Right now, there’s not one Australian song in the top 30 of the ARIA charts. In fact, Vance Joy, Peking Duk and Jessica Mauboy are the only three local artists in the entire top 50. Last year Flume and The Veronicas both nabbed number one records but this year, for the first time this millennium, it’s looking very possible that we’ll end the year without one local artist topping the singles charts. It suggest pop music is slumping in this country right except it’s not. It’s actually never been better.
Our upcoming crop of popstars in the strongest it’s been in recent memory. Let’s cherry pick just a few of them for a moment…
E^ST is getting major global props for her breakout moment Life Goes On, including plays on global digital station Beats 1. Even head presenter Zane Lowe gave it a shoutout on Twitter writing, “I’m telling u this @iameastofficial ‘Life Goes On’ record is something.”
This Friday, George Maple will release her debut album Lover and while she’s picked up plenty of play on triple j, she’s yet to be embraced by commercial radio despite a string of world class singles.
Nicole Millar, perhaps the most obvious heiress to the Aussie pop throne, has also just delivered a personal best with the accessible Blindfolded. Mallrat is another young gun who, given the chance, could really give pop a new direction in this country as she proved on her excellent new track Better.
That’s a handful of recent examples but Jess Kent, Alex Lahey, Vera Blue, Cub Sport and Amy Shark are also great contenders for chart success. Shark made it to number three on the charts after Hottest 100 success and commercial radio airplay collided but she may be one of the few chart success stories of the past 12 months.
There are three main reasons why all of our pop wealth may not be translating to sales and it comes down to radio, television and streaming. While the UK has a much larger and more global music industry, it’s worthwhile to look at the outlets for artist promotion in the country as compared to here.
triple j is the biggest supporter of new music in the country and its audience tends to give all the music played on the station an alternative skew. From a global perspective, however, many of these artists wouldn’t be alternative at all in other markets. For example, you could closely align Millar to someone like Anne-Marie who is now one of the UK’s biggest pop exports. The reason for this is there’s a large gap between commercial and triple j in this country. While Radio 1 in the UK spins left-centred pop artists like Mabel and Jorja Smith alongside megastars of the Ed Sheeran kind, you’re unlikely to hear that kind of breadth on commercial radio here.
While triple j‘s support often leads to live audiences (Tash Sultana sold out Hordern Pavilion in Sydney without ever charting in the top 30), it rarely leads to huge singles chart success, the kind you’d need to really build a new pop hero in this country poised to head in the direction of, say, Lorde. If commercial radio was to reach slightly further to the left and fully invest in young local pop acts, it’s likely the alternative pop tag would be dropped quickly.
This week, Jessica Mauboy and Vance Joy are the only local acts in the top 50 of the airplay charts. Meanwhile, in the UK’s airplay chart, more than half of the top 20 are British. Sure, they’ve got megastars like Sam Smith but they are also taking a chance on once underground acts like Stefflon Don, Mabel and Anne-Marie, launching them into the mainstream and shaking up the pop soundscape in the process.
The second issue is, there are very few opportunities for televised performances in this country. Beyond the morning shows, we’ve got few regular night time shows for artists to perform on like we once did with shows like Rove Live. With The X Factor gone, The Voice is the only big show for artists, outside of the talent show, to perform on. You could argue that if bigger names like Guy Sebastian and Ricki-Lee had a chance to perform their most recent singles on a national program in the second half of this year, they’d be big contenders for a number one.
Meanwhile the UK has shows like The Graham Norton Show and Later…With Jools Holland while the US has a myriad of late night shows. They’re not only supporting the big players either. This year The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, for example, has given slots to newbies including Aurora, Aminé and Jessie Reyez.
On the streaming side of things, while the local Spotify team do a fantastic job of promoting new local talent, Aussies just aren’t streaming local music. Not one local artist features in the top 50 ARIA streaming chart this week. The globalised nature of streaming makes it easy to tap into any music market without relying on radio or television but it seems to be leading Aussie audiences towards international talent rather than local.
It’s going to take a huge shift to create our new popstars and poise them for global success but for now there’s one small thing we can do. We can stop boxing our new crop of popstars into alternative categories. Let’s call them popstars and superstars regardless of where they’re played. We need global ambitions rather than simply nabbing a triple j add (which is, of course, important too). Let’s take advantage of the wealth of pop talent in this country so that it doesn’t take us another decade to find the next Kylie or Troye Sivan.