This summer we look back at some of the best stories of the year. This one, Siena Yates' interview with the irrepressible Anika Moa, was first published in September.

At 18 years old, a girl stood barefoot in front of powerful men who promised her the world - if she could just show some more skin.

Fresh out of high school, Anika Moa was moments away from an international record deal with Atlantic, one of the biggest labels in America. She was staring stardom in the face.

"The f***ed-up thing is, as soon as they sign you, they want to change you," she says. "That's when shit gets real. They mean business and that's all you are to them."

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The label wanted a particular kind of photo on Moa's album cover - "one with me showing my belly button".

They wanted a "Barbie version" of the singer, and "it just got to a point where I wasn't comfortable with who they wanted me to be, so I had to step back from it," she says.

I assume it must have been hard to let that dream go, but she's quick to correct me.

"No it's not. Because there's no point in not being your authentic self - otherwise what's the point in being alive? I never had a dream beyond being a good songwriter, I wasn't Britney or TayTay ... I was happiest doing what I wanted, being how I wanted."

Twenty years later, that mindset has never once let up, even as Moa branched out of music to the world of television with her shows All Talk and Unleashed, and a recurring guest co-host spot on Seven Sharp.

She admits these new ventures have been scary but as unsure as she's been about anything in life, "The one thing I've always known was that if you try and tell me what to do, I will go the other way. I will not do what you want, I will do what I want. Me. That's always been the case."

It hasn't always been easy, especially as a solo female artist in a male-dominated industry.

"You'd go into a meeting and it's all men around the table and then there's me. Literally, I was wallpaper," she says.

They would make plans for her as if she wasn't there and when she did speak up, "They looked at me like I was stupid." At 24 years old she told her team she wanted to promote her song In The Morning, which was about an abortion she had when she was 20. She was instantly told no.

Anika Moa learned from a young age to stand up for herself and never back down. Photo / Supplied
Anika Moa learned from a young age to stand up for herself and never back down. Photo / Supplied

"F*** mate, it was like tumbleweed. I was like, 'Well, why not? A lot of women have them.' But they were very persistent about me not talking about it."

She was met with the same resistance when she came out as gay and people tried to tell her to stay closeted lest it "hurt her album sales".

The thing is, Moa's raw honesty has always been her greatest asset and that authenticity is what drew Atlantic Records to her in the first place.

Her upcoming album - due for release on October 5 - is all about struggle and vulnerability and not only is it what fans want, it's what Moa needs.

"I've been vulnerable - vulnerable in trying to get pregnant, in a new marriage, with my children getting older - so I've been having to get shit out and the only way I can do that is to write music. It was the same when I was 15 and it's the same now I'm 38.

"I struggle. F***, every second of the day I struggle, but it's nice to realise it and get it off your chest and then move on."

So as you'd imagine, she flipped a metaphorical - and quite probably literal - middle finger and did everything they told her she couldn't. Like she says about the criticisms she regularly gets from appearing on Seven Sharp; "It just propels me forward".

"The more people I know that hate who I am, the more I'm going to be myself. The more open I'm gonna be, the more gay I'm gonna be - you're just throwing fuel into the fire. I'm never gonna change, if you don't like it, f*** off," she says.

That's what's always fuelled her music and it's why she's created her own show, Anika Moa: Unleashed, in which she interviews celebrities and notable Kiwis in her own uniquely hilarious style.

The show's popularity has grown so much it's taken her from an online-only series to a primetime slot on TVNZ1.

"They're gonna put me on the side of bus shelters and shit ... that's so shame," she laughs. "But it's awesome for women - for women doing their own thing like Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek, Funny Girls; we're all starting this trend and it's not gonna stop. This is just the start."

But when I ask her how she feels about her status as a role model, she kind of folds in on herself and laughs bashfully.

"I just want to be a good mother first, that's all I want to do - I want to teach [her sons] good values."

That said, she did recently get a message from someone thanking her, because her representation on TV helped that fan's family to accept their sexuality.

"That's f***ed up, and that's just one person; I've had lots of people saying, 'Thank God you're on TV and making it normal.' I mean, people should be accepted anyway, you know? But if I can help that a little bit, that's great."

Which woman was Moa's biggest influence?

"I'll always say it's Bic Runga. I grew up listening to her music and I saw the way she navigated the music industry. She was so strong and so confident and knew what she wanted most of all.

"I had her cassette tape for Drive. Me and my best friend Jess would go right out to McLeans Island and we would listen to her cassette, over and over. I just remember hearing that line, 'rainfall from concrete-coloured skies' and I could just imagine rain falling from a real overcast, beautiful cloudy sky - she put the pictures in my head.

"And it was like, "Wow she's from Christchurch and she can write like that, she's one of us.' Just watching her doing music man, it was so inspiring. She's the bomb."