Australian Festivals And The Cultural Cringe Surrounding The Inclusion Of Local Pop Heroes

Written By Sam Murphy on 08/14/2019

Australian pop is having a moment right now but it’s left our festivals in an interesting position. While triple j has spent the past few years embracing the new wave of local pop from Mallrat to Ruel, there’s still a cultural cringe surrounding the genre that we just can’t seem to shake.

The Summer festival season is upon us and with it brings a whole new crop of artists gearing up to tour the country. Tyler, The Creator, Vampire Weekend, Disclosure, Brockhampton and more are all locked in on admittedly very good lineups. Interestingly, however, The Veronicas have found themselves on Beyond The Valley while John Farnham is on the Falls Festival lineup.

For the past three years, Falls has offered up a meme spot of sorts. Daryl Braithwaite was on there while The Horses was having a tongue-in-cheek revival and Toto came down-under as Africa was doing the rounds again. Farnsey’s You’re The Voice has been a pub classic for years but it’s difficult to see Falls younger crowds sticking around for anything beyond that despite the fact he was one of this country’s biggest hitmakers at one point. Similarly, The Veronicas have been tapped for a festival just as Untouched is reaching its meme-peak. The Brisbane twins have been active since 2004 and this is the first time they have been booked for their own slot at a festival of this kind.

Theoretically there’s nothing wrong a meme spot. The artist is getting paid and they’ve agreed to it but it says something about the way we view pop in this country that’s interesting to consider.

If you look at all the major festivals around the world this world, pop is well represented. Glastonbury tapped Miley Cyrus, Anne-Marie, Kylie and Janet Jackson and Coachella nabbed Ariana Grande for the headline spot while also booking Zedd, Blackpink and Kacey Musgraves. Chicago’s Lollapalooza also had Grande alongside The Chainsmokers and J Balvin.

We’re not suggesting Beyond The Valley books Grande. Her reported $8 million Coachella price tag makes her a very unachievable target for a local festival. While these international festivals, however, embrace their local pop pool, pop suffers from a cultural cringe in this country that blocks many of our biggest artists from festival stages.

Since 2004, The Veronicas have had 10 top 10 singles in Australia – more than this year’s Splendour In The Grass headliners combined. They have only been able to crack the Aussie festival scene thanks to a spot on Allday’s Restless and the skyrocketing popularity of Untouched. The Veronicas are no joke. They’ve produced some of this country’s most globally relevant pop music, charting in both the US and the UK. It’s worth noting Allday, a triple j sweetheart, is not collaborating with them for memes.

Like The Veronicas, Guy Sebastian also managed to break through the triple j door thanks to a popular act on the station. Just as memes about Sebastian robbing Shannon Noll on Australia Idol season one were doing the rounds, Sebastian linked with Paces. At this stage, Sebastian had seven top 10 albums but he was still yet to play a major Australian festival. He joined Paces for a viral Like A Version and suddenly found himself as a guest at Splendour In The Grass.

It’s hardly shocking that these artists haven’t found themselves on festival stages as often as Gang Of Youths or Dune Rats. triple j heavily dictates festival lineups here and for good reason. The station tapped into Australian youth in the early ’90s, providing an alternative to commercial stations. Up until recently, commercial radio heavily leaned to international pop and triple j gave young listeners a strong array of local alternative music. Rock launched the station but over the years the ‘alternative’ landscape has changed. Electronic, indie and rap have taken over and for the first time, pop was more popular than rock in last year’s Hottest 100.

Pop is cool now, as everyone’s been saying since they decided they liked Justin Bieber’s Sorry in 2015 and it’s left triple j and festivals in a very confusing position. The station plays Miley Cyrus now. It spun Mark Ronson’s Nothing Breaks Like A Heart featuring Cyrus but is still reluctant to spin Cyrus produced by Ronson. It also plays Drake featuring mainstream hero Rihanna but Rihanna featuring Drake is still a stretch. This isn’t a dig at triple j. It’s a reflection of what this country sees as ‘cool’ and for a long time anything attached to commercial music, particularly female popstars, was not considered to be ‘cool’ enough.

It’s interesting to consider Troye Sivan too. He’s one of our biggest exports but has never graced a major festival stage. He officially arrived on the music scene in 2014 with his EP TRXYE just before the pop tides started to change in Australia. Much of his time now is spent overseas where he’s played everything from Lollapalooza to V Festival. His last album Bloom was applauded by notably snobby tastemakers Pitchfork and Consequence Of Sound but he failed to grab triple j or festival love here. Maybe he just missed the train. His collaborators have since had adds on the station. Alex Hope has written for Ruel and Alec Benjamin while Gordi is a j mainstay.

On the bright side, the station is now one of the biggest champions of local pop music, bringing in a golden age of sorts. Tones and I is currently sitting at number one on the ARIA Charts with Dance Monkey while Mallrat, Wafia, G Flip and Ruel are all thriving after getting major boosts by the station. Commercial radio is on board with local pop too. Songs featuring an Australian artist make up 25 per cent of the radio airplay chart right now. Amy Shark, Dean Lewis, Tones and I and Illy are all getting spun on triple j and commercial.

It means that festivals are also featuring new pop acts but there’s still work to be done removing the cultural cringe and intended humour of it. This festival season go and see The Veronicas because they’re great. The argument that pop is manufactured and impersonal is redundant when it comes to them. They’ve co-written the majority of every album they’ve ever released and you’re enjoying Untouched because it’s a pristine pop song that’s supremely written.

While we’re at it, let’s get Kylie, Jessica Mauboy and Tina Arena up on our festival stages so we can celebrate our female pop idols as much as we hype up our male rockstars.