Australian Pop Music Is Having A Moment, And You Should Be Paying Attention
You might have noticed that we're in the middle of a golden age.
On February 13 this year, an unknown Melbourne artist called G Flip uploaded a track to triple j Unearthed.
The song was called ‘About You’, and it was drummer and singer Georgia Flipo’s first ever single as a solo artist. It was also wildly good — so wildly good in fact, that it sent the local and international music industries into a spin.
Within a few hours, the track had been written up by almost every music website in Australia (including this one), and a day later was named Best New Track by Pitchfork. On the same day it was uploaded, it was played triple j’s Good Nights program.
The blow-up was so instant and widespread that many started to speculate that G Flip was some kind of industry conspiracy — a sponsored content artist. For the record, she wasn’t…it was just a fucking great song.
Flash forward six months, and G Flip has just announced a national tour off the back of a massive performance at Splendour in the Grass. She’s also released another single, ‘Killing My Time’, which we named one of the best tracks of 2018 so far. Her rapid rise shows no sign of slowing.
G Flip’s rise was remarkable in a few ways. The first, and most obvious, was how quick it was. But the second, and more interesting, is that G Flip is a pop artist, and ‘About You’ and ‘Killing My Time’ are a couple of the finest indie pop tracks released in recent years. They live just as easily on triple j as they do on commercial radio stations.
It’s pretty rare that a pop artist is so universally beloved in this country — particularly by alternative radio audiences — and G Flip’s rapid stardom points to a growing trend in the local music scene: Australian pop is entering a golden age.
Pop Hasn’t Been A Guilty Pleasure For A Long Time Now
Australia has always had a fertile pop scene — we produced Kylie and Tina Arena, after all — but never before has the landscape been occupied by so many. Think about it: just this year we’ve seen top-shelf releases from Amy Shark, Tkay Maidza, G Flip, Thelma Plum, Kota Banks, Nicole Millar, Eves Karydas, Jack River, Jess Kent, E^ST, JOY., Sam Bluer, Maribelle, CXLOE, and Dean Lewis — whose track ‘Be Alright’ is currently sitting at #2 on the ARIA charts, just under Drake.
But, more importantly, never has pop music been embraced so warmly by Australian audiences, the music media, and broadcasters. A decade ago, it would have been out of the question for triple j to play a song by an artist like Beyoncé or Drake or Charli XCX. Now, they’re all spun regularly.
“When I started out, there just wasn’t that respect for pop music,” Hit Network radio host Ash London tells Music Junkee. “Not just among artists but among media types as well. No one really took pop music seriously. Think of an artist like Guy Sebastian — he is so talented, he is an incredible artist, he makes cool music. But I think for a while people didn’t take him as seriously as they should have.
“So it’s really great to see people embracing pop now, and for triple j to be embracing the acts that really do sound poppy. We’re seeing so much more commercial crossover between what we’re playing and what they’re playing as far as local artists. Like Dean Lewis, it’s so great to see him embraced so closely by both commercial radio and by triple j.”
Additionally, London explains, the current explosion of pop is a reflection of the gradual breakdown of barriers between genres. Once upon a time, music fans would stick firmly within their genre silos, rusted on for dear life. Now, thanks to the advent of streaming, we’re slip sliding between them more or less constantly.
“You go to Splendour and the same people are rapping all the words to Lil’ Xan and then you see them at Gang of Youths and they know all the words to them as well,” says London. “And it’s all because of the access to music, and how easy it is to discover new music. People aren’t limiting themselves to one style and as a result broadcasters are adapting with that.”
London also points out something else: the best music is coming from women.
“Girls are not just representing, they’re just dominating,” she says. “There’s so many girls making really great pop music — like Vera Blue and Jess Kent and Meg Mac and Jack River and G flip. These are girls that are really just doing their own thing from a really young age. So, it means that when they’re 19, 20, 21, they’re forming this, kind of, really interesting individual music.”
So We’ve Changed, But Pop Music Has Changed A Lot Too
There have been plenty of successful pop acts on triple j over the last decade, but we may not have strictly seen them as pop acts — such was our determination not to let anyone know we loved the genre.
“When I was in high-school there was Regurgitator and Killing Heidi and all of that stuff — and it wasn’t necessarily seen as pop, but it was very popular, and it was very good,” Sydney producer and NLV Records head, Nina Las Vegas, tells Music Junkee. “Our perception of pop has changed, and our perception of pop music right now is the strongest it’s ever been.
“Our perception of pop has changed, and our perception of pop music right now is the strongest it’s ever been.”
“Right now we’ve got this new wave of alternative pop that’s doing quite well, and this very international-sounding pop style.”
The big shift, Nina points outs, started in the clubs. “I think it was Calvin Harris said that ‘EDM producers are the best producers in the world, they just make really bad songs’,” she says. “But then we had Flume, and this whole post-Flume movement — and suddenly all these producers started to work on songs with topliners. And so there was this split, where you had the the topliner, or songwriter, working on that part of the song, and the producer working under them are creating these really amazing sounding pop tracks — and that started to become a movement.”
Dance and pop began to collide with brilliant results, and suddenly producers and artists began to throw the rule book out the window. Pop quickly became the most exciting space in music.
“We all grew up on Major Lazer and M.I.A. and those really alternative club sounds,” she adds. “All of those producers are now moving into pop music — like Cashmere Cat is working with Ariana Grande, Mark Ronson is working with Lady Gaga.”
“There’s no rules at the moment in pop music in Australia,” says Vegas. “A lot of the artists coming through are independent, so they don’t have to really listen to what is expected from a major label. “These artists can say what they want, wear what they want. I don’t think that’s ever happened before, in pop music.”
But There’s Still A Way To Go
“Pop isn’t the enemy anymore,” Music Junkee’s Adam Lewis wrote in his recent review of Splendour in the Grass. “The old Us vs Them days, when major festivals were the domain of “serious music fans” (read: male guitar bands and critics’ picks from other genres) are more or less done.”
By and large, it’s true: with the exception of Kendrick Lamar, the biggest sets at Splendour came from pop acts — whether it was Lorde, Amy Shark, Pnau, Miguel, Khalid, or Jack River. So change on the festival stages is coming, but we haven’t gotten there quite yet.
“There is still that kind of mindset that for festivals to be taken seriously they need to have those big international acts,” says London. “And I think it’s going to take people just putting on a big festival with just Australian acts. But that’s risky thing to do because festivals are such a risky business, and we’re seeing so many festivals fail and run out of money.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, London says. Promoters will eventually see they can fill their festivals with Australian acts and the punters will come — they don’t always need a Kendrick Lamar to get people through the gates.
“When you go to the festivals and you see that Gang of Youths and Hilltop Hoods and Amy Shark packed out their stages during Splendour and everyone knew every word and rapped every word and there was such a buzz in the air. That leaves us room to think, ‘Well maybe this is actually possible and we don’t need those big huge internationals all the time.”
When asked to pick which artists they think will crack the big time over the next couple of years, Vegas and London came up with a pretty similar list. For Vegas, it’s Kota Banks, Maribelle, CXLOE, Nicole Millar, G Flip, Mallrat, Tkay Maidza, and Brisbane rapper Miss Blanks — while London throws Gretta Ray, Muki, Jess Kent, and Jack River into the mix. Let’s be real, that’s a pretty banging playlist.
There’s only one thing left to do, Nina Las Vegas adds, and that’s to get out and buy some fucking tickets to their shows.
“We’ve got all this great music, all these good streaming numbers, we just need to get people to shows,” she stresses. “I really hope the Australian people get behind these young artists and show their support. Because it is a new generation of performers, and it is a new sound. It’s not gonna be your usual show, it’s not always going to be a band show.”
“Building a movement is building a community, and it involves everyone out there.”
Jules LeFevre is Junkee’s Music Writer. She is obsessed with pop music. She is on Twitter.