Judging the Judges

The award for Best New Zealand Children’s Album is being reinstated this year after a twelve year absence.
Fatcat & Fishface were the winners back in 2002 when the award was last offered. As the producer of F&F, I always wondered if we were too weird and wonderful, and that’s why the award was discontinued…?
Now that RIANZ (Recording Industry of NZ) has announced the award is back, I will climb onto my faithful hobby horse to judge the people who judge music for children.
I suppose you could say that in any competition the choice of a winner says more about the judges, and their particular bias, than who actually wins.  But there’s an added complication in anything to do with children. While children are the ‘consumers’, they don’t have the means to choose and buy the music themselves, relying on well-meaning parents, offbeat aunties and rockin’ grandparents to buy on their behalf. What’s more, children’s voices are often excluded from the judging process.
Then there is the ‘educative’ criteria that tends to be applied i.e. ‘what’s good for them’ vs ‘what they enjoy’. No other musical genre takes this into account.  So what will it be…Playschool or The Simpsons?
In 1999, Fatcat & Fishface entered their first CD ‘HORRIBLE SONGS FOR CHILDREN’ in the USA-based Children’s Web Awards. The cover depicted star of the show Fatcat doing a handstand on the head of pin.  The pin skewered long- suffering Fishface to the ground. Half of the award organisers found this image offensive, and wanted to ban us for this alone (they were probably more twitchy than usual because of recent school killings in the USA). They consulted New Zealander Arif Usmani (who produced ‘The Aunties’).  He sensibly said that many New Zealanders found American children’s music offensive because it was so saccharine. Thank you Arif.
So the organisers dubbed off copies of the CD without the cover and, lo and behold, the judges (who in this instance were actual children, which was why we had entered these awards in the first place) named Fatcat & Fishface ‘Best New Artist for Older Children’.  The adult organisers said, “We all thought NZ was a conservative place.  Boy, did we learn something!”  Of course, we were oblivious to all this until months later. 
My personal theory is that people either have a sense of humour or they don’t.  And children are people. We make the music that comes easily to us, and in our case, that music is inventive, theatrical, and a bit edgy.  That’s why children and adults like it.  And possibly why many gatekeepers do not.
Have a happy day!

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