Why I don’t get warm fuzzies over Lordes Te Reo Maori album

The biggest reason I don’t get warm fuzzies over Lorde singing in Te Reo Maori is I don’t want to access my language from Lorde. She doesn’t represent me or get my soul strings reverberating. Listening to Lorde singing in Te Reo Maori feels like nothing to me. I feel quite meh about the songs.

Sorry Lorde, it might be a age ‘thing’, it might be a cultural ‘thing’, it might be a difference in taste ‘thing’, I just don’t see myself in you. I respect you as an artist, but your music is just not my jam, (exempt the song Royales from this statement!)

But maybe its not about me? Most of my hardcore Te Reo Maori friends who are right up there at the top of the language movement are very pro Lordes Te Reo music. I wonder, why do I feel so differently from them? Why can’t I feel inspired with them?

Perhaps they are at a different place with Te Reo. Perhaps they crave new forms, new content, new expressions of it. But me, no. Lorde is not my chicken soup for the soul. Maybe that just represents where my Te Reo journey is at?

These are quite personal reasons. They are my own. And reasons I’m entitled to have, feel and express without being told to shush because Hinewehi and Timoti have stamped this as ok. (Note; I have a huge respect for these global icons too!)

There are other bigger matters that come with Hollywood celebrity success singing in Te Reo. These issues actually have nothing to do with Lorde directly. However, she is now firmly placed as a symbolic and political representation of how Te Reo should or might manifest in a modern world. Two sides are currently being painted;

  1. Lorde is a self-entitled, privileged, white girl, floating around grabbing Te Reo for her own fame game. She doesn’t deserve Te Reo Maori, cos she hasn’t struggled for it. It does not belong to her. She only cares about herself.
  2. Lorde is bringing Te Reo to a global stage and that mass exposure comes with many benefits, that will keep a dieing language alive.

And so, the central questions becomes, do we need Pakeha-ness, and global popularisation to save Te Reo Maori? And who gets to legitimately represent and be the face of Te Reo Maori to the world? No one person gets to answer these questions. They are negated by the many many perspectives Maori hold.

A few of our taonga have already gone out into the global domain. Haka being one of them. We’ve seen haka morph, adapt and change by its use out there in the world and reappear in cringe-y forms from being butchered, slaughtered and mocked by others. But we’ve also seen respectful representations such as the All Blacks. Seen positive increase and uptake in NZ schools and many other non-Maori organizations. But, at the end of the day, haka continues to be homed and nurtured by Maori people here on the ground, in Maori communities at marae, at festivals like Te Matatini. Its local whanau, who guard and keep alive its true energetic essence.

Te Reo is the same, it may go on its little tippy haere around the world, go into the homes of global whoever’s. But at the end of the day, it is watered and fed by whanau, hapu at home on the many marae and kura.

I pondered the question, how would we feel if iconic stars such as Beyonce or Billy Eilish dropped an album in Ojibwe or the Dine (Native American languages)? It’s a straight out weird scenario. Even if these tribes endorsed it, I don’t particularly want or need to hear them singing in Indigenous languages. (But a Beyonce collab with a Maori, now that’s a different story!). I want to hear from the Native themselves in their own language. That of course is the ultimate ideal. Maori being able to represent ourselves in our own taonga. And Te Reo revitalisation experts don’t believe enough Maori are representing Te Reo Maori. And there is something a bit sad and depressing in the reality of that. Do we actually need ‘symbolic Lorde’ to save Te Reo Maori?

Pākeha, speaking Te Reo Māori is becoming very vogue. Some may have pure intentions, some may have ego-entwined intentions. Whatever the reasons, a great Te Reo response for Pākeha is to keep allowing space and resources for Māori to learn Te Reo. Like…. you know that tikanga, when you are at the marae and you let the older and younger people eat first, because their needs are more than others in that room for that point in time, that’s how Pākeha need to think about Te Reo. Yeah you’ll get that feed, but help other Maori to eat it first!

I don’t wake up in the morning thinking ‘more Pākeha need to speak Te Reo Maori to me’. I’m not against Pākeha speaking Te Reo, I just don’t pursue that in my life to feel fulfilled. Maybe its not about me? Don’t get me wrong, I do like hearing the Pākeha newsreaders saying things in Te Reo Maori like ‘e whai ake nei’. I like hearing Ashley Bloomfield say things like ‘we are trying to reach everyone, from across the ‘motu’.  I like receiving that easiness, a subtle message, that says I took the time to learn the meaning of this word and use it in a specific context.

Iti te kupu, nui te korero.

I no longer care for hype. Hype does not fuel sustained energy over the long term. Most long-term change takes place in subtle, small daily actions that then accumulate to make a real lived difference.