How The Veronicas Turned Themselves Into Cult Icons
Label fights, relationship breakdowns, and a little song called 'Untouched' - it's been a big 16 years for The Veronicas.
When Jess and Lisa Origliasso emerged in 2005 as raucous pop twins The Veronicas, they immediately declared: “We ain’t gonna live forever.”
Well into the second decade of their career, with two albums GODZILLA and HUMAN arriving in 2021, it seems like they may just be defying their own prophecy. Sixteen years in the public eye is a lifetime in the Australian pop industry, and yet The Veronicas remain steadfast.
Australia has traditionally burnt through many of its popstars quickly. Tall poppy syndrome clips some of the best talents, particularly when you experience international success. The Veronicas went from Brisbane teens to worldwide chart stormers quickly and yet, they’ve managed to retain their cult icon status down under. That’s not to say it’s been a smooth ride. Label issues, public spats, and long waits in between albums have all threatened to halt The Veronicas train over the years.
HUMAN and GODZILLA arrive seven years after 2014’s self-titled album The Veronicas. At the time, that album marked the comeback of The Veronicas — having moved labels from Warner to Sony and re-emerging with a new drive. Now, they’re staging a comeback once again — this time with two records. It’s an ambitious move, but the duo thrives off the risk.
“We’ve got a lot to prove,” says Jess over Zoom from Sydney where she’s sat side-by-side with Lisa. It’s an interesting remark to make, given the runs they already have on the board: three number 1 singles in Australia, multiple UK Top 10s and three albums that have charted globally. But they’re not just hungry for commercial success — they’re determined to keep challenging people’s idea of what The Veronicas are.
“We don’t want things to just always feel comfortable and regular or anything like that because that’s not where innovation is born,” Jess adds.
If there’s one mantra that defines the group’s time in the music industry so far, it’s that. Almost every move they have taken has been more surprising than the last — at times, that’s frightened the people who work around them, other times it’s excited them. Ultimately, The Veronicas are still here — so they must have done something right.
Commercial Aussie pop music was in a healthy place in 2005. Australian Idol had reinvigorated the genre, sending Shannon Noll, Guy Sebastian, and Anthony Callea to the top of the charts with record-breaking singles. Meanwhile, Delta Goodrem had quickly become a national darling scooping the ARIAs with her debut album Innocent Eyes and Missy Higgins had done the same with her debut The Sound Of White.
In a ballad-heavy arena, however, The Veronicas thundered through with something different. The Queenslanders began performing as The Twins, managed by their father Joseph Origliasso. They caught the ear of former operatic tenor Robin Donald Smith who signed them to a publishing deal with Multiplay Music Australia. From there, they were taken on a global writing trip, and introduced to the likes of Billy Steinberg and Max Martin. Eventually, they were signed to Warner Bros. Records/Sire by Seymour Stein, who — for those unfamiliar — signed Madonna, The Ramones, Talking Heads, and more. He’s “The grandfather of rock’n’roll,” as the girls note.
“We went through a whole bunch of crap where we’d go to a writing session and they’d have a track for us to write to and they’d just walk out. Later on, they’d demand 60 percent of the song,”
The Veronicas, as they would soon become known, had big names behind them, but they were entering a climate that was increasingly being dictated by reality television. Here was a relatively unknown group, cold-starting with a loud debut single, ‘4Ever’. The single was produced by Martin, who had nabbed two of his biggest hits the previous year producing Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since U Been Gone’ and ‘Behind These Hazel Eyes’. It was a raucous, pop-punk moment with a chorus that soared. The song reached number 2 in Australia and the Top 20 in the UK. The Veronicas had arrived.
The experience of working with Martin on their debut single is still unbelievable for them. “We were two girls from Brisbane getting [in the studio] with Max Martin,” says Jess. “It was completely new and wild for Australia. It wasn’t like it felt like we were playing along with some sort of rule book.”
It was wild. And it still is. The Veronicas are still the only Australian act to have had Martin produce a song with them. He also worked on the follow-up single, ‘Everything I’m Not’, which nabbed them another top 10 in Australia and led to the release of debut album The Secret Life Of…
The pair co-wrote nine of the 12 songs and were astutely aware of the games that producers can play within the industry. “We went through a whole bunch of crap where we’d go to a writing session and they’d have a track for us to write to and they’d just walk out. Later on, they’d demand 60 percent of the song,” they told The Age in 2006.
A Sound Untouched
At the end of The Secret Life Of… run The Veronicas had enough momentum to roll onto their second album with little disruption. Instead, however, they pivoted into a new sound, ditching the guitars and loading up the synths on 2007’s Hook Me Up. The lead-single ‘Hook Me Up’ wobbled and warped as the girls gave a steely vocal performance. It was unlike anything being played on Australian radio.
“A lot of people weren’t going electric,” says Lisa. “It was very hard to get the label at the time Warner Bros on board. They couldn’t get their heads around the fact that we didn’t have pop-rock guitars on our record.”
It’s hard to believe given how prolific electro-pop was in the late ‘00s. The year The Veronicas released Hook Me Up, they were surrounded in the charts by guitars. Avril Lavigne’s ‘Girlfriend’, Silverchair’s ‘Straight Lines’, and Hinder’s ‘Lips Of An Angel’ are a sample of their competition. It wasn’t until the following year that Lady Gaga’s The Fame would make electro-pop the radio blueprint for years to come.
“We were told it wasn’t going to get played on radio, that they weren’t going to support the album, that we had to go rewrite it. And we just wouldn’t do it,” adds Jess.
That instinct turned out to be correct. The album spawned four Top 10 singles in Australia including the triumphant title track ‘Untouched’ and gave them their first chart success in the US. Pop fans and indie critics alike agreed on one thing: ‘Untouched’ was excellent. Even Pitchfork listed the song as the 87th best song of the year on a list that almost entirely glossed over mainstream pop music.
The album’s popularity carried them well into 2008 — but then, all of a sudden, The Veronicas vanished.
Rising From The Ruins
“They stole four years of our career,” Jess told the BBC when they returned in 2014, referring to their label, Warner. For years a third album, tentatively titled Life On Mars, had been teased, but it continued to be pushed back. Fans got a small taste of new music with 2012’s ‘Lolita’ but apart from that, they remained largely silent.
“It became a bit of a battle, and it took one big bad-assed lawyer to help us get the hell out of that situation,” Jess further told the BBC about severing their ties from Warner. They were quickly signed by Sony, their current label, and progressed with the release of their self-titled third album.
They tweeted at Warner — “surprise bitch”.
It was a comeback for The Veronicas — a re-entrance into an industry that rarely opens its arms to those that have disappeared, particularly in Australia. The duo had made a name for themselves with bombastic, electric pop songs and yet, their return was a string-laden ballad ‘You Ruin Me’. “Job well done, standing ovation/You got what you wanted, I guess you won,” sings Lisa in the opening line. It was a vulnerable return that was too bold to be ignored.
When the single clocked in at Number 1 on the ARIA charts, the girls simply tweeted at Warner: “Haha”.
“That one was therapy for me so I do appreciate that it was embraced,” Lisa laughs now. “[Australia] really embraced our story. I think it was quite public at the time that we were struggling with our record company…to come back and really just sing and sing from the heart and for it to have been embraced, it was a thrill.”
Once again, the album The Veronicas featured a stellar list of collaborators including The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, Emelie Sande, and frequent collaborator Toby Gad. The album peaked at Number 2 in Australia, blocked only by Taylor Swift’s juggernaut 1989.
Their first single following the album ‘In My Blood’ awarded them another number 1 single in Australia. This time, they returned to pulsating electro-pop, opening the ARIA Awards in red glittery body paint. Once again, they tweeted at Warner : “surprise bitch”.
— THE VERONICAS (@TheVeronicas) July 9, 2016
From a career perspective, The Veronicas were back, but things soon unravelled. A highly publicised relationship (you can Google it) caused the duo to essentially split. They stopped talking to each other and in their own words, “stopped making music for a year-and-a-half”.
After that relationship ended, the girls pulled it back together and aired it all on an MTV series called Blood For Life. In true Veronicas style, they rose once again — just in time for a decade-old song to have its moment in the sun again.
Australia Just Can’t Resist ‘Untouched’
Unsurprisingly, in the time that The Veronicas have been in the industry pop music has shifted drastically. In Australia, much of that change has been driven by the disintegration of our cultural cringe around the genre.
Triple j, Australia’s youth station and a perceived compass of what’s ‘cool’, has long shied away from the genre in favour of rock and alternative music. You only have to take one glance at the triple j homepage today to see that the tides have well-and-truly changed. In the past week alone, the station has been playing Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, Doja Cat and more, sharing some playlisting with commercial stations. The changing opinions on pop in the country revived The Veronicas’ ‘Untouched’, hailing it as a masterpiece.
The song’s rollicking chorus and flourishing strings struck a chord with home audiences on an even bigger scale, leading to a flood of memes and petitions. Australian festival favourite Mallrat brought them out to perform the song at Field Day in 2019 and Allday followed it up at Splendour In The Grass. Since then, triple j has played the song multiple times and The Veronicas have appeared alongside Allday for his Like A Version of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’.
Jess laughs when she recalls the groups’ first ARIA Awards where they were ignored by triple j on the red carpet. “We were interviewed by someone that was next to triple j and they didn’t even want to be near us,” she says. “They wouldn’t even stand there next to us while we were being interviewed. And now triple j is playing ‘Untouched’.”
For The Veronicas, it’s never been about appeasing anybody though. Their longevity speaks louder than the accolades.
“Our album didn’t even go number one. We have two ARIA awards to our names and one of them is for a music video, not for music,” says Jess. “We’ve got one ARIA from music, but then some artists that don’t even exist today have eight, you know what I mean?”
Godzilla Versus Human
With ‘Untouched’ burning bright, The Veronicas would be forgiven for looking to create a part two but once again, they’re shifting gears. “What motivates us more is when we have people around us saying, no,” says Jess which is perhaps why they’re making the risky move of launching two albums at once.
Everything we’ve heard so far off the new albums counteracts the song before. The title track of GODZILLA is a brazen punk-rock track while HUMAN single ‘Life Of The Party’ is a hypnotic, down-trodden R&B track.
“It’s the duality and power of the Veronicas, vastly as godzilla versus human, the alter ego versus the human experiences that we’re having,” explains Lisa. GODZILLA has been labelled “high concept and more experimental” while HUMAN is “more traditional Veronicas type pop songs.”
GODZILLA, the first cab of the rank, features some of the most exciting music they have ever made. The ‘80s-tinged ‘Stealing Cars’ is instantly warm and endearing while ‘101’ is a stomping banger ready for festival crowds. ‘In My Blood’, now almost five years old, also sits on the album but it doesn’t sound dated — a testament to their ability to always look ahead.
Lisa and Jess both sound as enthused about making music as ever. “Making music is the coolest thing ever,” proclaims Lisa. Despite long breaks in between albums, they have always been making music, finding their next sound. For now though, partly inspired by the stillness of the pandemic, they’re attempting to stay present. “We are trying to be more mindful to live in the moment right now,” says Jess.
The Veronicas will head out on their first national tour in six years, playing songs from the new album as well as favourites from their past. They are also not ruling out a revival of another underrated song from the archives following the second life of ‘Untouched’. If they got to choose, it would be Hook Me Up’s ‘Revenge Is Sweeter (Than You Ever Were)’: “That song is hectic. It’s so good, it needs to be heard.”
“We won’t stop ‘til we’re number one/By the time you’re here we’re already done,” they sing on GODZILLA’s ‘In It To Win It’. By the time we’ve gotten our heads around this project, they’ll be darting onto the next thing. Exactly like they’ve always done.