Whether you joined us for our live-tweeting extravaganza of the ARIAs pre-show (which we all watched via YouTube, alongside a chat bar of which was filled with a lot of Harry Styles fans), or you continued with our pithy observations of the main awards ceremony broadcast on channel 9, or didn’t even realise the ARIAs were on at all – here’s a powder-fresh look into the entire shebang.
We’ve carefully selected eight of our favourite moments of the audience-less and socially-distanced affair held at the Star Casino in Sydney (and via video link, of course), and we’re dishing them up to you right here. Viva ARIA Awards 2020!
Words | Bryget Chrisfield and Zoë Radas
ALL HAIL SAMPA THE GREAT!
We first clap eyes on Sampa Tembo (the mastermind behind Sampa The Great) on a Botswana rooftop. Eyes averted, Sampa links arms with members of her ensemble to form a back-to-back circle. Instrumental backing and intensifying backup singing accompanies her spoken-word message: “In a country that pretends to not see black/ To not see its origins and its past/ Not only did black visionaries make you see/ But made it known who created human history/ And when we win awards, they toss us on the ad breaks of course/ But is that history lost?/ Can’t remember what you forgot/ Is it free?/ This industry, for people like me/ Diversity, equity in your ARIA boards/ To my people I say/ We are our own/ FREEDOM!” Sampa pauses with raised fist. Then Final Form‘s familiar bass throb kicks in.
Sampa lifts up and celebrates every single individual within her orbit, all of whom help bring her creative vision to life: musicians, producers, videographers, management, stylists, choreographers, dancers, costumiers, and makeup artists. Performances such as the one we witness as part of this 2020 ARIA Award ceremony take a village: four backup singers, six dancers, drummer, guitarist… their commitment to Sampa’s art is off the charts.
Sampa The Great made history when she became the first artist to win the Australian Music Prize twice (for 2017’s Birds And The BEE9 and 2019’s The Return) and her reign continues with three 2020 ARIA Awards (Best Female Artist, Best Independent Release and Best Hip Hop Release) to add to her collection.
Acceptance speech for Best Hip Hop Release:
“This award means a lot to me, because hip hop has been redefined in the past five, ten years in Australia. Young black artists, young people of colour, keep doing what you’re doing, keep bringing the stories to the forefront because now we get to see a side of Australia that was never shown. I’m sending all my love to black women who are in hip hop. It often feels isolated and masculine. You can step into whatever genre and be you. You can define genres.”
Acceptance speech for Best Female Artist:
“As someone who is wholeheartedly supported by some amazing women, I’m honoured to receive this award. I’ve done my best to represent who I am and how I’m going to be, and show the beauty of where I’m from. Women deserve to be applauded – of different shapes, sizes and race – and I am honoured to be able to be applauded as well.”
VICTORIOUS AGAIN, THE IMPALA OF TAME
With Jay Watson (aka GUM) commencing On Track on piano, Tame Impala showed us exactly why they went home with five of their seven ARIA Award nominations (Producer of the Year, Engineer of the Year, Best Group, Best Rock Album and the big one: Album of the Year) during their performance. “‘Cause strictly speaking, I’m still on track” – bit of an understatement there, Kev! We were stoked to see a top-knotted Nick Allbrook (remember he left this band to prioritise that other fabulous Perth outfit, POND? The one Watson’s also in?) playing bass, and is that also POND’s Shiny Joe Ryan dressed in green and sitting on an amp playing tamba? Ah, the whole fam’s back together! Musical geniuses all.
And Kevin Parker brought the LOLs during his Engineer of the Year acceptance speech: “My parents always wanted me to be an engineer – no, not this kind of engineer, but, y’know,” before admitting he really wasn’t expecting to win this award and then thanking YouTube (as in, tutorials).
WE LOVE FANNY
Let’s face it, we already loved Fanny. But watching that gobsmacked reaction when her album Fallow was announced as winner of Best Country Album just further elevated our fandom. Standing in front of the Snowy Mountains stone hut inside which her award-winning album was created, Fanny Lumsden – wearing a divine canary-yellow gown – beamed broadly as family cheered raucously out of shot. In-shot, Dan Stanley Freeman – Fanny’s hubby, bandmate and business partner – attempted to shush the Tooma massive and it was all wonderfully sincere and heartfelt.
HAMISH BLAKE: CHARMING DORK
After artfully acknowledging the absurdity of his inclusion on the ARIA Award presenter list this year (Hello? Remember how shite he always was as a guest on Spicks And Specks?), Hamish Blake pretended to create a Lego ARIA trophy and somehow once again made us all LOL at a crap gag.
ANGEL OF LONDON SAM SMITH
Whatever you want say about the pre-recorded bits of these kinds of televised shows, we have one fact set in stone: Sam Smith is utterly flawless live. The English vocalist is looking so comfortable, starry-eyed and tranquil these days (which could have something to do with the fact they just released the enormously acclaimed Love Goes, written while managing the response to their newly-public non-binary identity), and appears effortlessly cool in satin-edged suit, shiny platform Oxfords and one dangling pearl earring. Sam says they miss our country, having just been in Australia to perform earlier in the year before quarrantine and lockdown, and launches into their hit Diamonds as smoothly as a swan sliding into a lake, with three breathy-voiced back-up singers providing the extra magic to this subtly building, sure-fire stirring dancefloor gem.
One thing that’s never explained is the side-table with floral arrangement and a delicate teacup and saucer. I was really expecting it to be a prop at some point – how oh how would that have worked out?! – but no dice.
OUR GAL SOPH
We were reminded several times across the ceremony that the blessed reason Sophie Monk was initially elevated from Marilyn Monroe impersonator at Movie World to the vocalist, actress, presenter and Bachelorette we know today is because of one band: Bardot. And thankful we most certainly are, as Sophie’s brief but delightful appearance demonstrated her charm. “OMG, I’m so excited to be here at the ARIAs!” Monk hollered. “Oh… I forgot there’s no audience, I might bring my volume down,” she mumbled in a little self-chastisement. The best bit comes afterwards when she welcomes her co-presenter Kylie Minogue to the stage…. sounds corny, but this girl’s comic timing is impeccable.
MAN OF THE NIGHT, ARCHIE ROACH
Chopping onions, eyeball sweat, a good ol’ bawl: however you want to put it, it’s what happened to Australia upon watching Mooroopna-born musical icon Archie Roach’s performance of his stellar 1988 track Took The Children Away (with an incredible backing band featuring vocals from Paul Kelly, Linda Bull, Jess Hitchcock, and Paul Grabowsky on the piano), his induction into the ARIA Hall Of Fame, and his wins in the Best Male Artist and Best Adult Contemporary Album (for Tell Me Why?) categories.
We were gifted a moving featurette about Archie’s early life as a child of the Stolen Generations sent to Rumbalara Mission and his subsequent adoption by a white family, his return to his homeland and romance with the late Ruby Hunter, his star’s ascent, and many remarks on Archie’s achievements and ongoing legacy from industry luminaries including Michael Gudinski, Uncle Jack Charles, Emma Donovan, Roach’s son Amos, and of course, Paul Kelly. “He’s been there since the beginning,” Roach said of his friend, before pausing and adding, “I don’t mean from back when man walked on two legs… ‘and they called him PAUL!'” he guffaws.
Kelly recounted the story of Roach’s first support gig (for Kelly’s band), in which the audience fell into stunned silence after the musician’s rendition of Took The Children Away. “Archie thought he’d bombed, and sort of walked off the stage,” Kelly describes, mimicking Roach’s bowed head. But then the applause started to rise, and rise, and rise.
We’re left with Amos’ repetition of Ruby’s words: “It’s not just about you, Archie Roach: When one of us shines, we all shine.” The most enormous adulation is due to this humble, shining talent of our country – congratulations Archie Roach.
WE ARE WOMAN
Not sure how to properly sum up the superb tribute to the late Helen Reddy which closed out this year’s awards, so just immerse yourself in its magnificence again, below.