53 important life lessons from Australian music of the ’90s

Ah, the ’90s.  Liz and Stephanie both came of age in that magical decade.  We have fond memories.  We both learned a lot from ’90s Australian music, and we thought it was time to share those lessons.

If this post has a theme song, it’s Kimbra’s “90’s Music”.  Obviously.

Gif from Kimbra's video for "90s Music": a child puts a video into a stickered machine and hits play.

For the purposes of this post, 2000 is absolutely part of the ’90s.  YES, WE ARE INTO THAT LEVEL OF PEDANTRY AROUND HERE.  Well, Liz is.

  1. At some point in its existence, every single share house in Australia will have “Accidentally Kelly Street” as its theme song. (“Accidentally Kelly Street”, Frente!)
  2. No matter how great your post-punk ’80s synthpop homage is, a deliberately incorrect apostrophe in your band name will ensure you’re a one hit wonder. (“Cry”, The Mavis’s)
  3. Thanks to that one montage in Heartbreak High, “Only When I’m Sleeping” will always seem melancholy and ultimately heartbreaking. (Stephanie note: THAT’S BECAUSE IT IS COME ON)  (“Only When I’m Sleeping”, Leonardo’s Bride)
  4. Australians invented girl power; the Spice Girls just had better marketing. (“Girl’s Life”, Girlfriend)
  5. Actually, you don’t need to wash your jeans that much. (“Dirty Jeans”, Magic Dirt)
  6. In every pop queen there is an alt-pop singer-songwriter yearning to be free. (Kylie Minogue, Impossible Princess)

    Album art for Impossible Princess: Kylie Minogue crouches, knees apart, in a prism of light.
    Kylie has yet to top “Did It Again” for quality and self-awareness.
  7. It’s possible to have an earworm in 2014 from a song you heard once in 1998 and never managed to track down a copy of, even though the internet assures you the lead singer in that obscure Melbourne group is still totes hot.  (“Delicious”, Moler)
  8. It’s wrong, but Liz liked that song about American hegemony and teen angst a bit more after it’s used in Buffy.  (“American Shoes”, Motor Ace)
  9. The nicest boys can write the stalkiest songs.  (“Everywhere You Go”, Taxiride)
  10. Don’t ask Dannii Minogue to look after your goldfish while you’re away.  (Cover art, “All I Wanna Do” single)

    Danni(i) Minogue, in her blond incarnation, is ... sexily licking goldfish water?
    Seriously, Dannii, what are you doing to that fish? And why do you change the spelling of your name every few years?
  11. Girls like that don’t go for guys like us (but your 32 year old self will realise that’s just a classic case of nice guy itis from the 90s) (“Girls Like That (Don’t Go For Guys Like Us)”, Custard).
  12. A mixed-race girl from the outer suburbs of Perth can be just as much of a pub bogan as anyone else, a realisation you’ll make the first time you ever hear “Holy Grail” and every time after. (“Holy Grail”, Hunters and Collectors)
  13. Every friend has their flaws, but they’re awesome regardless and you still love them. (“You Sound Like Louis Burdett”, The Whitlams)
  14. Flower hats will go out of style (non Australians may know them as Blossom hats), but you will always, in your heart, wish they come back (“Take It From Me,” Girlfriend)
  15. Brown Australian boys can be just as cool as white boys from anywhere (and this was important in Stephanie’s identity formation) (“Let’s Groove”, CDB)
  16. The rest of the world has other flavours of Coke! (“I Want You,” Savage Garden)
  17. Every breakup mixtape for the rest of your life will include the lines “I’m like a waterlogged ball / That noone wants to kick around anymore”. (“Heavy Heart,” You Am I)
  18. There are hipsters, and they come from Freo (“Sweater,” Eskimo Joe)
  19. Every Australian loves David and Margaret (the video clip for “Greg! The Stop Sign!” TISM)
  20. Liz’s home town was famous in the ’90s as the home to a whole lot of meth cooks.  (“Caboolture Speed Lab”, Custard)
  21. Stella One Eleven’s In Your Hands is a perfect work of feminist folk-rock, and absolutely worth spending a decade hunting down on CD after Liz’s Walkman ate the cassette.  (Stella One Eleven, In Your Hands)
  22. Even at the age of 13, you know that “When I kiss your mouth, I want to taste it” is a fairly sexual lyric, and no amount of disingenuous denials in radio interviews will change that.  (“Mouth”, Merril Bainbridge)
  23. No matter how floppy the hair or sincere the puppydog eyes, one great boyband cover of a disco track doesn’t equal a great album.  (CDB, Glide With Me)

    Album art from CDB's first album -- four gorgeous young men of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean descent stare broodingly at the camera. They are so sincere.
    Liz had the cassette.
  24. (For a boyband who had one hit and then vanished into obscurity, CDB were surprisingly important to No Award.  They are now the official boyband of No Award.)

    The same men, nearly two decades later. The facial hair is a bit more assured. The floppy haired one had it cut.  They've still got it.
  25. Paul McDermott and that blonde-haired Wiccan with the culturally appropriative Bindis should have collaborated more.  (Paul McDermott and Fiona Horne, “Shut Up/Kiss Me”)
  26. Can’t drink the water in Sydney. Can’t eat the food in Japan. Can’t breathe the air in Los Angeles but a million people think they can. (Frenzal Rhomb, “Never Had So Much Fun”)
  27. Bad boys are overrated.  (Girlfriend, “Bad Attitude”)
  28. Simplicity is timeless.  (“The Day You Went Away”, Wendy Matthews)
  29. Can’t dance?  At least try to vogue. (Video for “Human Race”, Margaret Urlich)
  30. No Award does not endorse age-related prescriptivism, but nevertheless, there may come a time when it seems a bit silly for a grown woman to sing about pashing.  (“Pash”, Kate Cebrano)
  31. Objectifying women isn’t cool, but CGI is pretty great.  (“Polyester Girl”, Regurgitator, and associated video)
  32. In some cases autotune and associated voice processors are good and necessary things.  (Diana Ahnaid/Ah Naid/Anaid, any of her live songs compared with a studio track)
  33. Why can’t everything be like before?  Time moves ever onwards, but fuzzy guitars are forever.  (“Pace It”, Magic Dirt)
  34. A song can be really beautiful and insightful and brilliant, and then descend into self-congratulatory grossness because white men think they’re hilarious.  (Last 30 seconds of “No Aphrodisiac”, The Whitlams.)
  35. Sisterhood is great…  (“Sister”, Sister2Sister)
  36. …especially if you’re fighting ninjas together.  (“Venus or Mars”, Jackson Mendoza)
  37. The 20th century sucked, but the year 2000 will bring a dramatic positive change.  (And just because it’s the ’90s doesn’t mean we should stop hating Thatcher.)  (“Anthem for the Year 2000”, silverchair)
  38. Don’t put up with people who don’t take you seriously.  Especially dudes.  (“Don’t Call Me Baby”, Madison Avenue)
  39. Falling in love is a lot like experiencing a traumatic injury.  (“Buses and Trains”, Bachelor Girl)
  40. Bass addiction is a serious problem in modern society.  (“Addicted to Bass”, Josh Abrahams & Amiel Daemion)
  41. From girlpop queen to goth-infused pop singer-songwriter via world music is a really great progression.  (“Sick With Love”, Robyn Loau, “Manu”, Siva Pacifica)
  42. In the wake of the Columbine massacre, nothing is more appropriate than a cheery alt-pop song about a public shooting.  (“Run Baby Run”, deadstar)
  43. Is there anything better than grunge?  Yes, grunge with a woman on guitars and vocals.  (“Down Again”, The Superjesus)
  44. Grunge pop with a woman on vocals and white-person dreads on everyone is less great, but still important in demonstrating that kids from tiny country towns can make a big noise.  (“Weir”, Killing Heidi)
  45. If you were an Australian Voyager fan in your teens, Powderfinger’s “My Happiness” may have been a really important song for you.  Also, Roma Street Station is no place for a tiny CGI slinky.  (“My Happiness”, Powderfinger)
  46. Being a teenager is really hard, but somewhere out there is an indie band who gets it.  (“Teenager of the Year”, Lo-Tel)
  47. If you’re 11 years old, the “when you make love to me” line in Danni(i?) Minogue’s “This Is It” is pretty racy.  I mean, if you’re quite a sheltered 11 year old.  (Julian McMahon’s chest hair is also troubling.)  (Dannii Minogue, “This Is It”)
  48. Ex-child star striving for credibility after an awkward “sexy” album?  Think sepia. Everyone takes beige seriously. (“Chains”, Tina Arena)

    Tina Arena (pouty white woman with shoulder-length brown hair) looks pensive in sepia tones.
    This is a serious business album cover.
  49. Bad break-ups come with surprisingly violent imagery, and maybe it’s safest to be single forever. (“Torn”, Natalie Imbruglia)
  50. If a New Zealander writes a really good theme song for all the wistful, dreamy girls who will in a decade worry if they’re secretly manic pixie dream girls, well, New Zealand is practically Australia, right? (“Sway”, Bic Runga)
  51. Australian musicians can do weird and emotional alt-rock just as well as Tori Amos or Fiona Apple, even if tedious Triple J dudes will laugh at her a few years later.  Because they’re JERKS.  (No Award does not endorse stalking even if the riffs make it sound totally empowered.)  (“Coma”, Max Sharam)
  52. The very first time you hear a pop song with an Australian accent, it will sound weird and affected.  (“Ordinary Angels”, Frente!)
  53. If a brown person writes sings a song about their home in the Torres Strait or just north of Arnhem Land, it will be co-opted by the mainland for generic Australian pride.  (Christine Anu, “My Island Home”)

How serious are we about this post?  It has its own playlist on Spotify.  Think of it as No Award Radio.  Or don’t.  We’re not the boss of you.  Sadly, because of the limitations of American music streaming services, it doesn’t have all the songs discussed here.  Yeah, we’re mad, too.

27 thoughts on “53 important life lessons from Australian music of the ’90s

    1. THAT IS TERRIBLE! I spent several allowances on their album and the single for “Let’s Groove”. They should at least get a share of my limited money, dammit!

  1. via the tweets, mr dave cake offers the annoying correction that my island home was written by a white dude for his aboriginal friend to sing in 1986. wiki backs this up. DAMN. (but interesting)

    1. Huh. I knew Christine Anu’s version was a cover, but not that it was written by a white dude.

      However, I think it only requires slight adjustment, since it’s still a case of a song being written about a specific Indigenous context being co-opted to be more generic.

  2. OMG this post. THIS POST. Everything. But especially the note about Did It Again (I have the single. Still) and the Holy Grail. (I’m still looking for it.)

    Re: Coma – Mr Dee and I once compiled a playlist of stalker songs in order of how freaked out you would be to open your curtains and find the artist outside your window. Max Sharam sadly didn’t rate highly, but come on, when you’re up again PJ Harvey, the competition’s fierce.

    To conclude: unfortunately for Magic Dirt and the entire jeans-wearing population, you DO have to wash your jeans more often now that they all have fucking spandex or elastane in them and I hate it. HATE IT.

    1. Max Sharam sadly didn’t rate highly, but come on, when you’re up again PJ Harvey, the competition’s fierce.

      OOOOOH. Now, see, I feel like Max Sharam might be scarier than PJH, because Polly Jean is more of a known quantity, and you could probably just invite her in for a glass of wine and talk about sculpture and first world war poetry for a while.

      To conclude: unfortunately for Magic Dirt and the entire jeans-wearing population, you DO have to wash your jeans more often now that they all have fucking spandex or elastane in them and I hate it. HATE IT.

      I KNOW. And then they shrink, and you have to break them in again, and it’s just way too much effort for overpriced denim that won’t last as long as it should.

      1. Denim anecdote: I went on a roadtrip down the east coast of the US with an American friend in, like, 2008 and she said something about “third-day jeans” and I went, “er, what?” and then by the time I bought my next jeans the spandex had happened and I sent her an email going, “OMG I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN NOW”.

        Belated addendum to my comment because I realised that, while I know the Mavis’s, I didn’t think I knew Cry, which seemed weird for a one-hit wonder. Then I listened to song, realised I did know it, but had never realised it was the Mavis’s because I knew them for “Naughty Boy” and that’s a different fish.

        (PS: Steph, Mr Dee specifically wants to know where the Ammonia is on the list. Surely he’s not the only one who feels this way.)

  3. I won the Melissa (Tkautz) CD from Fox FM. And I think she was fly spraying herself in a video.

    I used to think there was a drug called dohyoh because of that John Farnham-Danielle (think I’m missing an apostrophe there) Gaha. “Do you do the drug or does the drug dohyoh”. And I used to think it was an incomplete line, like WTF does dohyoh DO then???

  4. We used to play a few Moler covers in one of the various Adelaide wanna-be alt bands I was in (not the good one, which was all girls.) And due to the magic of the internet I am now ‘friends’ with Helen “Helcat” Cattenach and I finally know the chord progression I could never get at the end of ‘Red Light Disco’.

  5. Amazing list. Everything is gold. Stephanie wanted me to share some things with you all:

    1. I went to see Savage Garden at the Silverdome in Launceston when I was 7 (1997). I fell asleep during the support act and was woken up when SG game on stage. As established this morning – I still know all the words to ‘I Want You’.
    2. My dad is a winemaker. In the 90s I grew up on a vineyard in Tasmania. From 1997-1999 my Dad decided we needed to make use of the amphitheatre and so the winery/vineyard held concerts. So the first concerts I went to were Wendy Matthews, Kate Cebrano and Christine Anu. Amazing right?

  6. Mr Dee should know that there will be a part 2. I arbitrarily decided we should cut off the post at 50 because we didn’t want this post to go forever.

  7. Jocelyn

    awesome post… I’m a kylie fan from the locomotion days of being a 12 y/o needing a tiered skirt like immediately… Impossible Princess and her show at the Enmore was truly her finest…..

    And go the 90s indie rock… A bit of Clouds… A bit of Hummingbirds….. *sigh….

  8. Thank you for that commentary on No Aphrodisiac. Every time it comes up on my playlist I wish I could get a bread knife (see what I did there?) and saw off the last 30 seconds.

    It is also, embarrassingly, the only song on this entire list that I know. (But, you know, Canadian. And also I kind of skipped the 90’s, musically speaking.)

    1. I think there’s actually a radio edit somewhere that cuts that bit off. As a kid I was OUTRAGED that ART had been REDUCED FOR THE SAKE OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, but now I’m like, “Yeah, nuh.” I should try and unearth it.

      1. The radio edit cuts out slightly more than the last 30 seconds — 3:26 vs 4:20 — but I totally have a copy… for some reason, they didn’t like to put the album version on compilation CDs, either (hi, Unofficial National Anthems compilation albums!)

  9. sqbr

    This was a lot of fun even if it was objectively WRONG on certain points. Namely the lack of Nick Cave and the choice of Powderfinger song. But it did point out some holes in my own collection. *goes off to listen to the youtube versions of the songs not on the spotify list*

  10. “You Sound Like Louis Burdett” always reminds me of my best friend from my last three years of high school. He introduced me to The Whitlams (I grew up in a Classical Music Only household) & we used to drive around after school singing that song at the top of our lungs. Sadly our friendship couldn’t overcome the massive class divide that opened up between us once we left school. I still love the song, but it makes me a bit sad now.

    The rest of this list is a study in “wait that was from the 90s? Wait, that was Australian?!” for me – I didn’t start independently listening to what my girlfriend laughs at me for calling Contemporary Music until 2005. I feel like I have missed out on so much! Clearly I needed some of these important life lessons!

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