Tina Arena’s cancellation: the final act of the tip fire that was 2021. Why I’ve moved to the Jimmy Barnes camp.
My reflections on the ABC’s NYE2021: television Let’s Celebrate! concert and fireworks spectacular, billed to have all Australians dancing across the country.
Firstly, I’m dedicated in my support of female vocalists, this isn’t about gender. 2022 marks the start of me rescinding Tina Arena fan status. And why as a queer man, I’m more happily working-class man, Barnesy.
Cold Chisel used the ABC Countdown stage to protest in 1981, making a political statement about music being mined on live TV. I didn’t identify with Cold Chisel, Flame Trees, that the other guys in my small town growing up did. Instead, I’d play Tina Arena’s debut album Strong as Steel on cassette. Singing along to, “a woman’s work is never done”, now seems oddly normal for a twelve-year-old boy growing up. As a young artist, the album signalled Arena’s transition from childhood star, from the suburbs of Melbourne into a legitimate pop star. I was a fan.
During the success of Arena’s 90s album Don’t Ask I’d lost count of the times that I’d sing along to the CD and attempt to hit the high notes to the hit Chains. The production of the opening track, flawless. By then in my early 20’s, I felt that Arena understood me as a gay man: What it meant to deal with men and being chained, “as if your arms are made of cold steel”. Tina got me; I got her too.
Don’t Ask included a beautiful song Sorrento Moon, which growing up on the Mornington Peninsula held special meaning. I remember driving my sister and her friends to the Continental Hotel (the Connie), them in the backseat, singing along after a few drinks “it was also tender, by the sweet Sorrento moon…” The song is a memorable fan favourite, that I think, most people in Australia today would know and sing along to.
In 2013, I went to see Bruce Springsteen at Hanging Rock. I scoffed at the support act – Jimmy Barnes. That was until he took the stage, my jaw dropped at the sheer veracity of him as a performer, his presence, command, and his vocal control. What struck me most, Jimmy got the audience, and had everyone (including myself) singing along. I came away thinking how I was a bit naive about Jimmy Barnes, his reach and that his songs were about protest and the significance of the Vietnam war.
The ABC’s NYE2021: Let’s Celebrate! Concert included a high quality of curation of performers. Twitter will always light up, no matter how good the production is. Barnes used his platform mindfully. Using his set to sing crowd favourites. And a Troy Cassar-Daley song, Shutting Down our Town. Reminiscent of his protest performance in 1981. Commanding “they’re shutting down our town” using the stage in his trademark act of falconry.
The act is then followed by Tina Arena, a seasoned professional, stage presence, and considered by many to be one of the country’s finest female vocalists. The premium spot of the show. I thought the choice of her first song was a bit of an odd moment, the Symphony of Life. Ok, I thought. Slick production, she was centred, the stage elements on point, lighting and smoke.
Then came Arena’s second song. It’s time to go to Church. I wrote on Twitter that Arena truly failed to read the room. Arena’s set list made a call to arms for us to go to church. It was an act of political arse kissing, akin to rubbing our face in shit. Just an arm-twisting reminder of who’s in charge and running this shit show. For the record, it’s not Barney’s and his guitarist wearing a ‘welfare not wealth’ tee-shirt. It was followed by the appalling zeal of a cover of ACDC’s Back in Black, in reference to what some on social media declared was a veiled line of the Coalition’s ability to aptly to manage the countries budget.
In the Fin Review, Kitney writes of the “steady growing influence of the Pentecostal Christians within the Liberal party as a result of grass roots infiltration by activists”.
A steady blurring of the lines between church and state. Arenas performance at Aunty’s NYE show, driving home the point, the ABC is controlled by the Coalition government, losing even more independence, to a government whose reach is beyond reproach.
No, Tina, it’s not time to go to church. It’s actually time to get to work.
As an artist, Arena has boasted about the importance of singers being story tellers. What’s your story Tina? What story are you telling the country and the average Australian? Never mind the artists, every Australian musician that you sold out, with your performance. The set-list was an undermined snipe, an abuse of your privilege that you have been afforded in spades. So why didn’t Arena include her uplifting hit Sorrento Moon?
Though I’m not convinced by anyone with the audacity to make such a political statement in front of the nation at a critical point of the year, five minutes to midnight, a performance when the audience has never needed more hope, protest, something to hang onto or to believe in. Instead, Arena made the decision to arse kiss one of the most uninspiring political leaders our country has ever seen.
Citizens of this country, until only a few weeks ago, have been left unable to access their home for months. People have been unable to travel freely within the federation, unable to access health treatments; families have been torn apart for years, loved ones unable to enter the country or move between states, at the critical end of life period. Recently these acts have been labeled as inhumane. We are not a country who is either young and or free. We are damaged by border controls between states of a broken Federation. We have never needed artists more to inspire.
Arena used this moment to curate a set list, that did not lift the audience. Instead, she consciously made the decision to divide, preach and lecture. And I’m sure of one thing: that a person who would make that decision professionally, does not have the capacity for self-reflection.
Maybe Tina Arena is a lot smarter than me. And that it was a business decision to grow her audience. Tapping into a growing Christian movement in Australia.
Thank you, Tina Arena, for help to make the decision. I am no longer one of your fans. 2021 officially marks that cancelation of Tina Arena. As a gay man, I’ve never been prouder to say, I’m more Barnesy and Flame Trees than any bullshit story you’re selling sister.