A Look Back At The Best, Worst And Weirdest Moments Of The ARIAs
From shout outs to Sydney's ecstasy dealers to a disastrous de-butt at the Sydney Opera House.
Held in 1987, the first ARIA Awards weren’t televised, but they were hosted by Elton John, who gave the industry-only room a bit of advice: keep the cameras out ”if you want these Awards to stay fun”. By 1991, that rule was broken, but there’s still an air of unpredictability to the night.
Ahead of what may — or may not — happen at this year’s Awards, we’ve taken a look back at some of the most iconic moments across the past 27 years.
Some are moving, like Tina Arena’s 18-minute speech against sexism; some are cringe-inducing; some are flat-out gross. But they’re all part of the event’s history.
Paul Mac’s Censored Acceptance Speech, 1995
In 1995, the ARIAs introduced a new award, Best Dance Release — something more or less ushered into existence by ‘Sweetness & Light’, the euphoric and era-defining track by Sydney duo Itch-E & Scratch-E.
When Paul Mac (Itch-E) accepted their award, he took a moment to shout out the ones who helped make the song so huge across the burgeoning rave scene, saying “We’d like to thank all of Sydney’s ecstasy dealers, without whom this award would not be possible”.
While it was censored on TV, it became a point of controversy at the time. Later, Mac would say it was “the best career move I ever made. I got in so much trouble for that, but I don’t care. I’m still proud of it. I meant every word, and I still do”.
That One Time Silverchair Knocked Themselves Out On Stage, 1995
Back in 1995, a still-teenage Silverchair covered Sydney punk band Radio Birdman’s ‘New Race’ at the ARIAs with help from Tim Rogers of You Am I. Between the extended guitar solos (Rogers is working against some snapped strings, no less), Ben Gillies’ frenzied drumming and the band thrashing around stage, the whole performance is great, a snapshot of a young Silverchair at the start of their career.
But the whole thing’s taken to a new level when Gillies jumps out from the drums, grabs a running start and leaps into them, head-first, knocking himself out.
(BONUS: Silverchair performed another cover at the 2006 awards, this time of Midnight Oil’s ‘Don’t Wanna Be The One’. At the end, Johns grabs some spray paint and tags the backdrop with ‘PG 4 PM’, which, as far as political protests go, was a little confusing.)
Madison Avenue’s Thirsty Performance, 2000
In 1999, Australia’s biggest homegrown hit was Madison Avenue’s ‘Don’t Call Me Baby’, landing at #7 on the ARIA charts. Huge across the world, the disco-house bop catapulted Sydney duo Cheyne Coates and DJ Andy Van into uncharted territory, as Coates was suddenly a pop-star. Speaking to News.com.au last year, Van said that creative differences tore them apart by 2003, combined with Coates’ sense that the industry shrugged them off.
In that interview, Van says the reaction to their 2000s ARIAs performance — in which Coates asks for a glass of water and then positions it directly in front of a camera, where it stays for the rest of the performance — really threw Coates. Today, it would have become a short-lived meme; back then, it fuelled rumours about mental instability, drug use and more.
It’s funny, but it’s also a bit sad: Coates is quite reclusive to this day, and we understand why.
Axle Whitehead’s Dickish Reveal, 2006
When Kirin J Callinan flashed his penis on the ARIAs red carpet last year, he, unfortunately, was just one in a lineage. Back in 2006, Axle Whitehead exposed himself on-stage and pretended to masturbate onto an ARIA (a very pointy trophy we wouldn’t want anywhere near our genitals) while presenting an award to the Hilltop Hoods. Great!
The Year Best Forgotten, 2010
Let’s be honest: the 2010 ARIA Awards were a bit of a mess. The first (and last) to take place at the Sydney Opera House, the awards spread out across the forecourt, making each segment feel like they were at completely disparate events.
There’s a lot to unpack: the crowd was rowdy, Bob Katter was there to mispronounce ‘ARIA’ as ‘ariaria’ while a flustered Jessica Mauboy became the butt of jokes when she mispronounced ‘debut’, Angus + Julia Stone gave a pretty… wordless acceptance speech when they won Best Album, there was this odd skit where Riki-Lee Coulter called Modern Family actor Eric Stonestreet gay, when he merely plays a gay man on TV.
But the most indicative moment of the night was when the TV audience overheard Powderfinger, on way to accept the trophy for Most Popular Australian Album, ask what award they’ve won and how to get on stage through the drunken crowd.
At the very least, it gave us this pretty magical Washington performance, which transformed ‘Sunday Best’ into a Busby Berkeley production, complete with costume changes and a chorus-line of suitors.
‘Treaty’ Is Given The Update We Wish It Didn’t Need, 2012
In 2012, Yothu Yindi was inducted into the ARIAs Hall Of Fame: in celebration, the group was joined on-stage by Paul Kelly, Jessica Mauboy, Dan Sultan, Andrew Farris and Peter Garrett for a rendition of their massive song ‘Treaty’.
Without any formal recognition of Indigenous sovereignty in our constitution, let alone a treaty, this song unfortunately remains as relevant today as it did back in 1991.
Tina Arena Took Over Everything, 2015
In 2015, Tina Arena was inducted into the Hall Of Fame, joining The Veronicas and Jessica Mauboy for a rendition of her classic ‘Chains’.
It’s a thoroughly dramatic performance — the only thing that tops Arena’s sudden reveal is the thunderous, theatric way she twists the song’s last line to say that now she has this ARIA, she is no longer in chains. But we’re mostly obsessed with how happy Mauboy looks to be singing with Arena. May we ever feel a spectrum of such joy.
Afterwards, Arena accepted her award with an 18-minute speech in which, among other things, she called out sexism and ageism in the music industry.
A.B. Original Calls Out Australia’s Ongoing Racism, 2017
Across the night, hip-hop duo A.B Original used their multiple moments on-stage to call out Australia’s systemic and cultural racism against Indigenous Australians.
“Change doesn’t come from being comfortable, it comes from being extremely uncomfortable,” Briggs said on stage while accepting the ARIA for Best Urban Release. “We made ourselves extremely uncomfortable trying to make this record…trying to upset those rednecks. They were vocal, but we just had the better album.”
“The main point of this whole record was to spark an idea and change the expectation of what an Indigenous artist could be,” he said later in the evening. “Because we weren’t saying we’ve gotta make it through the struggle; we said, we’ve made it, we’ve persisted, we’ve been here for 80,000 years.”
The duo was also part of the night’s lineup of stellar performances. First, Lorde absolutely smashed it with a medley of Melodrama‘s hits, before Hall Of Fame inductee Daryl Braithwaite performed ‘Horses’ with Vera Blue and Guy Sebastian, and A.B. Original returned with Dan Sultan and Paul Kelly for a rendition of Kelly’s classics ‘Life Is Fine’ and ‘Dumb Things’.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney. Follow him on Twitter.