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Kimbra during an interview at the New Zealand pavilion at the Expo 2020 Dubai on November 8, 2021. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

The opening notes of the song ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ are arguably some of the most recognisable if you’re a millennial. The 2012 track written and sung by Belgian-Australian singer-songwriter Gotye and featuring New Zealand star Kimbra was a runaway hit, propelling both artists onto a global stage.

It topped the charts in the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand, as well as 22 other charts. Gotye and Kimbra won two Grammy awards for the song — Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance — making her only the third New Zealand star to win a Grammy. No one could have expected the virality of the track, not even the singers themselves.

Kimbra and Gotye arrive at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center on February 10, 2013 in Los Angeles. Image Credit: Shutterstock

“This was a song that made you wait two damn minutes before the chorus hit... I think it’s what’s cool about this song, it was kind of organic, people really were sharing it in the space, it wasn’t manufactured by a record label,” Kimbra told Radio New Zealand in September. “I think the fans made it a hit, I think people online sharing that back and forth, and celebrities talking about it, I think that’s what created a buzz.”

Despite the accolades, by any estimation the song and its makers would be considered one-hit wonders today.

However, that hasn’t stopped Kimbra from doing her thing. She’s still writing and producing the music that she loves — a unique blend of soul, R’n’B, jazz and electronic music that she was able to showcase at the Dubai Millennium Amphitheatre at Expo 2020 Dubai — and she is currently on tour. On stage for the first time in Dubai on November 8, Kimbra was charismatic and animated, stunning audiences with goose bump-inducing songs that featured heavy beats and her big, soulful voice.

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Kimbra in Dubai. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Ahead of the first of two concerts at Expo 2020 Dubai, the 31-year-old star spoke to Gulf News at the New Zealand pavilion about those early days of fame and what she has planned for the future.

Welcome to Dubai. How has your time been so far?

It’s been amazing. Me and my band absolutely love Dubai. We think it’s a very exciting place for food, especially since we’re all really into food. We love the Expo... I’ve never really seen anything like it in my life. It’s just so impressive.

How does it feel to be here representing New Zealand?

It’s a really special thing to represent my country because I live in America currently and have been for 10 years now. I love to connect with my roots and show the world how amazing New Zealand is and how special we are as a culture.

New Zealand singer Kimbra performing at Expo 2020 Dubai on November 8
New Zealand singer Kimbra performing at Expo 2020 Dubai on November 8 Image Credit: Supplied

Speaking about culture of New Zealand... I don’t know if you’re on TikTok or social media, but people there are super interested in the indigenous culture of New Zealand. How do you feel about this social media trend about the traditional dances, etc?

Yeah, I don’t think people have seen anything like what we have in New Zealand in terms of the Maori culture. It’s such a big part of our dialogue as a country... we have not been perfect, but we have done a lot to try to integrate Maori traditions and culture into our daily life in New Zealand. We’re passionate about speaking the indigenous language and passionate about the land. The land is really central to Maori and it’s really great to see that people are taking interest in our culture because we are so proud of it. I think we have a lot to learn from our indigenous community, especially the art and the music that comes out of New Zealand. I think it’s very unique... I don’t know if people like have seen that represented much in the world. So it’s great that it’s getting a platform on social media.

I wanted to touch upon the song that you’re best known for — ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’. When it first kicked off all those years ago, how did you feel seeing it blow up all around the world?

Oh my gosh. It was just the craziest experience, like arriving in Heathrow Airport in London and thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m part of the number one song right now,’ and then friends in India sending me clips from being in a cab and they’re listening to the song. It was just so surreal, completely surreal, but also really exciting. I just feel very grateful that I got to be part of that. Not many people get to have that experience.

As the years have gone by you’ve become known for that. How did it impact your career and how do you want to present yourself now?

Well, it gave me a really great fan base... a fan base of people that really cared about interesting pop music. Now I’m really focused on my own material, my original material. That’s what I want to present to the world. And I think that song was the doorway for me to be able to speak to people. That’s the way I look at it.

So you have a new album coming out next year. Could you tell me a bit about what your fans can expect from the album in terms of musicality and the themes of the album?

I wrote a lot about the theme or the emotion of anger and conflict. Obviously there’s a lot to be angry about in our world and I actually think anger is a very important emotion if it’s harnessed in the right way. As a woman, we’re not really taught very much how to understand our own anger. It’s not as common for us to have representation of healthy anger. So I have explored that a lot on this record. What does it look like to have rage? How do I take rage and put it into protest? Put it into change, put it into transformation rather than destruction... there’s a lot of power on the record and there’s a lot of vulnerability as well.

You’re also on tour. How does it feel to be back onstage after a while due to the pandemic?

It’s amazing! I think eye contact is the thing that I’ve missed the most... having people look at me and singing my stories to them.

Don’t miss it!

Kimbra performs at the Dubai Millennium Amphitheatre, Expo 2020 Dubai, on November 10 at 8.30pm. It’s free to attend with an Expo pass.