It’s the season to look back and reflect on the year that was, including our personal soundtracks for 2023. Last week Spotify Wrapped and Apple Music Replay both dropped, with the algorithms calculating our listening preferences and personalities (and sound towns; shout out to fellow Berkeleys) – a reminder, for many, of how important music and podcasts have been this year, whether as a coping mechanism or way to celebrate (or disassociate…).
Like most industries in 2023, music was in a constant state of chaos. Locally, there was plenty of reflecting on the challenged state of the music business and music journalism. Internationally, TikTok’s influence on the charts became omnipresent, as did Beyoncé and Taylor Swift’s dominance on music, movies, media and pop culture.
There were endless new releases (André 3000, Olivia Rodrigo, Boygenius and Kylie Minogue all returned with new albums) but old music continued its reign, with the popularity of sped-up versions helping old songs re-enter the charts while shaping the listening habits of Gen Z.
As the year comes to a close, we wanted to get a sense of the listening habits of a few friends of Ensemble with very good taste in music and podcasts – they share their year in sound, below.
*We’ll be releasing our annual An Ensemble Summer playlist soon - follow us on Spotify here.
Johanna Cosgrove, actor, writer, comedian and podcast host
The charismatic comedian and co-host of podcast Rats in the Gutter had a big year, performing her comedy show Hi, Delusion in May (with a fabulous on-stage wardrobe to match), and, in November, as part of the farewell show for Snort.
My most played song of 2023… Too Much by Carly Rae Jepsen. Not ONLY is it perfect pop princess poetry but it’s also a certified HIT (as deemed by me and whoever was doing the music design for Normal People).
I spent hours of my 2023 stomping around to this song and on every single listen I felt empowered to pop the splits in the middle of the international/sauce aisle at Countdown/Woolworths.
My most played artist was… according to the cold-hard statistics, I spent hours slurping up whatever Olivia Rodrigo was serving me. Is it indicative of my mental health that I listened to a 20-year-old belt break up bangers on repeat for literal days? Only you can be the judge! In saying that, both Guts and Sour are nuanced, fun and gorgeous (and who cares about the copyright infringement lawsuits they incited?).
Best new, or newly discovered, artist of 2023… Okay, it’s not a new song but my favourite discovery this year was Pink Frost by The Chills.
It’s one of those melancholy quiet masterpieces that lingered on the edge of my bucolic childhood subconscious and was brought front and centre when a friend sent it to me. The Chills promptly followed me on Instagram (brag!).
My favourite album released this year… Wet by Dick Move. Not only is the album cover the hottest thing I’ve ever seen (shout out to Lucy Suttor you magnificent knock-out!) but the titular song is a slick and furious fuck you to landlords which is...*Avril Lavigne voice* legit punk.
The album I played the most this year… For the fourth consecutive year that honour goes to Remind Me Tomorrow by Sharon Van Etten! Honestly, no matter how many times I listen, this album breaks my whole heart and somehow also puts the pieces back together. If you are reading this Sharon Van Etten – I adore you and you are sent from literal heaven.
My self-described ‘listening personality’ for 2023 was… Nostalgic girly pop. I’m 31 and will be making no further comments on this!!!
The podcast I listened to religiously… Rats in the Gutter, the podcast that I co-host with Samuel Te Kani. This was mainly for practical reasons (it’s called editing sweetie!).
After several desperate failed attempts to get into girl boss finance shows, I returned to my core top faves: Seek Treatment (Cat Cohen and Pat Reagan), Maintenance Phase (Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes), Off-Menu (Ed Gamble and James Acaster) and BBC’s You’re Dead To Me. Upon reflection, the variety of this selection is pure chaos but that’s life, baby!
The TikTok ‘sound’ that defined 2023… As someone who Refuses To Be On Tik Tok I hate weighing in on something I’m inevitably four months late for. The first response would be Water by Tyla and the second response would be a deeply cursed Harry Potter club remix. If you disagree – blame the algorithm.
Old song or album that I played on repeat this year… K by the Tutts. This has never left my top 20 rotation. In my mind I’m still 15, running through Frank Kitts Park on the Wellington waterfront in a school skirt and ripped tights “feeling things”.
My not-guilty pleasure song or album… Bejeweled by Taylor Swift. When I say I had this on REPEAT for three solid weeks to stave off the inevitable break-down only a solo show in an international comedy festival can bring, you best believe me!
One of my most profound musical experiences of the year was going to see Taylor’s filmed The Eras Tour at Rialto Newmarket - I cried, I danced, I held hands and swapped bracelets with teenage girls, I spilled popcorn all over the floor and I watched Miss Billionaire Swift herself do the most elite quick changes known to man. 10/10 no notes.
If my year had an album or song title, it would be… Get It Together Bitch, You Are Amazing and Will Be Rich and Famous One Day So Don’t Give Up on Your Dreams and Also You Are Hot and Also Men Are Disappointing But Maybe Just Enjoy Hanging Out With Your Friends for Now and Drink More Water As Well (Taylor’s Version).
Any other 2023 ‘sound’ or audio shoutout you’d like to give? Fast Slow Disco by St Vincent and Good Morning Baby (the live version with Bic Runga, Dave Dobbyn and Tim Finn).
These songs are both flawless all-rounders. They have been the soundtrack to my best and worst ideas, my heartaches, my hangovers and my successes. They’ve been in the background of shrieking wine-soaked laughter with girlfriends, on the UE Boom as I hoon to a beach in West Auckland in my shitty station wagon or in my headphones nervously lining up for a very early, very budget international flight.
Quite frankly, I love these songs and I love that I can keep them with me. Thanks, St Vincent, Thanks Bic, Tim and Dobbo and thanks Spotify Premium.
Tory Whanau, mayor of Wellington Pōneke
My most played song of 2023… People by Libianca. It’s great to listen for sure, but the lyrics have really resonated at times.
My most played artist was… This may sound basic but I’m a huge Dua Lipa fan so have had Dua Lipa (Deluxe) and Future Nostalgia on repeat for the last two years – especially since her NZ concert.
Shout out to Kings and Shapeshifter though. 2023 delivered the best Homegrown concert yet.
Best new, or newly discovered, artist of 2023… I’m not sure how new they are as I haven’t really updated my musical taste since I got into politics, but I’ve started listening to Ayra Starr. But I’m into older music, to be honest.
My favourite album released this year… You’ll start to see a theme here, but I seem to be on 2021 albums still. So, Something to Feel by Teeks. He’s just soooooo good.
The album I played the most this year… Definitely Future Nostalgia. Great vibes.
My self-described ‘listening personality’ for 2023 was… The Replayer. I’m loyal to my artists and definitely listen to music for comfort and familiarity (understandable in my unpredictable role).
The podcast I listened to religiously… I don’t do podcasts but I’m obsessed with True Crime TikToks at the moment (and #cleantok).
The TikTok ‘sound’ that defined 2023… Surprise Surprise.
Old song or album that I played on repeat this year… Crazy, Sexy, Cool by TLC, plus a little No Scrubs. Frank Ocean and Miguel too.
My not-guilty pleasure song or album… Don’t judge: A Legendary Christmas by John Legend. Christmas, jazz and RnB vibes. Perfection.
If my year had an album or song title, it would be… Let Me Live by Major Lazer and Rudimental.
Any other 2023 ‘sound’ or audio shoutout you’d like to give? All of our wonderful Kiwi artists out there.
Kate Sylvester, fashion designer
The designer celebrated 30 years of her brand with a retrospective show at NZ Fashion Week: Kahuria – which also featured a replay of songs that had played at previous shows, like Down in Splendour by Straitjacket Fits and Seventeen by Ladytron. She and partner Wayne Conway are known for their show soundtracks and genuine love of music.
My most played song of 2023… I spent a lot of very precious time this year sitting with my mother as she endured the last devastating stages of dementia and, thankfully she was finally released. I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash brought both of us so much comfort, and for me still does because I know its ‘bright bright sunshiny days’ for Mum now. Music is incredibly powerful for healing.
My most played artist was… I went to a Big Thief gig last year and they blew my mind. So this year has been spent discovering their entire back catalogue. Favourite song is Shark Smile and most played album is Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You. It’s beautiful music that is poignant and uplifting at the same time.
Best new, or newly discovered, artist of 2023… Erny Belle is my new discovery, she writes very powerful, unique songs and she’s a Kiwi! Her album Not Your Cupid is my favourite album released this year.
My self-described ‘listening personality’ for 2023 was… Fragile, retrospective but hopeful.
The podcast I listened to religiously… Podcasts aren’t music so I’m giving you my most played playlist – Gym Bunny which keeps me going to the gym. Highlights include Loose by Iggy Pop, Everyone’s a winner by Hot Chocolate, Buffalo Stance by Neneh Cherry. It’s eclectic and makes me smile.
Old song or album that I played on repeat this year… I have had a very nostalgic return to The Strokes this year. We included a cover of The End Has No End in our beautiful 30 year retrospective show. Then I saw the gorgeous documentary Meet Me In The Bathroom, a snapshot of the very exciting music scene in early 2000s New York featuring the Strokes. I have 20 years of very happy memories soundtracked by this band and their glorious, anarchic songs.
If my year had an album or song title, it would be… I Can See Clearly Now.
Lyric Waiwiri-Smith, Stuff reporter
A reporter with Stuff’s national news team, with a specialty in pop culture reporting. She is a part of the 0.5% of Taylor Swift listeners on Spotify.
My most played song of 2023… The song Spotify informs me is my most listened to is too cringe for me to openly admit on Ensemble, so I’ll talk about my second: Gorilla, by Little Simz.
We all need a hype anthem, and this was my “every superhero needs his theme music” song.
Little Simz, genuinely, is one of the best rappers around right now - she’s a true lyricist and artist, and you need to go to Spotify and listen to Sometimes I Might Be Introvert immediately.
My most played artist was… Could you guess? Of course it’s Taylor Swift! She has been my top Spotify artist every year since she put her music back on the platform.
I find it so hard to express my immense, never-ending love for Taylor, so I’ll let this famous Oprah quote on Gayle King do the talking: “She is the mother I never had, she is the sister everyone would want. She is the friend that everybody deserves. I don’t know a better person.”
Best new, or newly discovered, artist of 2023… Kae Tempest, after seeing them perform at Splore.
I remember having the most terrible day and just waiting for Kae to perform so I could go to sleep, but their performance brought me into a real catharsis - I didn’t realise it would hit me so hard.
My favourite album released this year… Javelin by Sufjan Stevens. That shit hurted!
The album I played the most this year… Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, by Big Thief.
The song I listened to most on that album this year was Certainty; I loved these lyrics: “My certainty is wild, weaving/For you, I am a child, believing.”
I love their music because it’s really sung poetry accompanied by beautiful instruments - my friend and I have a theory that when you listen to music, you’re either most focused on the instruments, or the lyrics. Ironically, I am a lyrics person.
My self-described ‘listening personality’ for 2023 was… According to my personally made Spotify “daylist”, my listening vibes are “intimate and angelic, “dreamy”, “whimsical”, “floaty”, and “melancholy”.
The podcast I listened to religiously… Quite literally: Ram Dass, Here and Now.
The TikTok ‘sound’ that defined 2023… I was very much mesmerised by those videos of Blue Ivy dancing to My Power on the Renaissance World Tour.
Old song or album that I played on repeat this year… Amelia by Joni Mitchell. At the time of writing, it has been 668 days since Joni Mitchell left Spotify, and the hole in my heart is as big as ever.
Luckily, I’ve got a slightly beat up Hejira vinyl and access to YouTube. Not so lucky is the heartbreak that prompted me to listen to this song over, and over, and over.
This part always makes my breath hitch: “So this is how I hide the hurt/As the road leads, cursed and charmed/I tell Amelia, it was just a false alarm.”
If my year had an album or song title, it would be… Stoned at the Nail Salon.
Any other 2023 ‘sound’ or audio shoutout you’d like to give? Can I just shout out my mate’s band? Big love to Mull Brain.
Erny Belle, musician
Tāmaki Makaurau-based musician Aimee Renata performs under the moniker Erny Belle, and released her new album Not Your Cupid via Flying Nun in November. On December 8 she’ll perform the album at Auckland's Wintergarden at The Civic, and will take to the stage on February 6 at Laneway festival.
My most played song of 2023… Come to Me by Bjork. It’s just epic and lush and sexy as hell.
My most played artist was… Lana Del Rey! Did You Know That There's a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd – I love Let the Light in featuring Father John Misty.
Best new, or newly discovered, artist of 2023… Nik Brinkman – listen to Candy, over and over.
My favourite album released this year… Desire, I Want to Turn Into You by Caroline Polachek. She is the queen.
The album I played the most this year… Buena Vista Social Club. I got it on vinyl and it’s my fave cooking music, haha.
My self-described ‘listening personality’ for 2023 was… Chaos and harmony.
The podcast I listened to religiously… The Root of Evil! What a mad story.
The TikTok ‘sound’ that defined 2023… I don’t do TikToks.
Old song or album that I played on repeat this year… The Dixie Cups’ I’m Gonna Get You Yet.
My not-guilty pleasure song or album… One of your Girls by Troye Sivan; hot, hot, hot.
If my year had an album or song title, it would be… Finding peace in debt.
Any other 2023 ‘sound’ or audio shoutout you’d like to give? Shout out Tiare Kelly who is doing amazing film composing/score work.