One family takes on the elephant-sized task of ranking all 70 songs in the beloved kids’ show and lives to tell the tale.
Kiri & Lou is a Bafta-nominated, other-award-winning, locally made kids’ claymation show starring prehistoric creatures living in a dense and unpeopled Aotearoa forest. The creator and writer is Harry Sinclair, which goes to show, if you didn’t think so already, that he’s actually a genius. Kiri is voiced by Liv Tennet, who could not be more perfect as headstrong, passionate, yellow tuatara-ish character, while Jemaine Clement is Lou – a purple, elephant-esque creature with a heart of gold. The whole thing is warm without being saccharine and handles big ideas (death, rage, disability, body positivity, the exhausting job of parenting) with A+ storylines.
But the music! The music is next level. Harry Sinclair and Don McGlashan, along with a clutch of some of New Zealand’s best musicians and vocalists, have made mini classics for literally every episode. Which is what made this ranking so excruciatingly hard. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. And it was absolute scenes when it got to the top three.
Methodology: A family effort between Andrew, musician; Charlie (5), target audience; and me, a humble megafan. We assessed based on responses to the following questions: Can it withstand high rotation? Does it evoke strong feelings? Is it musically interesting to both the trained and untrained ear? Are the lyrics especially special?
Background research: Links to YouTube provided for every entry. You can also listen to the soundtrack albums on Spotify. The show screens on TV2, Prime, YouTube Kids and standard YouTube.
70 Especially Special Day from ‘Especially Special Days’ (S1)
This is the only song that annoys the parents in this particular focus group. It’s pure pre-school so it sticks, but in a stressful way.
69 Little Urp from ‘Breakfast’ (S2)
For some reason burps are so much grosser than farts.
68 Comes to the Crunch from ‘The Biggest Fight Ever’ (S2)
Kind of thin. No further thoughts.
67 Embarrassed from ‘She’s Amazing’ (S2)
Shaaammmeeee! Anyone else haunted by that cutting 90s whine? The trio of singing birds (who feature heavily from here on in) shame out Kiri so hard: “You really make us squawk / just like poor uncle Roderick when he tried to hatch that rock.”
66 Can I Be Your Friend from ‘Little Elsbeth’ (S3)
The highlight of this episode is the creators’ attempt to revive the age-old art of the casual poetry recital among friends, and this is to be noted and applauded.
65 I Don’t Care from ‘Empathy’ (S2)
An “I have intense attachment issues that my prickly aloofness is trying to mask, so no I do not need a fucking hug” song. Touching.
64 Mysterious from ‘Mysterious’ (S3)
Yes, Lou, the world is vague and weird. Kind of meh response all round to this one.
63 The Hoobi Hoobi Hoobi from ‘The Hoobi Hoobi Hoobi’ (S3)
You’ll be forced to do the climby, climby, swimmy, swimmy in the lakey, lakey, lakey in the loungey, loungey, loungey and you’ll grit your teeth and you’ll bear it.
62 Where Are You from ‘Hive’ (S2)
Dreamy for a while, but the earworm will enter your recurring nightmare about being lost and separated in the infinite darkness of life.
61 Footifoota from ‘Footifoota’ (S3)
Lead vocals by Marlon Williams. It’s pretty but it’s nothing on Marlon’s other tune, the plaintive Bodily Functions (see way down).
60 Who is Sleepy Now? from ‘Who is Sleepy Now’ (S1)
The most popular song according to Spotify?! Unfortunately this just makes me feel tired and I don’t like the reminder of rapid ageing due to chronic lack of sleep, etc.
59 Encouraging Song from ‘Moa’s Egg’ (S2)
Lordy I love me a flock of determined pessimists.
Trio of birds on backing vocals: “The rain is wet, the sun can burn you crispy, tiny bugs make your feathers itchy”
Kiri (in angry/determined tone): “Life is great, it’s really really great!”
BVs: “It can be, if you’re lucky.”
58 Bird Song from ‘Birdsong’ (S3)
Been searching Trade Me for a giant amethyst cave to contemplate life in. Points for crystal therapy.
57 Sweetest Sounds from ‘Unbelievable’ (S3)
The ear-shattering caws from the forest birds spike the jingliness of this tune in a pleasing way: jingles are annoying, evil birds are forever.
56 How Are You? from ‘How Are You?’ (S3)
Fine, fine, fine. The melody is reminiscent of Life’s A Happy Song, the bubbly classic that Bret McKenzie wrote for The Muppets, which got us good and sidetracked. How incredible were some of those Muppets covers (like this one and this one). And is Electric Mayhem the best band name in a fictional universe? We decide that I am Janice, Charlie is Animal, Andrew is Dr Teeth.
55 The Worst from ‘The Worst’ (S3)
The horn section is particularly effective, and the choreo is ripper – easy to imagine a live stage version. Which would be so cool. Someone has to make a live stage version. Puppet Kiri and Lou, like The Muppets. Kermit and Lou would get along incredibly well and Kiri and Miss Piggy would have infamous scraps.
54 Womp Womp Womp from ‘Womp Womp Womp’ (S2)
Actually fully resent this one for encouraging messy play which is living hell. “We can splish and we can splash and we can say hello to Bessy, but the bestest thing at all is being messy!” Points for the fun lyrics, “fangles and dangles” especially.
53 Listen from ‘Listen’ (S2)
We need a Sorry and Dalvanius spinoff please, Harry Sinclair! This pair of little inventors with enviable talents (hearing, speed) make me want to book a family tramping adventure to the bush so we can listen and actually appreciate being cold and damp and surrounded by freaky insects, for once. Charlie actually stopped and listened to the raucous tūī outside the other day: “like Dalvanius”.
52 She’s the Best from ‘Ready Set Go’ (S1)
Was there a time before jazz hands? Feel like Joey from Friends made jazz hands a staple dance piss-take. This song makes you want to do jazz hands.
51 Grow from ‘Grow’ (S3)
“What do we need? Fresh air, fresh fruit and cuddles!” The jubilance is nice but children also need your life force.
50 Jazzy instrumental from ‘Good Sharer’ (S1)
I have a particularly strong emotional response to the few seconds in this song in which we see a weird little armadillo-ish thing in an underground den, hugging a tiny baby, joining in on this instrumental piece with a strange, tired-ass voice: a touching nod to the invisible impact of art and how parenting tiny babies can be lonely AF.
49 I’m a Bird from ‘Camouflage’ (S2)
Crosby, Stills and Nash x The Beach Boys: it’s refreshing with an incongruous, streetwise attitude we all appreciate.
48 Let’s Go from ‘Let’s Go’ (S3)
I could really have used this song when I came last in the cross country in year 8 and got the award for participation which is such a slap in the face. “There are many ways to go, go, go / Some go fast, fast, fast some go slow, slow, slow / I’m springing, I’m scuttling, I’m jogging, I’m bellowing, I’m melting!”
47 Mighty Forest from ‘Mighty Forest’ (S2)
Goes along sweetly then punches you in the heart with: “[Mighty forest] we hope you’re always here.”
46 Calm Inner Voice from ‘Super Sticky Situation’ (S1)
We need loud speakers on every street corner belting Jemaine Clement as Lou’s calm inner voice when the apocalypse comes (any minute now, sorry kids).
45 What’s it Like to Be a Tree from ‘What’s it Like to Be a Tree’ (S1)
The Zen-est song in the repertoire: put it on and forget about everything except how trees are like, so great.
44 Beautiful Flower from ‘Beautiful Flower’ (S1)
You never get over a flower. Wish I didn’t accidentally kill all of mine.
43 Extraordinary Bird from ‘A Lovely Nap’ (S2)
Julia Deans’ cameo is gravelly and cool because Julia Deans is the definition of cool. Not a patch on the other tune though (see way down).
42 Kiri and Lou Ish from ‘Ish’ (S3)
What begins as a light and silly song is stupendously hijacked by a “classically trained” kiwi-huia mash-up on BVs. Reminiscent of the Dolmio pasta sauce ads but way better. The voice behind the bird is John Moore, an illustrious opera singer Harry Sinclair met in border quarantine, in the exercise yard. So thank you, Covid, for that.
41 I Feel So Bad from ‘Refreshing’ (S1)
Kiri runs through the forest stressing/singing that she’s annoyed Lou. Never ones to miss a BV op, the three little birds fly in to offer choice lyrics such as:
Kiri: “Really, you think he could be mad?”
Birds: “We’re not sure, we’re just little birds”
40 Sugar from ‘Sugar’ (S2)
There’s a character called It’s-OK-don’t-worry-about-it and they are a poet and they recite poetry for their friends. Lou ruins their performance with this song about losing your shit after hooning sugar cane:
Best line is a toss-up between “If you knock on my tree, all the lights are on but you won’t find me, there’s nobody home” and “I’m acting like a galoot, everything is out of focus and my behaviour is atrocious but I couldn’t give a hoot.” Clement’s vocal comedic embellishments are spot on.
39 Happy Song from ‘Where’s Kiri?’ (S3)
There was just nothing that touched the quality of this show when I was a kid (apart from The Muppets). Long discussion between parents about that time one of the toys on Play School got melted in the microwave. WTF was that?
38 The Indescribable from ‘The Indescribable’ (S2)
Death is so hard to explain. Now you don’t have to: just whack on this episode and let the dinos do it for you. The slow, ritualistic tune is weighty and magical and introduces the concept of ageing out of this world without angst or tears or devastation.
37 If I Had Wings from ‘Rockaroonie’ (S3)
Has there ever been a more empathetic character than the stressed out, eye-bagged, under-slept pterodactyl-ish dad on Kiri & Lou? The poor guy is just trying to have a moment singing a plaintive ballad (with a killer opening that rips your heart right open) but is interrupted with rude interjections about the lyrics:
Pterodactyl-ish dad: “If I had wings, I’d regurgitate some fruit for you to chew“
Rude bird: “Who wrote this?”
In the end he has to explain that “Some of my favourite songs weren’t written by birds.” We’ve all been there.
36 Who Am I? from ‘Who Am I’ (S2)
Deceptively simple. At first it’s reminiscent of a nursery rhyme, the kind you sing in rounds like Frère Jacques. But when Kiri gets angry at a trio of sweet little strangers for sitting on her pet rock (Rockaroonie) she has a terrible moment of self-realisation, that that is who she is. We aren’t left to dwell there though and neither is Kiri: within seconds the song turns into a rousing, many-voiced chorus, all singing: “Who are they, they are us, all of us, we are us, every day” layered with “who am I, I am me, I am me, every day” and “I am me, and you are you, but we are always us it’s true”.
35 Come and Dance from ‘Bones’ (S3)
Makes me think of my nana who loved to dance and how we are all young, once. And then we become bones.
34 New Lou from ‘New Lou’ (S3)
A century or so ago Katherine Mansfield talked about having multiple selves, and now Lou sings about it.
33 How Did We Get to Right Now? from ‘Now and Then’ (S3)
Clement as Lou channels the cadence of Bob Dylan at the top of this jolly number that asks a classic question about the nature of time: “How did we get to right now? / How did we make it here? / Alive and well? / I have no idea? / But now’s the place to be.” Fucking poetry.
32 I’ll Never Have Anything More Than I’ve Got Today from ‘Wish’ (S3)
Felt really seen/reprimanded by this one. You’re never too old to be schooled on the whole idea of making good with what you got. Points for flying dream sequence.
31 Somebody Loves You from ‘Lullaby’ (S3)
How great is it when the opening credits get a new treatment though? Not quite at the level of The Simpsons’ Treehouses of Horror, but definitely spookier to the point of piquing Charlie’s gothic side. Highlight for the parents: Pania’s 1920s-style ballad, which reminds us of this slick Bryan Ferry album.
30 Air from ‘Air’ (S2)
Hauntingly beautiful. Makes you really think about breathing.
29 Wild Animal from ‘Crazy’ (S2)
Clement’s channelling of the Crash Test Dummies pleases the 90s child in me immensely.
28 I’m Afraid from ‘I’m Afraid’ (S2)
Jubilant AF, war-timey feel. Singing against dark, dancing in the face of horror. Love the horn section, love the cheesy shot of the creatures piling into the frame, joining together in voice and resolve. Iconic.
27 I’m So Cool from ‘Tickle Monster’ (S1)
Rima Te Wiata’s slinky lounge tune about being incredibly cool (read: prickly, aloof and afraid of rejection). Excellent use of the hand-click as a percussive layer.
26 The Palorchecies from ‘The Palorchecies’ (S1)
There’s something very cathartic about this culty chant.
25 I Like Company from ‘Company’ (S3)
Imagine if the clashing of cymbals accompanied every epiphany you had? Like a tiny band soundtracking your life.
24 Stuck from ‘Stuck’ (S1)
Can see Lea Michele taking this to Broadway. This is when I realised that Liv Tennet is an impeccable performer: she manages to convey that Kiri is secretly delighted at the potential drama of maybe being stuck in a tree forever.
23 Mother Earth from ‘Mother Earth’ (S2)
We have quite a lot of conversations about how there’s literally no other planet for us even though the universe is infinite. Unexpectedly emotional given the current context. Sample of lyrics: “Mother Earth, I want to smell your flowers / Mother Earth, for hours and hours and hours and hours / Mother Earth please let me stay by your side each night and day / Mother Earth please hear my plea there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
22 What’s Art For? From ‘What’s Art For?’ (S2)
Look, to be fair this song is all me. The others had no feelings. I just love Small. She’s a TINY ARTIST in a TREE APARTMENT and in this song she’s surrounded by her wild canvases that convey her relationship to the world, as she ponders the meaning of art. For Christ’s sake! The style is Andrew Lloyd Webber meets folky pop with choral harmonies. Tears to these square, square eyes.
Selection of lyrics (take note, Creative New Zealand)
“If the storytellers called it a day one night?”
“If the singers all stopped singing, what about them?”
“In the morning would the sun still rise again?”
Who do we have to campaign for a Small spinoff and some Small merch?
21 Quiet Song from ‘Super Sniffer’ (S2)
To me Lou’s trunk symbolises the savage beast in all of us, particularly when you’re hungry and you’re a kid and the world is full of adults inexplicably making you eat with your mouth shut and use cutlery. We debated what a something something would taste like (we landed on carrot x tomato x banana mashup) and then had to explain that they are not available at New World or Countdown or even Moore Wilson’s. Anyway, the gist is that when Lou’s trunk finds a huge something something when the rest of him is asleep, Kiri is desperate to eat it. She sings a “quiet song” with strategic LOUD BITS in an attempt to wake him up kind of but not really, but really.
Big hit with the child who participates in the LOUD BITS with enthusiasm and if he’d got his way this song would be waaayyy higher. But the LOUD BITS give me a headache and lead me to question my decision-making and my wisdom in undertaking this task, even though I was the one who suggested it. Also note that by this point I’m not sleeping because the entire song list is playing through my head at 2am. Charlie has given up because Yum Yum Baronies isn’t the singular and only song on the list and what even is a RANKING, and Andrew has gone down a musical rabbit hole involving jazz and the Phoenix Foundation. I’ve never felt so close to Kiri, queen of the rage-induced tanty.
20 Can You Hear Colour? from ‘Colours’ (S3)
The gang make an art project for Lou, singing the colours. Makes me cry. Can’t help it. World through the child’s eyes, the sound of art. I mean, fuck it guys. How are you so good?
19 World’s Saddest Song from ‘Rainy Day’ (S2)
Kiri goes to town with minor falls and major lifts, wallowing gloriously in her sad feelings. “Oh won’t you sing along with the world’s saddest song?” Yes, yes we will because it’s a vehicle for the monstrous drama queen in all of us.
18 Sensitive from ‘Sensitive’ (S3)
LOL the birds are so good. Totally goes over Charlie’s head but I think these guys are in here purely for the grown-ups:
Kiri: “I’m so sensitive”
Bird BVs: “Really? You’re actually quite thick-skinned.”
17 You Gotta Let It Out from ‘Important’ (S3)
A fart-tastic banger from none other than queen Tami Neilson. There are horns (get it), there’s the voice, it’s the best song about not holding in farts ever created.
16 Shamalamalama-a-wicketty-bong-bong-ba-da-bling-bling-bling-bling-woggle-toes-kaprootski from ‘Shamalamalama’ (S3)
Charlie is scarily good at this song. He can say Shama’s whole name after only a couple of listens. The rest of us struggle hopelessly. When do you lose the ability to respond effectively to instruction in song form? This episode is also the best expression of realising ableism I’ve seen: Kiri and Lou learn not to assume on face value that everyone needs their pity or help.
15 Farty the Dinosaur from ‘Ordinary Day’ (S1)
It’s a universal truth that kids heart farts. And this song about farts is punctuated by some pretty epic farts.
14 Amazing Ears from ‘Amazing Ears’ (S1)
I think the trajectory of the entire world would be different if this show had been around in the 90s. Another beautifully body-positive anthem in which the animals celebrate shy (literally, he disappears) Dalvanius’s amazing ears.
13 Carrying Song from ‘The Something Something’ (S1)
We sing this when we carry stuff now. Enough said.
12 Turn Precious World from ‘Snow’ (S3)
“I like how she does that,” says Kiri to the blushing sun.
“Turn precious world, till the sky is painted gold, spinning through the night, keep on turning towards the light.”
I mean, for goodness sake, pass the tissues and we’re all getting up at dawn to appreciate the sunrise, for once.
11 Bodily Functions from ‘Bodily Functions’ (S3)
“I never need to give instructions for my bodily functionssss.”
Marlon voice-of-an-angel Williams cameos as a sturdy-beaked takahē-esque crooner who makes singing about bodily functions feel like an evening in a velvet-curtained lounge with a whisky and a cigar.
10 Be Polite from ‘No Gnashing’ (S1)
A hugely relatable song about food panic. Lou’s ditty is an attempt to pep talk his wayward trunk into some restraint: it’s repetitive and melodic and features two of the best characters on the show, Hemi and Lemi, rainbow snails with exceptional aesthetic taste. “You have to be polite yes you do, you must try with all your might yes it’s true / If there’s any way you canners you must try and use your manners / Oh you have to be polite, yes you do.” Highlight: Hemi and Lemi’s synchronised choreo.
9 My Two Favourite Creatures from ‘Small’ (S1)
Singable AF. According to the musician in the group this is a very clever little song, deceptively naive. And Charlie and I love Small the most, so here it is.
8 Purple Mountain from ‘Purple Mountain’ (S2)
For weeks I walked around humming this tune thinking “A country classic. To what angel of the canteen does that vinegary, wry voice belong?!” and it’s only bloody legendary Aussie folk artist Paul Kelly. Filthy saxophone solo too. Chef’s kiss. (Additional note: Please can we have a Julia Jacklin cameo next?)
7 My Body Belongs to ME from ‘Body Song’ (S2)
You’ll find yourself singing this assertive anthem all day and it won’t even annoy you or anyone else. The song elevates a powerful episode in which Kiri tells morose Ictheo (axolotl-like creature) that his still-evolving body is amazing because he can live on land and water. An essential message for all ages all wrapped up in a super-catchy tune: “I love to give my body, the best things all the time, some yum yum baronies, running and swinging on vines. My body belongs to me, my body belongs to me, it’s the one I’ve got and I like it a lot, my body belongs to me.” Praise be.
6 Look Before You Poo from ‘Hide and Seek’ (S1)
The trio of tuneful birds (Don McGlashan) are the cherry on the top of Kiri & Lou’s world and this is their best solo. It’s lilting, it’s gentle, it makes you sing about trying not to shit on your mates.
5 Lonely Song from ‘Imaginary Friend’ (S1)
A belter. Kiri at her finest and most self-indulgent. Best bit is when Kiri loses her temper with little birds who sing unhelpfully-reassuring BVs like “You have so many friends, like us for example”.
4 The Bravest Thing from ‘The Bravest Thing’ (S2)
I defy anyone not to break the hell down in an attempt to emulate the way Jemaine Clement manages to load Lou with gentle, tentative yet balls-out bravery in this lilting masterpiece about talking, not hitting.
3 Yum Yum Baronies from ‘Yum Yum Baronies’ (S1)
The first cut is the deepest. This is the first-ever Kiri & Lou tune in the first-ever episode and Charlie put up a persistent and valiant campaign for this song about eating Baronies (fruits that look like persimmons which can cause havoc in the supermarket come the season for those flavourless ginger baubles) to be at number one. But in the words of Bandit from Bluey, “kids are silly”.
2 Do a Little Jump from ‘Meteors’ (S2)
DJ, play my favourite song! Small (miniature walrus-esque creature, and artist, who lives in a tree apartment and who can be seen creeping around in the background most episodes) owns in this dance-tastic, festival-friendly power tune that would get your hippy aunty out of her house truck as well as the version of yourself that swears on Fraggle Rock that you were, pretty much, in the moshpit for Rage Against the Machine at the Big Day Out in 1996.
Do a little jump is mad, it’s energetic, it’s infectious and it features one of New Zealand’s greatest percussion artists: Chris O’Connor. The music is so catchy that you can’t help but do what tiny-but-mighty Small tells you to do: “do a little jump and another little jump and then a big jump!” We have used this song at home, many times, as a mood refresher on grey days and sunny ones alike. The percussive layers build and build, creating a foundation of action that your tired old body, and the child’s screen-zonked brain, can’t help but respond to.
It’s also a surprising song: it shifts in tone in weird and hilarious ways: “Do a little wiggle, then another little wiggle, then stand very still and say ‘I beg your pardon?’”
If you join Small and his long-suffering tiny friend then in no time you’ll be puffing and laughing and you’ll feel like a kid again. And that is TV magic.
1 Shine Your Light from ‘Shine your Light’ (S2)
Tuck me up and put me to bed with this song in my ears. It’s a perfect world of tone, lyric and voice coming together to make something that transcends a prehistoric claymation universe.
In this episode, Kiri gets extremely pissed at Lou’s calm inner voice for daring to suggest that she might be a lizard and not a dinosaur. She runs off into a dark and spooky cave and there the friends are stuck waiting to be rescued. Lo and behold they encounter the delicate magic of glow worms for the first time and Julia Deans begins to sing:
There’s a little bit of light inside us all
Just a faint little light so very small
But when one by one our lights all come on
Bit by bit the darkness is gone.
What can your little light do, all on its own?
When the darkness all around, makes you feel so alone?
But if you take the hand that’s right next to you
Every spark in the dark will come shining through.
Shine your light, show the way
For anyone who’s lost and anyone who’s astray.
I think what makes this song so incredibly beautiful is the soaring vocals and the bop-bop-ooo-ooo backing vocals which give the whole tune a gospel feel. It’s reverent, spiritual and shoots straight for the heart. Julia Deans’ voice is showcased to the fullest: all rock’n’roll edges and unwavering strength. It’s short, it’s sublime and you’ll never get sick of it.
Who is making the “I heart Julia Deans” glow-in-the-dark T-shirt, and where can I purchase several of them?
Kiri & Lou books are available online from Mighty Ape, Fishpond and Amazon; and the Kiri & Lou at the Library exhibition is on now at Tūranga Central Library in Ōtautahi Christchurch. More info and cool merch available at kiriandlou.com.