From 1995 to 1997, the single “How Bizarre” slowly made its way from the airwaves of New Zealand to TVs and radios across America, Europe, and beyond. Performed by an artist who called himself OMC, “How Bizarre” was the ultimate recipe for 90s pop deliciousness, featuring acoustic guitars fused with hip-hop loops, mariachi-style horns, conversational rapping, and an indelible, upbeat chorus. Yet after the success of his first major single, OMC largely faded into obscurity.
Now, decades after the song’s release, “How Bizarre” is a hit once again, thanks to TikTok creators. Countless videos cleverly incorporate the song’s lyrics – from awkward conversations and “coincidences” to flat-out hilarity – while the #HowBizarre hashtag has generated billions of views.
The videos span generations, from a grandmother who squanders away her late husband’s savings at Bingo, to a woman who finds her missing skirt in her son’s room and a guy who keeps getting promotional emails about engagement rings.
While the song is resonating with a new fanbase, the story of “How Bizarre,” and its artist, is equally remarkable.
Tapping into the Urban Pacifika sound
OMC was the pseudonym of Pauly Fuemana, a New Zealand artist of Pacific Island descent. He grew up in Otara, a working-class suburb of Auckland, where he and his siblings were all involved in music. His sister was a talented R&B singer, while his older brother, Phil, was a fixture in the local scene, beginning in the 80s.
A producer and musician, Phil drew from his Pacific Island and Māori (the indigenous Polynesian culture of mainland New Zealand) heritage, to create the Urban Pasifika sound, which fuses Polynesian instrumentation with American elements of hip-hop and R&B.
In the early 90s, Phil, Pauly, and several collaborators recorded the track “We R The OMC” for a compilation that showcased the rising Urban Pasifika sound. The band came up with the name Otara Millionaires Club as a tongue-in-cheek (and soon-to-be-prophetic) ode to their hometown. While the group disbanded shortly thereafter, Pauly retained the group’s name, shortening it to OMC. He enlisted the compilation’s producer, Alan Jansson (known for his work in the 80s Kiwi synth-pop group, Body Electric), to help him write and record new material.
Taking a gamble
Their first track together was “How Bizarre,” a quirky pop tune in which Pauly raps about a brush with the police. Jansson enlisted singer Sina Saipaia (formerly of the Auckland hip-house group Sistermatic) to harmonize with Pauly on the chorus and added a variety of instrumentation, including an accordion and trumpet. The underlying guitar track, meanwhile, offered a distinctly Māori flavor to the song.
Jansson then connected Pauly to New Zealand music impresario Simon Grigg, who released “How Bizarre” on his huh! label in December 1995. It was a gamble that paid off tenfold. Grigg attributed the song’s success to its distinct urban Pacific sound:
“It’s the classic Kiwi strum meets punk rock meets disco meets a South Pacific beach party meets classic soul meets reggae and everything in between.”
With its refreshingly eclectic sound, the song became an instant hit in New Zealand, reaching No.1 in early 1996. Over the year, the single spread around the globe, hitting No.1 in Australia and Canada, landing in the Top Five in the U.K. and across Europe, and eventually making its way to the U.S., where it topped the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 chart in August 1997 (according to Billboard rules at the time, the song was ineligible for the Hot 100, as it was never released as a single in America).
A global sensation
OMC was a fixture on TV screens around the world, making appearances on the Top of the Pops, MTV, and beyond. The song’s music video – which featured a sharply-dressed Pauly, Saipaia, and a stand-in for “Brother Pele” driving around in a 1968 Chevy Impala and dancing in clubs – was also in heavy rotation.
Pauly and Jansson continued to record after the success of “How Bizarre,” and released their sole album of the same name in the fall of 1996. How Bizarre was a Top 5 hit in New Zealand and certified Gold in the U.S. Though the duo scored several follow-up hits including “Right On,” “On the Run,” and the 2007 single, “4 All Of Us,” featuring guest vocalist Lucy Lawless (a.k.a. Xena Warrior Princess) – OMC solidly remained in “One Hit Wonder” territory.
Sadly, both brothers have since passed, but their legacy lives on. Following Pauly’s death in 2010, “How Bizarre” re-entered the New Zealand charts, as a new generation of fans discovered the irresistible tune.
Over two decades on, “How Bizarre” remains one of the highest-selling pop songs of all time to be recorded by a New Zealand artist in their home country, while the single has introduced millions of global listeners to the Fuemana’s distinct Urban Pacifika sound.