smh– Given what the local music industry has endured over the past two years, it was fitting the 2021 ARIA Awards nailed their colours to musical masts of the future.
Everything about this year’s ceremony — from the gender-neutral Best Artist gong, to the choice of winners, and even the online-only nature of the broadcast itself – was a reminder that this was not your mum and dad’s awards show.
In one way, that was a shame.
The streaming-only broadcast delivered a certain flexibility but also robbed the industry of a decent audience for its night of nights. And when your night of nights comes amid the pandemic of pandemics – for the second year in a row — that feels a bit cruel. The nominees, winners and COVID-battered industry generally deserved a bigger spotlight as music emerges from the dark days.
As it was, anyone wanting to watch the proceedings had to seek out the broadcast on YouTube or on the 9Now streaming platform (Nine is the owner of this masthead.) And if viewers were switched on enough to do that, they were presented with a disjointed affair that split the night in two.
What was billed as the “pre-show” — kicking off an hour before the main event — was actually the hour in which the majority of awards were presented, albeit with the winners absent as often as not. Today presenter Brooke Boney joked there were so many absentee acceptance speeches that she’d be taking home a car-load of trophies herself.
But what it lacked in energy it made up for in the embrace of young and startling new talents. Owusu carted off four awards, making him the night’s biggest winner. He’s just 23, making him the oldest of a trio of young winners alongside The Kid Laroi, the Kamilaroi man who just turned 18, and Budjerah, a 19-year-old from the Bundjalung nation.
The Kid Laroi was piped in from Los Angeles to accept two awards – the flagship Best Artist award that for the first time was gender-neutral; and Best Pop Release for Stay. He thanked “my brother” Justin Bieber for his collaboration on the latter song, which has topped the charts here and in the US.
Earlier on Wednesday The Kid Laroi had earned a Grammy nomination, and to remind us just how big a deal he has become, he delivered a knockout live performance from LA’s Viper Room.
At the other end of the age and experience scale were some of the awards presented in the pre-show segment. Crowded House, who won their first ARIA 34 years ago, won in 2021 for Best Adult Contemporary Album for last year’s reunion release Dreamers Are Waiting. The grey-haired winners accepted via video from various points around the world. Archie Roach won Best Blues and Roots Album for The Songs Of Charcoal Lane, an award he accepted from his kitchen table in a speech made more poignant by the clear evidence of his struggle with ill health.
As a broadcast moment, the highlight and the best collision of the old and the new came with the Michael Gudinski Breakthrough Artist Award. This was introduced by Jimmy Barnes and presented on video by Ed Sheehan, who noted that the award would forever summon the legend of the man whose death in March robbed the local industry of its most fervent champion.
Gudinski’s heart and soul have given Australian music life for decades, and it seemed fitting that the award named in his honour went to the industry’s future. Budjerah stole the show with his moving and emotional acceptance speech. He reminded us of his age – “I want to thank my Mum and Dad,” he said – and of his promise.
And he gave a gracious nod to Gudinski, whose influence remains profound.
“Thank you to Michael,” Budjerah said.
“I only spoke to him twice but he opened a lot of doors for me. I just can’t believe this. This is insane.”
There were tears, and the ARIA’s closed the book on its most challenging two years with many signs of promise.