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"We Don’t Know Lucky We Are: Masculine Humour in New Zealand Popular Music." In The Routledge Companion to Popular Music and Humor. Edited by Thomas Kitts and Nicolas Baxter-Moore, 346-353. Routledge: New York, 2019.


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In the mainstream of New Zealand popular music, one can often identify a dry sense of humour that is closely connected with other comedic art forms in this country (e.g. television, stand-up) and with ideals of New Zealand masculinity (Bannister 2005). This essay surveys the manifestations of this humour in a variety of popular songs, before concluding with an extended discussion of Flight of the Conchords, “the almost award-winning fourth-most-popular folk duo in New Zealand”, and arguably the country’s most successful musical export in the area of comedy music.

The predominant source of humour in such New Zealand comedy songs stems from lyrical content. In Fred Dagg’s “We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are”, the “epic” stories of each verse (e.g. the legend of Maui fishing up the North Island) are deliberately underplayed—says Maui simply upon landing his catch, “I think I’ve found something substantial.” In Netherworld Dancing Toys’ “New Zealand Love Song”, it is the emotional content that is underplayed—“This is a New Zealand love song // understated and quite unsure.”

Such examples, and those by others including the Topp Twins, essentially poke fun at New Zealand characters (typically male) through the medium of song. In the case of Flight of the Conchords, both Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement retain these character traits but add elements of specifically musical humour through pastiche and the incongruous juxtaposition of lyrical content and musical style (Covach 1997). Their humour, therefore, is much more accessible to a wider audience given listeners do not necessarily need to be aware of the “New Zealand” characteristics of their songs. I suggest this may be one reason why the duo has enjoyed significant success outside of their homeland.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Uncontrolled Keywords: Music, Comedy, New Zealand
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Divisions: Schools > School of Media Arts
Depositing User: Nick Braae
Date Deposited: 18 Sep 2019 01:14
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2023 08:22

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