The singer turned TV personality is back with a new show and she's doing what she does best: talking to people.
This story was originally published on The Spinoff
If you asked many of the questions that The Hits drive host Anika Moa has asked in interviews over the past few years, the most common response would probably be a left hook directly to your chin.
Here is a sample of the questions she asks a very game Mikey Havoc on the second episode of her new show, Anika Moa Reunited:
"Were you stealing mum's mascara?"
"Was releasing a number one single a good leg opener?"
"Were you getting enough sleep?" (She rolls her eyes after that one, definitely a producer question.)
"Did you have throuples?"
The most remarkable thing about Moa isn't that she asks these questions. Anybody can ask questions that cross the line. What's remarkable is that her interviewees actually answer them.
When I interviewed Moa over the phone last week, I was intimidated. Because, as I've said before, I think she's the best interviewer we've got. A personal case in point: towards the end of our interview, Moa flipped the script on me. She asked me a question that I've answered a million times, a question about my stutter. Usually I'd roll my eyes, especially given the safety of being on the other end of the phone line. But my guard was down, so I answered her enthusiastically, at length, with no reticence.
I'd been Moa'd.
Moa admits she wouldn't want to be in her own interviewee chair. "If someone wanted to ask me to do the show, I'd probably say no. I don't want to relive my music, I'm happy with it being in the past."
Moa's past is a unique one, as is her career trajectory. In less than two decades, she's gone from acclaimed but somewhat niche songwriter (Youthful still goes hard, by the way) to genuine musical institution, before somehow ending up as a beloved television personality, with several shows under her belt and a headline-making stint on Seven Sharp.
Her first TV show, following a video series with the NZ Herald, was All Talk with Anika Moa, interviewing prominent New Zealanders, a format that all her shows have since followed. From the first episode, with Real Housewives Gilda Kirkpatrick (Yikes) and Anne Batley Burton (lower case yikes), her no-bull**** persona was well established. The very first question was about the Julia Sloane n-word incident, which her guests received about as warmly as a chilled boxed wine.
There's one common theme that runs throughout her interviews: if there's an elephant in the room during an interview, Moa will be the one to point it out, then laugh at it. She'll literally call Paula Bennett "Paula Benefit" to her face, an incredible moment from her second show, Anika Moa Unleashed.
That show revolved around a simple concept: Put Moa in a room with a famous person. Comedy, and uncomfortable truths, will ensue. If you want to see Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – usually as unflappable as a locked door – momentarily drop her placid mask, I'd recommend that interview.
That kind of chutzpah isn't all a front, but there's a little bit of a performance in there. "Even if I'm going out to a play or a pub, I actually do love learning about people and getting them to open up to me. I'm inquisitive, I like to get the truth out of people, their own truth, not just their PR truth."
It's hardly surprising that the powers-that-be at TVNZ commissioned her Anika Moa Reunited: the TrueBliss episode of Anika Moa Unleashed – the girl band's first interview since they broke up in 2000 (although they briefly reformed in 2012) – was one of the TV highlights of 2019. It helps that TrueBliss (sans Carly Binding) are great television talent – kudos to the producers who put them together 20 years ago – but the real star of the episode is Moa. Through sheer force of charisma, she not only gets the former popstars to open up about some genuinely dark stuff, she gets them to perform together. It's a triumph of television.
Which brings us to Reunited, which brings a tighter focus for Moa: She's not interviewing just any famous people who cross her path, she's interviewing musicians. Again, it's a simple concept: Put Moa in a room with a musician, then get Moa to sing that musician's biggest hit with them. The difference here is how Moa handles her guests: she's a lot more gentle than in the past. It's not that her questions are any less penetrating, but she's asking them with more care.
"Musicians are so hard to get to talk properly about themselves. That's because their music is them opening up, so when you interview them, they don't wanna talk about ****," Moa says.
"But I think I got a good balance of them being cagey and them talking about ****."
The second episode of Reunited shows both sides of the coin: Moa interviews someone she knows well, Julia Deans, and someone she doesn't, Havoc.
"Because me and Julia Deans are like best friends, I can't actually get away with a lot of ****. Because she knows me, and so I had to tone myself down with her. We did have a few laughs but I was also very respectful because I know her boundaries.
"Whereas with someone like Mikey Havoc, I don't know his boundaries so I can go and ask sex questions and drug questions, and then he'll give me his boundaries and we can go from there."
Another reason why she's so good is that she's been on the receiving end of bad interviewers before. She's done the hard yards. "I've been a musician for so long and I've had interviews with people where I've gone, 'Oh, **** this.' Someone in Australia asked me, 'Do you play your music while you're making love?' And I was just like, that is the most stupidest ****ing thing I've ever heard."
So even when Moa asked me a question that I'd been asked a million times before, it was different. And it clicked for me: she's not our best interviewer just because she pushes boundaries, because she asks what we're all thinking, and is funny as hell. She's our best interviewer because she actually wants to know the answers.
• Anika Moa Reunited starts today on TVNZ on Demand. Episodes drop weekly on Fridays.