Sway (B Runga) – Bic Runga 1998
Briolette Kah Bic Runga was born in Christchurch, New Zealand to Maori/Chinese parents in 1976, she sang with her two siblings and made several records including an EP version of what would become her debut album Drive.
Signed to Sony Music in 1995 she had relocated to Auckland and entered the recording studio to put down the final mix of demo songs from the EP that Runga had submitted, using different arrangements and orchestration to achieve a richer more professional sound.
The single Drive was released in 1996 and was a top ten hit in NZ, picking up the APRA Silver Scroll award for Song of the Year there, her follow up Bursting Through, released the year after was also a top ten hit and the success of these singles led to the release of her debut album, also entitled Drive, in 1997 and the first single lifted from it was the beguiling romantic pop of Sway.
Runga recalls writing the song on the front porch of a rented flat in Auckland in 1995 when she was nineteen, the inspiration for the title was seeing the word “sway” graffitied on a bridge and musing on how the graffiti artist had managed to dangle from the structure to write the word and the significance it was meant to convey.
Sway is essentially a lover’s lament which captures the angst and uncertainty experienced by a girl when the object of her affections is unresponsive and neglectful “Say you’ll stay/ Don’t come and go/ Like you do”
Musically the song is simple, almost sparse, Runga is a multi-instrumentalist and plays to her strengths here using acoustic and electric guitar and percussion with the addition of violin, which is particularly effective at the outro to the song.
But the impressive instrument on display here is Bic Runga’s angelic vocals, her honeyed, sinuous voice literally twists and shimmers intimately around the lyrics, imbuing them with an emotional honesty and endearing naivety.
She has been compared to Tori Amos, Norah Jones, Tanita Tikaram and Sarah McLaughlin and there is also a vulnerability about Runga’s vocal interpretation that is reminiscent of Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn, released the year before.
Bic Runga is rightly revered as an original singer-songwriter of great significance in her homeland and has multiple album and single success to her credit there.
Sway was #7 hit in NZ and charted at #10 in Australia, it was featured on the soundtrack of the teen movie American Pie in 1999 and the follow-up American Reunion in 2012.