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Liam Perkins

The Topp Twins

The Topp Twins – Musicians, Comedians, Activists.

The Topp Twins – Musicians, Comedians, Activists.

Lynda and Jools Topp, better known as the Topp Twins are a musical performing duo hailing from Huntly. The twin sisters, known for their eclectic[1]  sense of humour and musical style which incorporates yodelling and elements of country, originally got their start performing at gigs in Christchurch before becoming involved in the feminist movement in the late 1970s.[1]

Their musical style derives from a mix of old Australian yodel music from the 1930s, difficult to get a hold of when the twins were growing up in the small farming town of Huntly.[2] The Twins learned their singing and yodelling craft alongside horse riding and farming, adding to their earthy sense of style and humour.[3] Their feminist politics and sexuality, as well as their distinct sense of humour, have been a part of their performances since the late 1970s. Though they originally began performing musically as a duo, they expanded rapidly to include skits and other performances during their shows.[4] The Twins wrote and performed the track Freedom for the 1978 United Women’s Convention, demonstrating their second wave feminist consciousness and activism. Jools Topp stated in 1980 that “‘Freedom’ is a real fighting song, a powerful song. We only sing it when we’re doing a women’s concert or when there are other women on stage.”[5]

The Topp Twins performing in support of lesbian and gay rights. Source: Stuff. https://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/tv-radio/95592642/topp-twins-lives-laid-bare-on-the-walls-of-te-manawa

The song encompassed much of what second wave feminism was about in New Zealand in the late 1970s and 1980s, with the emphasis on women’s freedom and power to do anything.[6] The Twins also wrote songs that dealt explicitly with their lesbianism, such as Paradise, and other feminist anthems such as Sisterhood, which boldly stated “Bring all the ladies together/Bring ’em all together to be strong/We’ll give you something worth fighting for/We’ve been fighting for nothing too long/And it’s called sisterhood/Yes, it’s called sisterhood.”[7] Their country style music blended with their sense of humour has engaged audiences the world over, including in Australia, the UK, the US, and Canada. They have also forayed into television and often performed as a host of different characters in their performances, shifting “character, musical style and gender with ease.”[10] Their host of rotating characters and performances have included a range of satirized people from New Zealand culture, including urban/rural blokes, camping ground operators, ‘posh’ socialites, and bowling ladies.

A 2009 film, Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, told the story of the Twins life on their 50th birthdays. The film, “ Part concept film, part biopic, part historical record and part comedy”, directed by Leanne Pooley, shared the links between the Topp Twins’ personalities, activism, performances, and symbols of New Zealand culture, while displaying their wide range of characters and styles of performance.[11] The Topp Twins have won a range of accolades throughout their long career. In 2008 they were inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame, and in 2011 granted honorary doctorates from the University of Waikato. In 2018, Queen Elizabeth II made the Topp Twins Dame Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit for their services to entertainment.[12] The Topp Twins’ long-term success derives from their unique sense of humour, shifting characters and creativity, advocacy on a range of important social issues, and versatility in a wide variety of media.

The Topp Twins in character as Ken and Ken. Source: https://topptwins.com/pages/about-us

For the Topp Twins, moving around New Zealand and later the world provided thrilling opportunities to engage with a wide range of people and the chance to engage in feminist politics, particularly lesbian feminist politics, a strong issue in the late 1970s.[8] The Topp Twins’ artistry and politics have never been fully separated, and the twins were involved in a range of political causes, especially in the 1980s, including the Springbok Tour Protests, anti-nuclear NZ campaigns, and homosexual law reform. During the late 1990s, the Topp Twins moved into television programming with Do Not Adjust Your Twinset, which captivated audiences with its distinct mix of characters, which the Twins also performed as in live shows, and enabled them to reach a wide range of audiences outside of New Zealand. Do Not Adjust Your Twinset ran for three seasons, winning awards across New Zealand and Australia.[9]

The Topp Twins have made an undeniable impact on New Zealand media and their creative play with gender and sexuality in performance has normalized queer identities for the wider New Zealand public, especially in the 1980s when both the AIDS crisis and homosexual law reform were at their most contentious.[13 The Topp Twins are still active today, still performing and speaking out about a range of contemporary issues, including water rights and preservation, cancer issues, and leading in organizing events such as the Busker’s festival.


Liam Perkins

I’m Liam, I am 23, currently working on my MA project in US queer history in the 1970s.
I got involved with WHNZ to learn more about New Zealand history and contribute material to a database that would help others do so, as well as practice writing for different audiences. I really enjoy being able to learn and write about new topics on regular basis and helping others to do so.

Recommended Further Reading:

Bibliography:

Image Bibliography:
  1. The Topp Twins in the early 1980s. Source: RNZ https://www.rnz.co.nz/programmes/ours/story/2018647507/the-topp-twins-and-the-dolls
  2. The Topp Twins in the early 1980s. Source: RNZ https://www.rnz.co.nz/programmes/ours/story/2018647507/the-topp-twins-and-the-dolls
  3. The Topp Twins performing in support of lesbian and gay rights. Source: Stuff. https://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/tv-radio/95592642/topp-twins-lives-laid-bare-on-the-walls-of-te-manawa
  4. The Topp Twins in character as Ken and Ken. Source: https://topptwins.com/pages/about-us

Published: August 6th, 2021

Last modified: January 5th, 2022

Cite as: Tim McVicar, Connie Purdue – Activist and “Anti-Feminist”, Womens History of New Zealand, Last modified January 2022, https://womenshistorynz.com/connie-purdue/