IN my new novel, Vinyl Tiger, I explore the world of Alekzandr.
He starts out as a bit of a musically challenged 80s disco act who needs to rely on his looks and his charm to get ahead.
His short term goal is to overcome the stigma of being a disco act or a one hit wonder. But his long term goal is that of being taken seriously as a pop act and making music that is true to his artistry.
It's an arc that a lot of acts have to go through. Especially if their roots are firmly lodged in dance or pop music.
Some of you might be familiar with Tina Arena.
For those that aren't, she's a Melbourne gal who got her first break as a child via Young Talent Time. She's the show's most successful alumni, even if Dannii Minogue also graduated from the weekly variety show.
Tina has a pristine, powerful voice. She's capable of bending more than the odd note, and in the mid nineties she worked hard to overcome the stigma of having been both a child star, and a pop act whose biggest (and only real) hit to date had been I Need Your Body. (Search it out on Youtube).
After being dropped by her label, in the late nineties she moved into adult oriented pop-rock. And in Australia at least, it was a move that proved crucial in her becoming the most formidable female artist on the scene, thanks to songs like Chains and Sorrento Moon - and their ENDLESS airplay on Australian radio. Her album, Don't Ask moved close to a million copies there alone before it became a hit in a lot of other territories.
Back then I was working in the record bar of a department store. Because we were in the city centre we were a bit of a target for the visiting record company reps. I remember one of the old Sony music reps coming in one day when Tina's follow up album In Deep came out and being a little blase about it not doing as well as hoped. In Deep was another smash hit, but was on track to sell about a third of what Don't Ask managed to. Speaking with the rep I had to read between the lines a little. While it was clear In Deep wasn't going to be another million seller, Tina was on her way internationally: rerecording her songs in Italian, Spanish and French. That meant she'd proved her worth to the label. But more importantly for Tina herself, she'd unshackled herself from the chains of the idea that Don't Ask had been a fluke, or that Tina no longer needed to be taken seriously.
Tina's subsequent albums never sold anywhere near what those two albums did, but they've kept up her profile over the years, and routinely sell well in Australia.
She's onto her eleventh album - Eleven - and although it went straight into the Aussie charts at No.2, she's not the radio staple she once was. In fact, she's seen by some as being something of a legacy act. Why? She's released a couple of cover records (which did pretty well), but for the most part, she has focused on releasing new material. Her previous album, Reset was being touted as a bit of a Ray of Light moment, and although it went platinum, I think the majority of the public wouldn't be able to recognise any of the songs on it. The voice, yes. The songs, no. Why?
Well, there's much to be said about the music industry's ageism. While they have no problem championing a 25 by someone as young as Adele, getting behind a project by a woman in her 40s is a tough proposition. We saw the debate about older actresses play out in recent years, but, because pop music is usually a no go area for almost anyone over 40, the theory hasn't been pushed and provoked enough.
Last night Arena was inducted into the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Hall of Fame - and inducted by another 40 something Aussie - Kylie - but it's likely that you haven't heard anything that Kylie has done in years either. Yep. Tick tock, tick tock. Radio is not a place for women in pop after a certain age. WHY?
In my novel Vinyl Tiger I play with this idea. I take a look at what it would be like for Alekzandr - who's gay, so therefore his treatment in the industry is in a category on par with that of women - to age in the face of the music industry and in the pop world. It's a bit of a pisstake of the hipocrisy that exists, but the problem is it is very real.
But last night, Tina ripped the Australian industry a new asshole. In a fifteen minute speech which earned her a standing ovation, she called out their ageism and noted that Australian radio, despite its local music quotas, still won't get behind her or her ilk. Nor will it get behind other international acts like Madonna, Annie Lennox or, erm, J.Lo, who she name checked - and who are upwards of 40.
Sad fact is that, as she noted, it should be the ladies themselves who should decide when the gig is up not fat, balding radio programmers.
Tina may have firmly come out on the other side of the pop arc, but, girl's got a whole other battle to fight.
Congrats on being inducted. And let's all just get over ourselves regarding age.
We need to respect 'older' acts: male or female. Because the best music is timeless.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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