You’re eight years old in the back seat of mum’s station wagon. She’s taking you to touch rugby practice and lovingly chain smoking in the front because it’s still legal in the early 2000s. “BUSTER, BUSTER, BUSTER,” you yell at your Nintendog. Buster can’t hear you over the Bic Runga blasting from her debut CD Drive. It’s the soundtrack to your childhood.
The search term “Mumcore” gets you no Google results, yet we all know what it is. Shania Twain, James Blunt, Fleetwood Mac, the national anthems of motherhood. A pregnant woman goes to the hospital and leaves with a bouncing baby and a complimentary Enya t-shirt. Her Spotify recommendations change forevermore.
How do you define mumcore? The basic interpretation is “songs that your mum likes”. There’s an easily identifiable mainstream, but subgenres differ from mum to mum. Some spicy mamas were the OG ‘80s punk rockers and others were pinging their antenatal tits off to Blue Monday. Many mumcore experiences are non-Western. Every mum is unique and special. (Mine’s the most special though. Love you Ren.)
Henessey Griffiths, Music Director and mumcore connoisseur at Radio One, illustrates mumcore as “essentially any song from the ‘60s-’80s that your mum would clean the house to very loudly on a Saturday morning. Like, your mum would be vacuuming and would try and get you to dance to Wuthering Heights with her.”
It’s a ubiquitous experience. Kate Bush is the patron saint of housekeeping -- my mum never vacuums without a wee boogie to Wuthering Heights. This sentimentality is the essence of mumcore. They’re songs that make me cry when I get too high at 3am and imagine them playing at her funeral.
Henessey holds mumcore close to her heart because it “evokes such a sense of nostalgia”. Resident son Oscar describes most mumcore as “seemingly average” with a “30% hit rate”, but “it’s the music my mum used to listen to, and my mum’s awesome.” Regardless of whether or not we actually enjoy it, every mumcore experience is personal, complicated mother-child relationships notwithstanding. It tends to feel like home. In the holy words of dame Kate Bush herself, mother stands for comfort.
There’s no point discussing mumcore without going straight to the source. I infiltrated the Mums of Dunedin Facebook page, and after lying through some screening questions about my nonexistent son Gavin, I asked Dunner’s yummy mummies for music recs. Here are their unfiltered top tracks:
"My mum LOVES ABBA"
"My mum anything REGGAE especially uncle Bob"
"My mum was a singer, i grew up listening to her sing Celine Dion, Shania Twain, meatloaf livin on a prayer ,karma chameloeon , and Mickey were family favourites every single Saturday night too
"Anything from the 80s was always my go to music when my kids were young, Queen,,Celine Deon,, Bon Jovi, Kiss (showing my age), Elton John etc but not so much there days just listen to whatevers on"
"Meatloaf or dr hook i now play it on my road trips and my kids are like wtf"
"I remember my mum cranking 'what's up - 4 non blondes' everytime she was doing the housework haha"
"Joni Mitchell, Phoebe Snow, Nancy Griffiths"
"The Beatles, Elton John, Traveling Wilburys, Dire Straites and heaps more!"
"boney m gold and suzanne prentice were our road trip staples with mum hahaha"
"I like pseudo echo, John Farnham, bon jovi, new kids on the block"
Personal memories, of roadtrips and driving to school and cleaning the house, are a big part of mumcore. That means mumcore is ever changing. Gen X mothers cite Nirvana and Tool, and younger mothers fawn over Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift. My own boomer mother says it’s “tied to the mum..cos I like 60s in the car to drive to and [80s] things I danced to as a student have to be super loud to dance to when doing chores”.
Kids in 2040 will listen to our top ten hits through their Elon Musk brain pods and smile, fondly remember iHoovering™ to WAP on a Saturday morning. Mother’s Day is coming up, so if you feel like it, crank up the jams. Clean your gross flat and enjoy a boogie to dad rock’s underestimated wife.
Let’s go, girls. (guitar riff)