Australia vs. America

Daniel Bott

An Aussie’s perspective of how American music stacks up Down Under

“If you do not express regrets your stay in Australia may be indefinite, unless you can walk across water.”

—Bob Hawke

In 1974, when Frank Sinatra rubbed a few Australians the wrong way, Bob Hawke — head of Australia’s trade union movement and Guinness Book of Records holder for the quickest chugged beer — blacklisted him from the country.

Sinatra’s private jet wasn’t refueled, bellboys wouldn’t serve him, stagehands refused to set up and ticket sellers for other forms of transport denied him service. Sinatra didn’t budge too often but exile on the other side of the world didn’t appeal to Ol’ Blue Eyes, so he made a half-hearted apology, did a few gigs then headed on home, vowing never to return.

Relationships with U.S. stars and Australians are usually cozier than that. For the record, Frank did return, enjoying his stay more the second time, while Hawke went on to be Australia’s Prime Minister.

Being an Australian citizen who’s worked in the Australian music industry and is now a U.S. resident, I can say there are many differences in the two industries but also many similarities. There’s also a heap of U.S. music I’m a fan of, too.

As for musical relations between the United States and Australia, well, when Australia’s AC/DC sings “She has the sightless eyes/ telling me no lies/ knocking me out with those American thighs,” we’d like to think you like that as much as we like it when the United States’ Metallica does not one, not two, but five encores at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, stopping only through fear of being arrested for noise pollution. And after all, there can’t be too many songs with direct references to an American girl’s thighs, right?

When the Stater asked me to write about the Australian industry and how it compares to the American one, I thought I’d better kick things off with some good news.

In an odd phenomenon, when a U.S. pop artist cracks Australia, give them six months and they will have cracked the United States on a massive scale. Stuffed if I know why, but I swear it’s true.

The good news? The reverse applies, too. Meaning, if your star is fading down under, I’d cancel that shopping spree and find a cheaper coke dealer because you’re as good as finished in the States. So if you think the sound of Ashlee Simpson’s voice (the real one) is the most annoying thing in the history of recorded sound and would rather listen to someone cutting through corrugated iron with a chainsaw, then don’t fear — that talentless female is as dead as disco.

Somebody once asked me if Kylie Minogue was like Britney Spears in Australia. Sort of, but not really. Britney Spears’ Australian equivalent is actually Steve Irwin. It’s not that Britney Spears wrestles crocodiles or has a fetish for karkee clothing. Or that Steve Irwin has an arse and rack that has inspired a thousand teenage boys to regularly masturbate.

No, far from it. It’s just that I can’t help but feel an entire nation cringes whenever these two say something. Do U.S. citizens ever feel like saying, “Yes Britney, you’re very attractive, I’m sure they’re real, that last song was just wonderful and we all feel the occasional urge to get married for 55 hours, but to put it bluntly you’re as dumb as a box of rocks, and I would rather get political opinions from my pet fish than hear them from you”?

Because I know Australians often feel like saying, “Yes Steve, that last crocodile wrestle was very impressive, no need to apologize for carrying your baby while feeding a crocodile, we all do that sometimes, and the two years in jail you could have gotten for being a complete idiot in Antarctica, well I’m sure those enemies of yours were out to get you again, but Steve, to put it bluntly, you’re a national embarrassment so can you please shut up?!”

But when it comes to complete lunatics, despite our best efforts, you guys leave us utterly in our wake. Sure, we’ve spawned Silverchair’s Daniel Johns, a star at 15, superstar at 18 and total nut case at 22. Anyone who develops a fear of telephones, thinks food is an “enemy” and all “apples contained razor blades” has got to stand reasonably tall in the screwed-up rock star stakes, but he’s no Michael Jackson.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh though. Perhaps with some nurturing, Johns might be able score a few child sexual assault charges, or at least develop an R. Kelly-style video collection.

I’m over the big-breasted blonde bimbo “singers” who can’t sing to save themselves as much as every other music lover out there, but there’s still a limit. The obese winner of “Australian Idol” probably pushed those limitations, which brings me to one area in the American industry where I’m not sure whether I should be disappointed or impressed.

In a country of 290 million people, surely there’s got to be a girl without breasts the size of watermelons who can sing. But if there are any record execs reading this who want to stray from the Britney, Jessica and Christina formula, please don’t use “Australian Idol” as your guide.

Contact Pop Arts reporter Daniel Bott at [email protected].