THERE WILL BE CHEAP WINE AND EXPENSIVE COCAINE, bad clothing and good intentions, cries of “oh wow, she’s still alive” and sighs of “oh god, he still has his job”, but when the Australian music industry’s awards night closes out on Thursday night, one thing that won’t have appeared, for the second year running, is anyone inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.
That should be an embarrassment, except this is ARIA which has proved itself shameless in so many ways, for so many years. Shameless enough to claim that because they want to pay tribute to three major figures who died this year – all of whom already are in the Hall of Fame incidentally – there isn’t room to do anything else. Which is, let’s be honest, bollocks.
Yes, if it’s true that the ARIA Awards don’t amount to a hill of beans in the real world anymore (and weren’t much more than a mound of said beans at the “peak” of public interest), then the Hall of Fame wouldn’t register as even a handful of those beans, with no magic properties to swap for a cow. (Yes, even with a mixed but noteworthy history as explored in Wind Back Wednesday this week.)
Who cares?, so many would be asking. After all, forget the Hall, it's astonishing enough that the arts industries are still somehow convincing the TV business that awards programs can attract people to watch. Not enough people to warrant a mainstage station to be fair, (being relegated to the off-Broadway channels is as good as it gets now) but despite the fact that viewing figures for the Grammys, the Oscars, the Emmys, the Logies (I know, I know), the AACTAs and the ARIAs have been on a downward trend for decades, someone still believes. Or needs to fill air time.
Even sports awards are flailing, begging for attention but getting less and less. And this despite all the arts and sports crews cleaning up their acts to present clean, sober, professional, fashion-spotting telecasts, perfect for sponsors and advertisers.
Actually, “despite” might be the wrong word there. Sober and professional awards? Yawn. If we’re being honest rather than polite, the only awards that could get some interest from the general public might well be the Walkleys: not because anyone outside journalism cares about them – I mean, really – but because drunken interjections, intra-company bitterness, sloppy speeches and the potential of a public car crash are at least more interesting than sober, self-effacing, media-trained, boss-thanking types mostly showing themselves to be dull and inarticulate.
(Tina Arena - inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2-15)
I hear you though: even when they pull off a show it’s kinda embarrassing. The ARIAs themselves, an awards program set up by and run for the benefit of the major labels who dominate the organisation, couldn’t get their heads around hip hop and electronic and dance music for a couple of decades, at one point essentially putting them into one category. Seriously.
And in the past few years, worried that too many independent (for which you can read both low-selling and “not signed to us”) were winning some awards, the labels changed the rules to impose a sales/chart position minimum before an act could be nominated.
Let that sink in: an awards system supposedly about the quality of the music/performance/artist blocked entries on the basis of whether they’d sold enough to warrant, presumably, respectability and “legitimacy”. We’re not talking noble and generous here. We’re barely talking competent. Hello ARIA.
So that’s the general awards world, one that doesn’t look much like the real world, let’s get back to the Hall of Fame. What is its purpose? Who does it serve?
To honour and elevate the significant figures of the industry. To remind a current generation what had been done to break ground before them. To link the past and present as the basis of a future. Basically, to show respect.
Yes, of course there is an inherent weirdness or falseness, or just plain stupidity, in selections for things like this, as there are for any awards. The American rock and roll hall of fame was a blokey, white, tradtionalist farrago of a vanity project for Jann Wenner for so long it barely survived as an object of even minimal respect.
The ARIAs haven’t been quite as bad but it’s worth noting that since 1988 only 13 women have been inducted – three of them as members of a band – alongside more than 180 men. Yothu Yindi (2012), Jimmy Little (1999) and Archie Roach (invested in the last year an induction was held, 2020) are the only Indigenous acts recognised, and along with (American-born and raised) Marcia Hines in 2007, are the only artists of colour, with no others whose ethnicity/background is anything but European.
And there isn’t a single artist who could be said to have been working in electronic, dance, avant-garde or hip-hop areas, though in the early days when the HoF was ostensibly covering all music two opera singers, a conductor and two jazz artists got the nod.
For those who say electronic/dance/hip-hop haven’t been around long enough to generate historical figures, I’ll point you to 2018 when Kasey Chambers – who undoubtedly, deservedly, would have ended up in the Hall of Fame eventually – was inducted barely 19 years into her solo career.
Or 2019 when Human Nature, a popular and long running borderline-cabaret act, whose most noteworthy achievement was a series of Motown covers albums, made it into the Hall of Fame in what might be seen in retrospect as one of the final acts of the tainted regime of Sony boss and ARIA heavyweight, Denis Handlin.
And then I’ll mention a few names that might warrant consideration, like Severed Heads, Hilltop Hoods, Munkimuk, Lisa Gerrard, Brendan Perry, Paul Mac, Rosano and Tina Martinez of Sound Unlimited, Lindy Morrison, DJ Sveta, Warrumpi Band, Elizabeth Drake, Kate Ceberano, Volition founder Andrew Penhallow, Vika and Linda Bull, Stephen Ferris, Troy Cassar-Daley, and Simon Caldwell. Take your pick ARIA.
If you’re wondering why don’t I or someone (the artists themselves even?) nominate them, why isn’t there a groundroots push, that’s not how the system works. Naturally, ARIA keep that power to themselves, but more pertinently the only way an artist can make it into the Hall of Fame is if someone stumps up the money to pay for the process.
Yes, as with the Hollywood walk of fame, whose stars in the footpath look like some commemoration by the industry but are in fact a publicity/vanity venture paid by or on behalf of the celebrity, for ARIA it’s no money, no nomination.
Since the only people with the money and presence on the selection committee are the labels, and since along with their truncated memories they are worried about having too many old or obscure faces on their youth-oriented telecast (aimed at an audience who aren’t even watching free-to-air TV) if they don’t act, nothing happens.
In other words, in 2021 and 2022, Australian music’s peak body, the representatives and guardians of a creative industry that’s been battered for three years now by a job-destroying plague on top of nine years of a government of Philistines, the organisation which allowed its senior members to abuse junior staff and particularly women for decades, then tried to fob off calls for a substantial response by organising a survey, looked at its history, looked at its artists, looked at a chance to show respect, decided they … couldn’t be arsed.