Today, the 28th of November, marks another year of that hallowed Australian institution: The ARIA Awards.
The Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards (for those not fond of brevity) is an annual display of glitz and glamour in the name of Australia’s largely moribund music industry and is a red-letter day in the calendar of every B-lister from Mooloolaba to Karratha, as an extra opportunity (other than the Logies, of course) to rub shoulders with some of Australia’s most talented musicians, breakfast TV hosts and Bachelor contestants (the latter technically qualifying as Z-listers.)
Though one might logically take such an invitation as a one-way ticket to partying with the “stars”, last year’s woefully organised event proved to be something very, very different.
Please let us know if you would like to attend, it will be an amazing event – one not to be missed!
This is how my invitation to last year’s awards ceremony was signed off. The affable PR contact who reached out, inviting me to cover the ceremony and attend a VIP event simply told me to rock up between 12 and 12:30 for registration. I could even bring a guest to the lunch–smashing, though as I was soon to learn, Pepsi Max and crisps does not a balanced diet make.
While the media contingent is generally split into two distinct categories: the first being reporters and photographers on the red carpet (read: real journalists) covering the who’s who (i.e. the stars we import from the US each year to give the occasion … well … a sense of occasion), and mostly tweeting about what (or, rather, “who”) they’re wearing.
The second lot of media are those who have been invited to enjoy the night. Plucked from the pit of flashing cameras, often an opportunity comes up in this job to join the party as a guest–a regular–and given that we’re more a lifestyle publication than we are a music website, it looked like a good opportunity to branch out into something broader and press the flesh (who knows, maybe Kochie’s not a complete tool in real life?).
But looks can be deceiving.
My guest for the day was my friend Liz, whom I had invited for two reasons: the first being that she loves the Australian indie music scene and would genuinely enjoy seeing that band she likes play that song they do live. Or, like, whatever.
The second reason being that I had absolutely no fucking idea who any of the names on the red carpet list were (apart from one, a personal favourite of mine who later got in trouble for lifting his kilt… Oh, Kirin.). Liz was to be my insider for the day, pointing out artists (I didn’t know what a Harry Styles was, but I do now) as they appeared, just in case I had to talk to anybody.
Heading to the registration desk at The Star (because you can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter), manned by the most disgruntled security guard they could have found (give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, give a man a clipboard and an earpiece and he’ll turn into a right twat), we couldn’t help but notice an abundance of teenagers.
The type who listen to KIIS, or 2Day, or whatever it’s called. The type who enter competitions on said radio stations to win tickets to events like The ARIAs. The type of events where they put 100 sweating, pre-pubescent kids on a balcony near the stage for four hours while the ceremony happens down below. The kind of event to which no PR agent in their right mind would ever invite a journalist, for fear of an article like this being written.
“This isn’t it. We’re in the wrong place”, I offered in worried yet consoling tones to Liz, who was already in need of a bottle of Pinot Gris and a cigarette.
“What do we do if there’s no alcohol? Is this just kids? Are we at a kids event?”
“I don’t know”, I again offered in gradually less confident tones.
“There’s free drinks inside the tent for yas. No alcohol, obviously”, said the bald security guard, who looked at the crowd with an appropriate level of disdain for somebody relegated to babysitting duties. We were shuffled into a heavily branded tent next to the red carpet, where I received more sideways looks for my hair and general attire than I did in high school. And I didn’t much like high school.
I looked around the space where I was ostensibly spending the next (long) five hours of my suddenly sorry life, and realised the extent to which this hell was about to play out before my eyes. Teenagers played table tennis. Teenagers guzzled Sunkist and Pepsi Max. Teenagers stuffed their faces with snack-sized packets of Red Rock Deli crisps in that unrefined way that only teenagers can.
So. Many. Fucking. Teenagers.
“Maybe it won’t be so bad”, opined Liz–ever the optimist (though with a heavy bias towards seeing Harry Styles, no matter what it took). “We can just hang here until we go in and then once we’re in just not sit near them.”
“I need a drink”, I offered, with more desperation than optimism. What if there weren’t going to be drinks inside, later? What if we weren’t actually going to the ARIAs at all but just another shitty tent, to watch another shitty screen filled with more shitty musicians?
Nothing was certain, and I didn’t like it.
“Maybe we can just go to the pub and come back later”, said Liz, speaking some sense (though this definitely came from a place of fear: fear that I might have a seizure surrounded by so much … adolescence … without an alcoholic beverage).
We spoke to Mr. Happy, the bald security guard who resembled Prison Extra Number Three from a Disney film. He was adamant that we not leave. I explained that it was an emergency, and that we would be back by five at the very latest, in time to be escorted through to the ceremony, and he begrudgingly opened the gate and allowed us back into the real world.
As limousines pulled in behind us and various tweens sporting sparkly jackets and shit-eating smirks piled out onto the red carpet, we made a beeline for that other hallowed Australian institution: The Pyrmont Bridge Hotel.
I’ve always liked the PBH. There’s a certain honesty to a venue that will only let you in after scanning your driver’s license during daylight hours, even when it’s empty.
*Ping*. My phone goes off, and it’s an email.
I hope that you have not had a difficult time today.
We have had some feedback that the event has been poorly managed.
Let me know how it went.
(Her name is not really X, but I thought I’d be nice and keep it anonymous.)
My reply was, put briefly, not the happiest. But it was polite.
PR people, like all of us, make mistakes. It was this which stopped me from writing this tale of woe a year ago, for fear of retribution for the PR agent who had lumped me in with the entire cast of Degrassi for a day; an obvious mistake. But some mistakes are funny, and to not see the humour in this whole scenario would be foolish.
In short, how I got kicked out of the ceremony was more a matter of expediency and practicality rather than anything scandalous. After a few drinks, Liz and I headed back to the Nickelodeon tent (or whatever it was) and were ushered through the kitchens behind the stage, to a queue where we were forced to wait for what felt like an hour, but was probably only 58 minutes. We were then given a lengthy speech by Mr. Happy about what we couldn’t do (anything, including leave at will, it turned out), and we were escorted single-file up to a balcony above the stage to watch the ceremony happen down below.
We stood on this balcony while Sophie Monk (remember her? She was on telly at the time) cracked wise about her new squeeze (that didn’t last), watched PNAU do that one song that was played all year by Triple J, and decided that we loved martinis more than we loved the rich tapestry of humour and talent on show below us. So I simply told the security guard at the door that we’d like to please leave.
“You can’t leave.”
“Yes I can.”
“No, if you need to use the facilities you can wait ’til intermission.”
“But I don’t need to use the facilities, I need a drink.”
“I can get my supervisor, but I can’t let you leave.”
I’m no expert, but from what I understand, locking a fire escape is a bit of a no-no. As I pulled my hand away from the definitely locked handle, somebody nameless came onto the stage to announce another award for a band I’d never heard of. With a vein now visible in my temple, my patience had found its limit, and it was time to go away from the teenagers surrounding me and the fake tan below. At any cost, I needed to get off this fucking balcony.
“Where is your supervisor”, I asked with as much politeness as I could muster. “It’s been twenty minutes. I need to leave.”
Five minutes later, Mr. Happy showed up looking very confused.
“What’s going on here?”
“I’d like to please leave. My friend and I have been waiting nearly half an hour. I want to leave this balcony and the event.”
“Maybe we should wait and see Harry”, offered Liz. “I really like Harry.”
“No, Mr. Happy is already here, I don’t want to put him out or anything.”
“What did you call me?”
“Nevermind. I’m going to leave this balcony if it kills me. Or Harry. I don’t care. I’m leaving.”
“Mate, you’re a dickhead. Keep talking like that and you’ll get kicked out.”
“I’ve been asking to leave for the best part of the last hour.”
“That’s it mate. You’re outta here.”
I was frogmarched backstage, past the chefs and the presenters in fake tan, past a confused looking Richard Wilkins and, finally, to freedom, where our wristbands were ripped off for us by the five-foot nothing prick with a clipboard, and we were both informed that we would never be invited to another ARIAs (not sure how a sub-contracted rent-a-cop plans to police that one, but I was amused nonetheless).
But I wouldn’t go to another ARIAs anyway. See, this story might be a big laugh for me, but the event itself is pure trash. Our music industry has been on repeat for decades when it should be on shuffle. In the ’80s, Australia contributed more hits to the world stage than we contributed Merino jumpers in the ’20s.
Now, bands are forced to tour to a point of exhaustion to pay labels back their dues, or groups recycle the same material but move it overseas to find a market that will sustain them.
It’s the same people every year, fawning over the same claptrap, and were it not for the three or four foreigners they fly over to bump up the event’s profile each year, nobody would pay any attention (want proof, why else would they do it? Is our music industry so bland that we need to award Harry Styles a “Best International Act” award? Is he really the “best international act”, or just the most available at the time?).
This year, we get Keith Urban, an Australian country musician who is neither very Australian (he was born in New Zealand and has lived in the US since 1991), nor very country (his last name is Urban FFS).
And that’s not surprising in the slightest, because just like my experience last year, this is what we’ve come to expect from The ARIAs: an urbane melange of recycled sights and sounds for the next generation of teeny-boppers who tune into FM radio, while a plethora of local talent gives up or moves overseas.
Oh, and Liz hasn’t spoken to me since.