The world is going to shit around us, but hey, we fixed up one award. Oh look, shiny bauble!
Yes, the ripples of excitement which ran through the Australian music industry at the end of last week were, by the weekend, tsunamis of joy at the news that everything was being set right by ARIA now that … *checks notes* … the best male and best female artist awards would be merged into a best artist gong.
Thank you God, thank you ARIA, thank you to all our fans and thank you Sony and Denis Ha… oops, sorry, old habits die hard.
The Scott Morrison model for governing is not one that you might automatically think of as a gold standard: calling it bottom of the barrel might be flattering it. But it has its appeal for certain organisations working a similar policy of deflect, delay and deny.
(Bear with me here as I do a quick wrap up of already discussed background.) Say, for example, you are the peak body for an industry in the throes of detailed, historic and contemporary, accusations of sexism, racism, ageism, emotional and physical abuse at at least three major companies within the industry.
Say too that the industry’s longest-serving and seemingly most powerful figure, was encouraged out of his job under what you might call “a cloud”, another representative on your board has admitted distressing and damaging behaviour has happened on his watch - and ordered some kind of investigation of indeterminate scope and depth, with no promise of public disclosure or action - while one of the most complained about former executives may or may not be on enforced leave from his US position in a subsidiary firm as more investigations occur.
Finally, and by no means least, let’s not forget there are dozens of (mostly) as yet unnamed producers, promoters and associated radio figures against whom (anonymous) allegations have been made. Pretty bloody serious allegations, which have been running all year on the Beneath The Glass Ceiling Instagram account, and in the public glare since June.
Anyway, where were we? That’s right, shiny baubles of distraction.
In early August I asked why ARIA – either CEO Annabelle Herd or chair, Natalie Waller, we don’t mind; hell, they could do it as a double act - hadn’t said anything directly, let alone done anything, about these issues. An apology, a condemnation, an investigation, a gesture of we understand this has been distressing and we intend to prevent this happening again. Anything.
A month later, nine months into a year of revelations and resignations, eight months into Herd’s post and three months into Waller’s, nothing has changed. Not one word, not one thing.
A direct request by me to Herd for interview was deflected with a “let’s have a coffee and chat” offer in a vague distant future. I know of at least one other serious media approach – that is, a large organisation doing a significant story, not a pissant freelance journalist posting on his website – that has been refused, and I can only presume there have been others.
The only time Herd has answered any questions has been two tame and contrived appearances in the industry newsletter – the most recent last week – where she was safe in the knowledge nothing even slightly difficult would be asked. And nothing was.
What we have instead is a bit of tinkering at the ARIA Awards as a sign of the organisation wanting to “reflect and embrace equality in the true diversity of the music industry in 2021” according to the prepared statement released with the news. This would be putting all artists “on an equal platform, which is absolutely what we should be doing in 2021,” Herd is quoted as saying. “But also, it means we’re not excluding artists that don’t identify as male or female.”
Even here, the do-nothing-but-look-like-you’re-busy Morrison mode is activated.
There’s nothing to address the serious issues of women being excluded or minimised in various categories already nominally non-sex based, nothing about the in-built racism that has curdled collegiality in the hip-hop, R&B, Indigenous and non-white parts of the industry, and not much more than lip service to the broader structural barriers of ageism.
Major issues, longstanding problems. Instead, just one award that hardly anyone had given any thought to, with an “everybody gets a seat” expansion to 10 nominees, shining brightly. Look over there everyone. See, the government … the prime minister … ARIA … is listening! They care!
It’s likely ARIA, and the morally challenged members who still wield the power, think they’re getting away with it. Are they?