The New Zealand Listener’s music reviews were originally confined to classical music, but by the 1950s included jazz. Ray Harris was the principal jazz reviewer for over 40 years. In the early 1960s the Listener’s engagement with rock ’n’ roll was confined to brief chatty articles about ‘pop’ stars. By the late 1960s the Listener had a regular column, ‘Sound Round’, written by performer Ray Columbus. Gordon Campbell’s serious column ‘Rock’ on overseas music lasted from the early 1970s until 1985. In the early ’80s Frank Stark’s ‘Sound Check’ documented the emerging New Zealand scene.
Over this period, newspapers began to attempt to review modern music. Playdate (1960–72), a magazine aimed at a youth audience, expanded from reviewing films to covering popular music. The most significant development in criticism was the rise of specialist music magazines such as Rip It Up, focused on serious criticism of rock music.
In the early 1980s dancer and choreographer Liong Xi noticed the paucity of dance reviews in New Zealand newspapers. He told Mike Nicolaidi, chief reporter for the Evening Post, ‘You must appoint a dance critic. You can’t just keep sending the music critic along to review the ballet.’1 The Evening Post appointed Jennifer Shennan as dance critic. She was still doing that job, for the Dominion Post and online, in the 2010s.
Radio has proved a major source of reviewing in New Zealand. Book reviews have been a prominent feature on Radio New Zealand National (formerly the National Programme) since the 1960s. William Dart’s New horizons, on Radio New Zealand Concert, began reviewing a range of popular music in 1980 and was still going in 2020. Dart was also a reviewer of classical music on the radio and in print. In the 2010s Radio New Zealand National had daily book review programmes, a weekend arts review programme, a film review programme, and a range of music review programmes. Regular reviewers included Kate Camp and Kate De Goldi (books), Simon Morris (movies), and Nick Bollinger and Nick Atkinson (music).
While television programmes have become a topic for serious review in other media, New Zealand television has provided few programmes devoted to criticism. The small range of programmes included the 1990s art show Backch@t with Chris Knox as movie reviewer, the book review programmes The book show and The good word with Emily Perkins, and Hamish Keith’s documentary series reviewing New Zealand’s art history, The big picture.
Newspapers have continued to be a major source of reviews for television programmes, films and live music. The coverage of books and arts in the daily papers declined during the 2000s, but weekend papers reviewed films, music and literature.
Magazines and journals
Magazines such as New Zealand Listener and Landfall remained important vehicles for reviewing. From the 1980s they were joined by newer magazines such as Metro, which included Michael King among its reviewers. A range of specialist magazines and journals also emerged from the 1960s onwards. The quarterly New Zealand Books, founded in 1993, was devoted to reviewing the full range of New Zealand literature. Journals such as Poetry NZ and JAAM included poetry reviews. The New Zealand Journal of History had a regular section devoted to the review of history in books and (more recently) other media. The magazines Art New Zealand and Art News New Zealand provided a wide range of art reviews. DANZ Quarterly reviewed dance performances.
Apirana Ngata’s 1928 introduction to the traditional song collection Ngā moteatea provided a critical overview of Māori song and poetry. The Department of Māori Affairs magazine Te Ao Hou (1952–75) published reviews of books and music. Book reviewers included J. C. Sturm, Kīngi Īhaka, Kāterina Mataira and Koro Dewes. Music critic Alan Armstrong reviewed a wide range of Māori music, much of which received no coverage in other media.
In the 2000s Mana magazine had regular reviews of Māori-related books and music, while Paul Diamond was a noted reviewer in the New Zealand Listener and other publications. The journal Te Pouhere Kōrero reviewed a range of publications and productions on Māori history.
Websites have become an increasingly important platform for criticism and reviews. In the early 2010s book-review sites included the Scoop Review of Books, Beattie’s Book Blog and Landfall Review Online. Film-review sites included ViewAuckland’s cinema page and Letterboxd (an international site), on which filmgoers provided their own reviews. The Rip It Up website reviewed music, and Theatreview was partly dedicated to reviewing live performances.
EyeContact discussed art and visual culture; 13th Floor reviewed music, film and art; and the online journal Lumière Reader reviewed films, books, the arts and drama. Fairfax Media’s Stuff news website included reviews of a range of art forms.