

I'd like to be one of those people who represents New Zealand. Just because this country is small, doesn't mean you can't achieve great things from here. I came to New Zealand from India when I was 11. I wouldn't classify myself as a ‘Kiwi' - I will have these strong Indian roots wherever I go - but I definitely have influences that are from New Zealand.

The females in my Indian family are all teachers. So Plan B for me would probably be training to be a performing arts teacher at a high school. If that doesn't work out I would like to be one of those cool primary school teachers with a guitar, starting the lesson with a song by Jason Mraz or something.

In India, [career choices] are all about the parents really, not the kid. Here, I get to make my own decisions. At school there is a talk about careers every week in assemblies - the choices go on and on. It's helped me realise there's not just one thing I could achieve in life - it could be various different things. In India most people make choices at 20 and stick with it for the rest of their life.

My parents want me to be safe, and to be a good person who gives back.

And they want me to be happy with what I'm doing. They know theatre and the film industry are very unpredictable, which is why I have a Plan B. And a Plan C.


15, Queenstown, just finished Year 11 at Wakatipu High School.

I want to be a film-maker. It would be my ultimate goal to win an Oscar. There are other things I want to do, but that's something I entertain.

After school, I will probably study for a year or two in Auckland, then hopefully study in Scotland, because they have great universities that offer what I want to study. I want to get a PhD in literature or something English-y based, and maybe a degree in criminology. It might be the influence of the Sherlock Holmes TV show, but true crime is so interesting.

My parents have said since I was young, do whatever you want to do and we'll support you no matter what. I love them both so much for that.

Dad used to be a car racer, so naturally he wants me to be the first woman to win Bathurst. I can't drive yet, but maybe the next time you talk to me I might want to be the number one woman Nascar driver in the world.

Mum works from home, and Dad was CEO of Christchurch Airport. Dad hasn't lived with us for five years, so she's had to put up with my teenage angst: ‘I want to do this; I want to do that.'

New Zealand teens can get that small-town syndrome where you struggle to look over the mountains and see the rest of the world. I need to leave and make sure I know what's going on, and if I don't like it I can come back.

When Lorde first came out and started singing I really thought she was an inspiration, because here was a Kiwi girl putting New Zealand on the map.

Now, I don't know if she's let stardom get to her head. In interviews she's been quite rude about other celebrities and I think that's misrepresenting New Zealand - I don't think New Zealand's a very arrogant country. The personality of a celebrity affects my ability to appreciate what they do as a musician or an actor.

Someone I really admire - not that I really want to be like him - is Freddy Mercury from the band Queen. I just loved his stage persona. He always had this commanding presence and was quite a positive person - and positivity is important.

Another is the director Tim Burton. He makes amazing films. Over the years I don't think his work is as good, but he has a great way of doing what he wants to do and letting people think what they think - that really resonates for me.

[As far as negative role models go], I'm of the belief you cannot wrap kids in cottonwool; you can't protect them from everything. Seeing Miley Cyrus is not going to make us think it's acceptable to go to the nearest building site and jump on a wrecking ball naked, or do something stupid. It's over-sexualised, but it's not going to completely change us.


16, Porirua, just completed Year 11 at Wellington's He Huarahi Tamariki school for teenage parents.

There's a creche in our school, literally a two-minute walk from our classroom. I took three months off, and came back before my daughter was even two months old. She's five months and three weeks old. Adeeliah. She's awesome.

I love my daughter. I'm not saying I regret anything about her, but if I didn't have her I'd still be on my dreams, to be a sports star or something. I stopped playing netball when I was going on to eight months. Now, with baby, I have to find days where I know someone can watch her if I'm playing, or take her with me if it's a nice day.

Putting my daughter first has set my priorities straight. I was your typical teenager. I was always meant to be home by 4.30, but I never showed up till about 8 o'clock. I'd be down the shopping mall with my friends. I used to do really bad things at school, then I found out I was pregnant. The social worker at my college mentioned He Huarahi Tamariki, and I thought, I'll give this a go.

I used to go to my previous college just to do PE. Here I'm doing English, maths, social studies, home economics and computing, and I'm enjoying it. I expect to be working at Level 3 NCEA next year. I want to go through life knowing that I've got qualifications behind me, to help me to a better life for myself and my little family.

My mother had me at 16. She had to give up school, sports and everything. Now she sees what I'm doing she thinks ‘if my daughter can do it then I can do it'. She's always wanted to be a bartender, so this year she got her certificate.

Before baby, I'd wanted to be a sports kind of person - a physio, or even a sports star. Then when I had baby I realised I liked working with people, especially kids. Now I want to be either a teacher or youth worker. I want to help other teen parents. We get looked down upon, but some I know are the greatest mothers you could come across.

I did have a dream about being a singer like Lorde. But yeah-nah. I've been told I can sing, but I only sing for my daughter or for school or for cultural events.

One role model is my Aunty Pauline. She's a real hardcore chick. She's into her sports. She was a parent at 16 then had two more kids and they've done really fine. She took me in when I had problems, and she helped me get my A into G, and found me a job as a netball umpire.

My little nieces say, ‘Hey Aunty, I wanna be like Miley Cyrus.' But I put on something like Beyonce, and say ‘No. You want to be like her!'

Beyonce is the role model. She's not walking around with weed in her hand. She wears revealing clothes, but legs and arms, not her whole body. She's feminine, and she's confident.

Another is Aaradhna. I listen to her music every day. She's from Porirua, and she has made it big. She's a Porirua superstar.

My dreams and goals are pretty much based in New Zealand, but if I want to take it to an extreme point, then I'd leave New Zealand and see what else is out there for me.

Sunday Star Times