May Zeng at Play It Strange songwriting awards (Photo: Steve Bone Photography)

Mike Chunn shares two of his favourite songs from the first year of NCEA songwriting

Play It Strange CEO Mike Chunn reflects on the first year of songwriting as an NCEA subject and shares two of his favourite songs to come out of the initiative with stories by their writers.

Last year, at last, songwriting became a Level 3 NCEA subject. And here at Play It Strange, our secondary school songwriting competitions saw a 17% increase in songs submitted. This tells us that young New Zealanders are drawn to an infrastructure where this unique craft is now recognised, encouraged and respected. It’s no longer an outlier pursuit.

And the net is widening. Songs in Korean, te reo Māori, Pacific Island languages. And there’s the key word: ‘languages’. And with this expansion, Play It Strange is increasing the number of songs being recorded for the online album. This year there are 66 mastered tracks so check out the album.

With songwriting in the curriculum, the lyrics of songs written by students are now read and heard. And the impressions are quite profound. To this end, Play It Strange, in collaboration with design company Redcactus, is publishing a book with lyrics from 20 of this year’s Play It Strange songwriting competition finalists alongside quotes from the writers as to where the inspiration for the lyrics came from. Their stories are evocative, moving and brave.

Genoveva Revert-Neal (Thames High School) – ‘Monster’

“‘Monster’ tells the story of a girl who outwardly appears to be successful and strong but, when she goes to bed, is consumed by anger and pain and depression that she has no control over. I wrote the song at 2 am while in the middle of a huge breakdown. I was in a super dark place of my life and these lyrics expressed everything that was going on in my head that my loved ones couldn’t understand.

“I think everyone has a part of themselves that they wish they could change or get rid of, whether it be a person or a feeling or an addiction or a trait, and it can start to consume their every action and thought and take over. That’s the “monster”, the part of ourselves that we feel at complete mercy to. I hope someone can find healing for their own monster in these lyrics as I did for mine.”

May Zeng (Westlake Girls High and winner of the Lion Foundation Songwriting Competition) – ‘Different’

“‘Please shut up’ is something that I’ve been silently screaming inside for quite some time. A random swear word that someone says, certain pop songs that are sending all the wrong messages to young people, comfortable people laughing about comfortable things, broken promises and a mindless “sorry”… It is all too much of nothing, and I’m stuck in this desperate ‘new age’ of ours, thinking where my people have gone. 

“But, so be it. The thing about pain is it doesn’t just make you stronger, it peels off and shatters the parts of you that are not you, and what’s left is this different girl walking home alone, singing her name in the rain.”

With fourteen albums now in our ‘library’ the true value of songwriting is a clear and detailed parade. Like opening a huge window into the hearts and minds of young New Zealanders, we hear and absorb the truth, fear, celebration, facade, love, affirmation and so much more. And, in the end, we learn from them and understand.

Spinoff readers can put their hand up for one of fifty free copies of the Play It Strange / Redcactus Lyric Book by emailing info@playitstrange.org.nz ‘Lyric Book request’ in the subject field and with your mailing address in the email. They will be printed in the New Year.


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