TALK ABOUT BIZARRE. FOR A FEW weeks this summer, one of the biggest hits on American radio was an acoustic rap tune recorded by a New Zealand vocalist whose arms are decorated with tribal tattoos. What's more, "How Bizarre," Pauly Fuemana's commentary on life's everyday weirdness as seen from a cruising convertible, hit No. 1 in eight countries before it was released stateside in February.
"People all around the world say the song is about them," says Fuemana, who records under the name OMC (for Otara Millionaires Club, the ironic name of his original band in the poor South Auckland, N.Z., neighborhood of Otara). Born to a Maori mother and a father from the tiny Pacific isle of Niue, Fuemana—who says English is his third language—grew up in gang territory, where his mixed ancestry sometimes caused him trouble. "A lot of people shoved racist crap in my face," he says. He began playing drums at 10, eventually learning guitar, bass and keyboards too. After his rap group broke up in 1995, he took on their acronym for a solo career.
Fuemana, 28, has lately taken a shine to Southern California, an affection he expresses in his cover of Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." (on the soundtrack for the upcoming comedy film Bean). "I really do love L.A.," he says. "It has that Auckland feel, a really laid-back vibe."