Robinson on the Power of Music & What it Means to 'Make It'.
by Thomas Giblin (he/him)
culture & lifestyle writer
In the pantheon of famed New Zealand artists, Robinson is an anomaly. With 700,000 monthly Spotify listeners, she surpasses Stan Walker, Gin Wigmore and even Dave Dobbyn - yet Robinson is an unknown quantity in Aotearoa.
Nelson-born Anna Robinson, who goes by the mononym, Robinson now resides in London, which is her second home. She's far from Nelson's Garin College, where she was encouraged to perform. She and Olivia Nott, younger sister of New Zealand musical duo Broods Caleb and Georgia, formed a duo reaching Rockquest's national final in 2014. Once she'd left school, her career began to grow, signing to the independent label Dryden Street, allowing her to collaborate with other artists and experiment sonically. But with the release of 'Nothing To Regret' in 2018, everything changed, there was no going back. The track exploded, reaching over 120 million streams on Spotify, a feat unheard of for Kiwi artists, bar Lorde.
'Nothing To Regret' is a fun, energetic bop about spending time with their friends, but its global success has yet to translate to domestic stardom for Robinson. Yet, her fans turned up at The Tuning Fork, ready to rock as if there were hundreds. To thank those fans, Robinson sings to them as if they were the only person in the room - their eyes pore deep into each other and hands reach out like The Creation of Adam. The size of this crowd doesn't matter as she struts the stage with bushy hair and eyes that could turn you into stone. She performed to thousands the night prior opening for One Republic, so a more low-key show is a welcome change of pace for Robinson.
Touring with One Republic has been a "surreal" experience, Robinson says, allowing her to reconnect with her whānau and her childhood self. Having recently performed in Brisbane, where she once lived and where her dad passed away, Robinson could feel his presence, making an 'ordinary' stop on a whirlwind tour beautiful. She's lived all over the world - still, her roots are firmly in Aotearoa. Robinson cites her New Zealand identity as being in her soul. "It's such a part of me… sometimes I do get that feeling of, oh God, I really need to go home, or just be in nature."
Her latest track 'Things Aren't Nice in Paradise' about "the journey many of us go on in finding ourselves", unravels the misconceptions around happiness and chasing the 'perfect' life.
Robinson's pained vocals, backed by a killer synth and drum beat, make the track stand out. The opening crescendo got a low-key crowd in the mood to groove, and dance they did. Robinson’s otherworldly presence on stage commands attention. She says "the nature of live performance is it's real, you know, and it's organic, and it's just you being a human in that moment. I think that (anxiety) becomes a part of the experience and...kind of makes it more exciting."
Unlike many pop artists, whose music is self-involved and lacks a sense of introspection, Robinson writes music that offers a deeper understanding of life and love.
Informed by personal experiences, she goes inward to explore universal ideas, with the best studio sessions being the ones where the “music's just flowing through you…and I feel that magic in the air.”
The genesis of 'Things Aren't Nice in Paradise' is informed by her pursuit of happiness and how "in life, we often chase so much and, we're constantly taught that happiness exists in the future or in a moment that's so far away." The explosion of 'Nothing To Regret' catapulted her career upwards, but by 'making it', that feeling of chasing doesn't stop. To Robinson ‘making it’ doesn’t exist as “our whole life is about making it…every moment is a part of the journey”. With this mindset, she lives in the moment, not fearing the unknowns of the music industry.
From only speaking to Robinson for a few minutes, it's clear that music is an evocative force in her life.
In creation and performance, she explains that music "is the connector of emotion that makes us feel less alone in our experience."
Robinson is impassioned, describing how music "is such a powerful force in the world to connect people, to heal pain, to create joy and to kind of soundtrack our lives."
Robinson is evidently at her best when crafting pop hits like ‘Things Aren't Nice in Paradise' and ‘Oblivion’ that speak to the human condition. So with her upcoming album being released later this year, will she finally break into the Aotearoa scene and receive the fame her fans think she deserves?