Published by The Music Council of Australia
Golden generation. It’s an expression typically associated with, and overused by, sports fans. For the first time in more than a decade, the cliché has been thrust upon Australia’s current crop of elite musicians. Lars Brandle takes a wide-angle look at the last, big 12 months for Australian music.
5 Seconds of Summer, Iggy Azalea, Flume, Sia, Vance Joy. All of them resounding success stories over the past year. All are Australian. None are alike.
Make no mistake, a wave of Aussie artists are scoring abroad right now, with this famous five in the leading pack. And they’re filling their boots across the key metrics – record and ticket sales, streams and online chatter.
We’ve been here before, but what’s different is this class of Aussies isn’t built on rock. This time its pop-punk, rap, electronic, folk, it’s songwriting, bad-boy haircuts, and in the unique case of the veteran Sia, a desire to shun the spotlight (a move that’s having the opposite effect).
Australia’s music scene has rarely been lacking in talent, though in a good year no more than a small handful of homegrown acts typically get a shot at global success. Many of those who did enjoy a break have been too niche for the mainstream (the Saints, the Go-Betweens) or novelty (remember Joe Dulce’s “Shaddap You Face”?), some haven’t followed up on their early promise (Wolfmother) and others quit while they were ahead (Savage Garden).
This new crop is producing some staggering numbers.
The acronym 5SOS will have most folks over the age of 24 scratching their heads. Many teens, mostly girls, can’t help but scream the name. The Sydney four piece are arguable the hottest pop group on the planet right now, thanks in part to the power of YouTube, a mutually-beneficial tour with One Direction, and good hair. The group’s self-titled debut full-length album opened at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in late July, following the No. 2-peaking EP “She Looks So Perfect”. The EP reached No. 1 in the U.K., a first for an Australian group since Madison Avenue’s “Don’t Call Me Baby” back in 2000. “5 Seconds of Summer” also topped the albums charts in the U.K. and Australia.
Iggy Azalea, who was raised in Mullumbimby in northern NSW but raps with an American twang, put up a chart feat which hasn’t been seen since “Beatlemania” swept the States. Through May and June, Iggy held down the top two spots on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Fancy” featuring Charli XCX and as a guest on Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” respectively. “Fancy” held the top spot for 8 weeks. During that stretch, she became the first artist to simultaneously hold the top two slots with their first two Hot 100 entries since the Beatles did so back in February 1964 with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.
Questlove, the multi-talented Roots performer and executive producer of the new U.S. music show SoundClashshared the love in a July interview published in Time.
“I don’t think it’s any mistake that four or five of my favourite singers are from Australia. Like between Hiatus Kaiyote, there’s a bunch I can name for you right now, but I don’t think it’s a mistake that a lot of my favourite artists are coming from Down Under.” He singled out praise for Sia Furler, and showed solidarity for the under-fire Iggy, whose “Fancy” he described as a “game-changer” for hip-hop.
Sia is no stranger to hit-making. She’s written smashes for the biggest names in pop music in 2013, including Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, Rihanna and Katy Perry. In the U.S., she’s emerged as a bonafide star, even though the spotlight is her kryptonite. In May, she performed “Chandelier” on Ellen with her back to the audience. Two months later, she landed her first U.S. No. 1 with “1000 Forms of Fear,” her fourth studio album.
Vance Joy (real name James Keogh) scored a multi-album international deal with Atlantic Records in 2013. His hit “Riptide,” the top song on Triple J’s most recent Hottest 100 poll, cracked the top 10 in the U.K. in early 2014 and is opening doors for the Melbourne artist in the U.S. and Continental Europe. “Riptide” is now a worldwide million-seller. His debut album is on the way.
Flume’s story is just taking off. The electronic music wunderkind (otherwise known as Harley Streten) sold out three shows at New York City’s 3,000-capacity Terminal 5 in July, prompting one U.S.-based colleague to email this reporter “what is up with that guy Flume?” At just 22, Flume has emerged as one the brightest new names in clubland.
What lessons are there to learn from these winners? Well, each has toiled and without exception all the performers had a plan (and a solid support team of music biz personnel). Talent helps too. And luck has played its part. The role of Gotye shouldn’t be overlooked. Wally de Backer was the first pick of this so-called golden generation. When “Somebody That I Used To Know” rose to great heights in 2012, he took everyone by surprise. It was around that time, I received messages from colleagues and industry friends in the U.S. “Hey, this guy’s great. Who’s next?” was the gist of it (and yes, there was the obligatory “when did you guys get so good?” The natural response: “we’ve always been good, you just weren’t watching”). NYC-based Glassnote founder Daniel Glass called it the song of the year when he delivered a keynote at the 2013 Australian Music Prize ceremony in Sydney, Prince professed his love for the tune when he awarded Gotye the Grammy for Record Of The Year. The track stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks and it came in at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End list for the year. The so-called “Gotye Effect” has rubbed off, but unfortunately it can’t be bottled.
For those with a stake in Australian music, a handful of dangling questions have been at least partially answered in recent months. Will Australian artists follow-up on the breakthrough work of Gotye? Could an Australian hip hop artist crack the U.S.? Is our talent pool big enough? The final of those three questions will have its answer proper in the months ahead. Angus & Julia Stone have a new album coming, as does Megan Washington. Courtney Barnett’s global fanbase is growing. Gang of Youths has a lot of early buzz. Michael Chugg’s discoveries the Griswolds, Lime Cordiale and Sheppard are all making noise in the U.S. Jessica Mauboy impressed with her stint at Eurovision, and she has a personal drive to crack Europe. The pool runs deep.
“When Midnight Oil, Kylie and INXS were coming through, that was the closest to Australian music being capitalized on,” recalls Michael Gudinski, chairman of the legendary Australian independent music empire the Mushroom Group. “Tame Impala is primed. If another two or three artists break through then it’s fair to say the Australian invasion is on the way. It feels good to me.” Watch this space.
This article originally appeared in the Music Forum Journal.