Home Featured Sculpture Who should and who will win Australia’s top music prizes

Who should and who will win Australia’s top music prizes

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Nominations: Hilltop Hoods, The Great Expanse; Dean Lewis, A Place We Knew; Thelma Plum, Better in Blak; Rufus Du Sol, Solace; The Teskey Brothers, Run Home Slow

Who will win? Dean Lewis

Who should win? Thelma Plum

Looking at mainstream Australian music right now these five nominees are actually a solid cross-section, with the future beats of Rufus Du Sol alongside the vintage soul revival of the Teskey Brothers, while Dean Lewis and Thelma Plum offer very differing takes on the modern singer-songwriter and Hilltop Hoods stand as Oz hip-hop’s veteran standard-bearers. Size can still matter and Lewis has definitely had a hugely successful 2019 – A Place We Knew has gone eight times platinum in Australia (560,000 copies sold), which is phenomenal in the streaming age. Why should Thelma Plum win out? Because Better in Blak is an album that reveals more with each listen, with singles that are shared anthems of defiance and deep cuts that mix confession and cutting self-diagnosis. Also, I think Plum would make one hell of a winner’s speech if she got the chance.

Guy Sebastian pulls off the emotionally complex Choir without a hint of hindrance.

Guy Sebastian pulls off the emotionally complex Choir without a hint of hindrance. Credit:

SONG OF THE YEAR

Nominations: 5 Seconds of Summer, Easier; Birds of Tokyo, Good Lord; Morgan Evans, Day Drunk; Hilltop Hoods, Leave Me Lonely; Kian, Waiting; Dean Lewis, 7 Minutes; Ocean Alley, Confidence; Guy Sebastian, Choir; Amy Shark, Mess Her Up; Tones and I, Dance Monkey

Who will win? Tones and I

Who should win? Guy Sebastian

Of the various awards I’m taking a swing at predicting, this is the only one being decided by public judging. That makes it a de facto popularity contest (or as publicists like to say, “activating the fanbase”) in which case it’s difficult to look past Dance Monkey. The Tones and I hit is heard so often they’re probably planning to immunise babies against it. It’s noticeable that many of these songs are heartbreak hits, delivered with longing, regret and little else. So a shout out to Guy Sebastian, who commemorates the loss of a dear friend on Choir with celebratory consolation and a desire to let a little light illuminate a dark moment. It’s a deceptively complex song emotionally, yet has enough hooks to satisfy commercial radio. That’s not easy, but Sebastian pulls it off without a hint of hindrance. That he’s kept his career buoyant for so long is no small achievement, and a Song of the Year ARIA Award would be fitting acknowledgment.

The Hilltop Hoods - (from left) Daniel Smith, Matthew Lambert (Suffa) and Barry Francis - have broke ground and inspired aspiring MCs.

The Hilltop Hoods – (from left) Daniel Smith, Matthew Lambert (Suffa) and Barry Francis – have broke ground and inspired aspiring MCs. Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

BEST GROUP

Nominations: 5 Seconds of Summer, Easier; Birds of Tokyo, Good Lord; Hilltop Hoods, The Great Expanse; Rufus Du Sol, Solace; The Teskey Brothers, Run Home Slow

Who Will Win? 5 Seconds of Summer

Who Should Win? Hilltop Hoods

A band who have previously picked up two Single of the Year ARIA Awards, 5 Seconds of Summer have displayed true endurance. The two circles in their musical Venn diagram are guitar group, which is hardly the style of this age and boy band, which is usually a fly-by-night genre. Yet the Sydney four-piece are going strong eight years and three albums into their career, with their most recent album, 2018’s Youngblood, topping the Australian and US charts. Yet Hilltop Hoods, the Adelaide hip-hop pioneers, have been releasing music for 20 years and whatever chart you draw of hip-hop in Australia their presence is significant in terms of breaking ground and providing inspiration to the aspiring MCs that followed them. In the same way that veteran actors sometimes get an Academy Award for the role and their body of work, this should be the year to recognise Hilltop Hoods.

Julia Jacklin's second album, Crushing, is one of the year’s best releases.

Julia Jacklin’s second album, Crushing, is one of the year’s best releases.

BEST FEMALE ARTIST

Nominations: Julia Jacklin, Crushing; Jessica Mauboy, Little Things; Thelma Plum, Better in Blak; Amy Shark, Mess Her Up; Tones and I, Dance Monkey

Who will win? Tones and I

Who should win? Julia Jacklin

A flaw the ARIA Awards should have patched long ago is allowing an artist to get nominations in consecutive years for the same release. Amy Shark’s Mess Her Up is the fifth single from the Gold Coast singer-songwriter’s hugely successful debut album, Love Monster. It was rewarded at last year’s ARIAs with Album of the Year and Best Female Artist and while none of this is Shark’s fault, there’s no shortage of deserving female artists who could do with the recognition of a nomination. That said, this is where Tones and I becomes a dominant force. Toni Watson’s now ubiquitous single Dance Monkey topped the ARIA singles chart for 16 weeks, eclipsing Ed Sheeran’s record. It’s pop writ large – catchy yet familiar, slightly ludicrous yet genuinely affecting. But Julia Jacklin’s second album is one of the year’s best releases and a major work by an Australian artist. It more than earns the prize.

Dean Lewis enjoyed breakthrough success at the positively antique 21st century age of 30 years old.

Dean Lewis enjoyed breakthrough success at the positively antique 21st century age of 30 years old.

BEST MALE ARTIST

Nominations: Matt Corby, Rainbow Valley; Hayden James, Between Us; Paul Kelly, Nature; Dean Lewis, A Place We Knew; Guy Sebastian, Choir

Who will win? Dean Lewis

Who should win? Matt Corby

The two leading contenders in this category are studies in persistence and finding your voice. Dean Lewis spent his twenties scrapping through jobs and finding his way to songwriting, enjoying breakthrough success at the positively antique 21st century age of 30. Fellow singer-songwriter Matt Corby was still a teenager when he entered Australian Idol in 2007 and spent years afterwards trying to expunge the reality TV imprimatur from his resume before rebuilding his career. Both are idiosyncratic in their own way – Lewis with his plaintive longing and regret, Corby a spiritual seeker. The former is my tip, although I think the latter should be recognised. All this also acknowledges that Paul Kelly is one of the nominees and that the greatest of Australian songwriters deserves an ARIA of some kind every year as well as the chance, as he so memorably did for Kasey Chambers a year ago, to spotlight any other artist he deems worthy.

Tones and I's single Dance Monkey has topped the chart in Australia for so long it’s qualified for long service leave.

Tones and I’s single Dance Monkey has topped the chart in Australia for so long it’s qualified for long service leave.

BREAKTHROUGH ARTIST

Nominations: Stella Donnelly, Beware of the Dogs; G Flip, About Us; Thelma Plum, Better in Blak; The Teskey Brothers, Run Home Slow; Tones and I, Dance Monkey

Who will win? Tones and I

Who should win? Tones and I

Sometimes the Breakthrough Artist field contains artists many years into their career who’ve finally snagged some attention and commercial profile. It’s not a slight on their belated achievement, but it’s a slow-motion breakthrough. Tones and I is the high-speed opposite and exactly who this award should rightly laud: Toni Watson was busking in 2017, entering music competitions in 2018 and then had a No.1 single in dozens of countries around the world with Dance Monkey in 2019. The song has topped the singles chart in Australia for so long it’s qualified for long service leave. In any other year several of the other albums in the category would be accomplished winners, notably the debut albums by Perth’s Stella Donnelly and Melbourne’s G Flip (aka Georgia Flipo). Please search both out.

G Flip, aka Georgia Flipo, makes electronic pop that sweeps you up and wrings you out.

G Flip, aka Georgia Flipo, makes electronic pop that sweeps you up and wrings you out. Credit:Louise Kennerley

BEST INDEPENDENT RELEASE

Nominations: G Flip, About Us; Julia Jacklin, Crushing; Angie McMahon, Salt; The Teskey Brothers, Run Home Slow; Tones and I, The Kids are Coming

Who will win? Tones and I

Who should win? G Flip

As the person who literally wrote the history of alternative music in 1990s Australia (The Sell-In, Allen & Unwin, 2000), I can assure you arguments over what is an independent (as opposed to multinational record label) release are good for youthful passion and little else. Trust me, royalty statements are the true receipts. With the exception of the Teskey Brothers, these nominees are a showcase for the wave of disparate female voices that have increasingly emerged in recent years, often due to the trailblazing work done by national youth broadcaster Triple J. I suspect this will be another notch on a big night for Tones and I, but as G Flip, Georgia Flipo has been a creative whirlwind. The drummer turned bedroom studio producer makes electronic pop that sweeps you up and wrings you out: great for the hips, heavy on the heart. Who didn’t need that in 2019?

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