There’s always been a bit of a divide when it comes to CCM v mainstream, at least in the areas where I was growing up. Being from Australia (a country that is a lot less God-conscious than other places around the world), it’s often considered weird and different if you listen to nothing but CCM your whole life. Mind you, my brother and I did attend an Anglican primary school, so I guess early on in our own lives, we weren’t as ‘isolated’ as we initially thought we were. We then attended a ‘secular’ high school, which was fine, because my brother and I were able to see how the general population was like. Maybe it was because we were in our own CCM bubble for so long- and because we were both premature as twins; we were in our own proverbial bubble at home as well, a bubble that restricted our very own interaction with people generally, because of our family’s concerns- valid ones when you raise a family where twins are premature. You start to take extra care of them and wrap them in metaphorical bubble wrap so as to protect them from the ‘big bad world’. Maybe that’s an exaggeration as to how my brother and I grew up, but when it came down to it, we were indeed sheltered, much more than the average joe. And so high school was a pretty big deal for us- we weren’t in the bubble of ‘Christian’ anymore- because our primary school was of the Anglican variety, people didn’t really bat an eyelid when we said we only listened to Christian music (Carman and Delirious?, and some Steven Curtis Chapman, Steve Grace and Tim Hughes, to be precise).
I guess when we were in high school, everything changed. I guess we weren’t as vocal about our music listening habits as much, maybe because our friends weren’t as much of a fan as my brother, and I was towards CCM. Or maybe it was just because we realised at that stage (even if we weren’t fully aware of it) that the mainstream music that our friends and peers were listening to, wasn’t as ‘wrong’ as what we were led out to believe. You know how you listen to a certain genre, a certain style of music, and then when you come across something unique and different, you start to have a hard time trying to reconcile the music that you’ve listened to all this time, to the music that people around you are filling their souls with? Maybe I’m reading too much into situations and there’s not really a dilemma to be found when you compare different musical genres and stylistic structures across time periods, bands, and arrangements. But whatever the case, my brother and I listened to CCM all throughout primary school and high school, to little or no ‘pushback’ from others. People knew what kind of music we liked in primary school, and I don’t think people really cared, and when it was from Year 7 – 12, we just didn’t really advertise it that much that 1) we were Christians, and that 2) we loved CCM (and still do). I guess the people that knew, knew (our friends). And then others kinda figured it out on their own. What resulted was a childhood and teenager time, where our music listening experiences changed from being solely immersed in CCM and not really aware of anything else (primary school), to now listening to and enjoying CCM, all the while being aware of other music out there (high school). We would listen to our local radio station Hope 103.2 (back then it was called FM 103.2…and then it changed to Heart 103.2 in 2007/08), where CCM music played and interspaced between were mainstream songs here and there that weren’t saying anything negative against God; but weren’t really proclaiming His name either. Instead, these songs were ‘neutral’ if that is an actual word to describe music- songs that didn’t say one way or the other about spiritual matters, but still delivered songs that were overall positive and vaguely inspirational.
I was introduced to artists like Delta Goodrem, Guy Sebastian, Lifehouse, U2, Daughtry, Carrie Underwood, Tina Arena, Natalie Imbruglia, Missy Higgins, John Farnham, Coldplay, Keith Urban and John Mayer (not that I knew all their whole discographies, just songs here and there that would play on Hope 103.2), all throughout my teenage years as I was listening to the radio. Sure, I didn’t really seek out the artists later on, I just enjoyed the songs that were present on the radio during the time that it was played. But I guess looking back on it all, as I was more exposed to music that was different (but still similar) to the music that I had grown up listening to; I was realising ever so subtly that God was in fact in the thick of it, in the music that people would’ve dismissed from the outset as ‘worldly’- He was using music from artists like Delta, Guy and Lifehouse (and every other song on Hope 103.2) to bring people closer to each other and closer to Him in the whole process. I may not have understood it all back then when I was a teenager, and how music in all its facets (CCM and mainstream) can do either 1 of 2 things- bring people closer to each other and closer to the Creator or bring people further away (there’s no middle ground option on this); but I’m much more aware of this now. As the years went on after high school and into university, my brother and I started to venture into reviewing- my brother started to review at ChristianMusicZine.com (now defunct) and I started writing for IndieVisionMusic.com (still active even now). Expanding the broad listening experience within CCM towards different musical styles, during the time that I experienced reviewing for other publications, was something that I’ll be forever grateful for (as well as WOW Hits albums that really opened my eyes to the array of music artists under the banner of CCM). And then came 2014, when 365DaysofInspiringMedia.com was born. I guess you could say that my love for CCM and my exposure to Biblical music via the way of listening to Carman and Delirious? has shaped who I am today, and if the music artists that I started listening to first, was different…then would I even now be running a music review website with my brother? Maybe, maybe not. But herein lies the point. That even when I was a high schooler, I was confounded and exposed to music in the mainstream that didn’t objectively oppose the music that I was listening to, and the fact that it was on Hope 103.2…maybe the music of my teenage years that wasn’t explicitly ‘Christian’, somehow, in their own weird way, complimented CCM? I know I’m reaching and clutching at straws, but the way that I see it is this- music is music is music, and good music, regardless of if its CCM or mainstream, can impact people to go into two different trajectories with their life.
It was not until 2019 that my appreciation for music as a whole (inclusive of both CCM and mainstream) became even more encompassing and larger. Everyone who has read this blog post series up until now would know the music journey that both my brother and I have been on since February 2019. And as much as each week (most weeks, we do take breaks here and there) writing about a certain artist and their discography and their influence on modern music history, can seem like a laborious, time-consuming, arduous, and uninteresting task to undertake, I’ve since looked back on this experience as something majorly positive in my own life, as I would call February 2019 as one pivotal moment in my own personal life as being when I really started to see music for what it is- a tool and vehicle that can either be used to bring people closer together, or to divide people and cause rifts from the get-go. God gives the gift of music to people, and how they choose to use it (and to whom they are singing and to what they are singing about) are choices up to the individual, but what I’ve learnt from the last 2 years is this- that God being God can use the most unlikeliest of things, circumstances and situations, to refine our own character, and allow us to learn things about ourselves and others in the whole process that we are experiencing. To put it in music terms, God can use mainstream music (yes, that is indeed a revelation that I understood much more coherently and methodically within the latter part of the 2010s) to further His kingdom, He can use mainstream music to open up people’s eyes to injustices around the world; and can even use mainstream music to allow people to be more focused upon relationships and family rather than just the material. In fact, there’s becoming less and less of a divide between the ‘sacred v secular’, and music in all its facets, genres, styles, and time periods, are now starting to come together as people from CCM are starting to collaborate with artists from different social, economic, and political spheres of music compared to their own. And that is a good thing indeed.
The way that music has been produced and delivered now (through Spotify, Apple Music and Youtube Music) can be something surreal out of a movie, and maybe some people who are still believing in these hymns for the church (and are favouring choirs and organs more than anything else), may look at the way music has been heading this last 30 – 40 years, and could still declare to this day, that drums, guitars and everything else about CCM (not to mention mainstream music) are demonically inspired. But what I believe that has happened to music in the time I’ve been alive, is something more exciting than we as believers in Christ could even witness occurring. Yes, there was a time in my own life where I listened to CCM and nothing else. But I now know in 2021, that God is God, and if He chooses to impact someone’s life through a Chris Tomlin song, a Lecrae rap or even something by Lifehouse or Delta Goodrem, then who am I to say that God can’t do that? Music is an art that needs to be appreciated and respected, and as I’ve listened to 80 artists that I’ve written blogs about this past two years, I’ve recognised that I don’t know as much as I thought I did when it comes to CCM, music and the whole shebang, and that mainstream music can be used by the Lord as just as much as a tool as Christian music can. In fact, because mainstream music is much more readily acceptable, widespread, and popular; I’ve respected a lot more artists as I’ve listened to over the last 2 years or so, who start off in CCM and venture out to have more of a ‘ministry’ in mainstream, compared to those who solely stamp their flag in CCM and nothing else. That’s not to say that I’ve lost respect for artists like Casting Crowns, Carman, Delirious?, Steven Curtis Chapman, Rebecca St. James, Michael W. Smith, Newsboys, Chris Tomlin or Hillsong– not at all. The fact that these artists have stuck it out and have created content and music that reflects their own unwavering values and beliefs is very admirable in a culture that seems to be very fickle-minded. They haven’t lost my respect…it’s just that other artists in CCM have managed to deliver music of high quality that has mass appeal in both their initial market, and mainstream, without compromising on beliefs- and that is pretty cool.
Artists like needtobreathe, Switchfoot, Skillet, DC Talk (when they were around, they were considered the CCM band that pushed the boundaries and really had massive global mainstream appeal), Lecrae, Lauren Daigle, Jon Foreman, for KING & COUNTRY, Marc Martel, Marie Miller, Riley Clemmons and Apollo LTD; have all decided to go the route of mainstream at some point in their careers, yet each of them still holding a personal faith that has informed their own music and business decisions over the years. And for that, my admiration for these artists have grown even more. And as I’ve continued to explore the depths and chasms of mainstream, I’ve come to this conclusion of sorts- that’s it’s ok to love mainstream music. And a lot of these artists I just aforementioned are, if you were to reclassify, mainstream. It’s just that they sing about faith issues from time to time, and they deliver music that is much more reaching than someone who has a banner of CCM over their genre. And it is in this realisation that a fair amount of CCM artists that I was listening to, were just mainstream artists that sung about faith issues because that’s what they believed- well, that changed the game for me. Here I was worried that I would be ‘corrupted’ if ever I listened to mainstream, and here I was also over the years, jamming out to artists like needtobreathe, Skillet, Switchfoot and DC Talk, artists that by any type of available metric, would be considered mainstream by the average joe on the street. So, what did I make of that realisation that I had in the mid to late 2010s? I wrote a few blogs about it all under the title of Message Mondays (the articles that I wrote can be seen here, here and here), but I guess the real article that really allowed the website (and us personally) to have more of an opened mind to mainstream music and all that it could positively bring, was the article my brother wrote in 2017 titled ‘WHY CHRISTIAN MUSIC & MAINSTREAM MUSIC DO NOT HAVE TO BE AT ODDS, & HOW GOD CAN USE BOTH TO FURTHER HIS KINGDOM AT THE SAME TIME’. I know, a mouthful, but as I was re-reading the blog post my brother did around 4 years ago, I was able to marvel at the fact that we back then were beginning to understand the workings of how God was using mainstream music to impact people’s lives, and that mainstream music in general, isn’t necessarily the ‘big bad wolf’ that people grown up on CCM (like us) were led to assume and believe (not from our parents, so I dunno where we got that thought from).
Fast-forward until 2021, and a lot of the music we both listen to at the moment, is a mix of CCM and mainstream. Artists like Delirious? and Carman will still hold special places in my heart, and bands like Skillet and Switchfoot are sentimental because both these bands revolutionised how I myself saw music in general. Since 2019 I’ve listened to a myriad of music, some good, some not as, but through all that I’ve discovered and learnt, one thing underpins it all- just like how we can’t always understand the fine workings of God in a universe this big, we can’t understand why we like certain artists over others, and why we can appreciate artists in the mainstream more than an artist who rides the wave of CCM for the longest time ever. Music is music, and artists like The Shires, Lucy Thomas, CCM/mainstream crossover artists Apollo LTD, Riley Clemmons, and up-and-coming pop artist Ava Max, have been circulating in my Spotify playlists these last few months. I’ve been enjoying them, and never in a million years did I think that I would say Riley Clemmons and Apollo LTD (who are technically classified as CCM) in the same sentence as country duo The Shires, or pop sensation Ava Max. And that’s ok. Maybe my appreciation radar for music has just been widened over the last few years. Maybe I’ve come to understand that I was placing limits all this time, on what I believe God can use musically and what He can’t. And because of those parameters, I was missing out. Nevertheless, now I’m a much more open-minded person when it comes to music and what artists are coming my way (through the way of a youtube video here and there, or even a random Spotify song) from the Lord that He wants me to take notice of.
Amy Shark is one such artist that I’ve been listening to lately that has been either a random coincidence, or the Lord’s prompting, but whichever way you look at it, this up-and-coming Australian singer-songwriter has been an artist I’ve been listening to this last month or so. An artist that has an alternative/indie-rock feel (musically and thematically similar to Alanis Morissette, Echosmith, Missy Higgins, Dido or Natalie Imbruglia), it’s been a good, positive experience listening to an artist that I don’t think I would’ve done so, if I had stayed in my own CCM bubble and not undertake this musical experiment 2 or so years ago. How I’ve grown up has led me to where I am now, and while through listening to a lot of these artists, I kinda wished I explored them much earlier than now, what I’ve grown to know, is that the Lord has His own way and timing to a lot of these things. A lot of Amy’s music is indeed heavy (songs about loss, heartbreak and other intense emotions), and maybe I wouldn’t have been as mature on a spiritual level, if I listened to her music any earlier than this year of 2021. I would never know. But what I do know is that Amy’s music is heartfelt, challenging, encouraging, powerful, maybe even at times God-inspired, as this Queenslander starts to become of Australia’s rising stars over the last few years. While still only relatively known in the land of Oz (and nowhere else), it’s her vulnerable lyrics and her powerful voice, that places her within the confines of this blog post series list entitled ‘Influential Artists of the Next 5 – 10 Years’, a list that has continued to reflect the artists that I go-to now, to hear the current landscape of music (pop, rock, country, CCM, and the like), and how God is using more artists and genres and people than we can even realise, to bring people comfort and healing, and to shake up and really challenge the comfortable (myself included) in the lives we lead. Amy Shark is one such artist, that I’m honoured to place here in a list so subjective, but a list nonetheless that showcases a snapshot into what we as a site (my brother and I) firmly believe will become artists of now and into the future.
I was initially exposed to Amy’s music around a few years ago, with her song ‘Everybody Rise’. I think she sung it during one of The Voice Australia Live Shows, and maybe I wasn’t really paying attention to her music at that time, maybe I was, but I what I gleaned from that performance was ‘oh, just another Missy Higgins wannabe’. And maybe that was the initial vibe I was receiving from Amy and her music (maybe you can tell that too when hearing Amy’s music initially), but those were the thoughts that most likely would’ve gone through my head, years ago when I heard Amy for the first time. Amy then was part of the Firefight Australia concert that was organised in February 2020, as part of an initiative to host, and I quote, ‘…international and local music icons as they unite to share one stage for Australia during its time of need…’ Televised on Channel 7, and airing in its entirety one Saturday afternoon in February 2020, this concert, which I still firmly believe to be one of the most unique ways of gathering Australian (and international) artists to unite to bring hope and purpose to millions of Australians who were suffering because of the bushfires; was one of the last live events that would’ve gone ahead in its entirety, before the world shut down from March 2020 onwards. COVID-19 changed everything, and even now in the second half of 2021, I don’t think live shows (at least in Australia) have opened up yet. February 2020 had a sense of normalcy that we as a nation (and as the world) long to come back to, even if it is embedded now in reality, that the way that concerts were done pre-March 2020, is never going to happen again. So I say all this to remind myself that the people who participated on the night, guys like Delta Goodrem, Daryl Braithwaite, Jessica Mauboy, Tina Arena, Ronan Keating, Michael Buble, Queen, John Farnham, and Olivia Newton-John; embarked on something that is now considered to be one of the last ‘normal’ things Australia has ventured upon within the last 2 years or so- rightly or wrongly, these artists ought to be commended that their involvement in something so different and unique, has now been etched into many Australians hearts as some of the last people they have witnessed to be, in a live music setting. Maybe I’m being extra morbid, but I find that the way I really explored Amy Shark and her music, was because of Firefight Australia. I was eagerly anticipating the concert, because back then, though I wasn’t as ‘well-versed’ in mainstream music as I currently am now, I was still appreciating and enjoying my fair share of mainstream pop. I was working that day, but I did manage to catch the concert live at home, from about 6pm onwards. It was during the night, that Amy Shark decided to undertake her set-list. Though I didn’t know her songs, nor did I know who Amy even was, I was still naturally intrigued by her music from the get-go, upon reflection of events. I initially thought she was an up-to-date version of Missy Higgins at the time (and maybe that comparison still stands today), but maybe, just maybe, the connection between Amy and Missy can actually work in Amy’s favour. Even now, as I listen to Amy’s albums Cry Forever and Love Monster, I can still make the Missy connection- and maybe that can dissipate with time, and I can fully appreciate Amy for her music without the initial link between her and one of Australia’s icons. But herein lies the point- Amy’s music is heartfelt, emotive, compelling, and impactful, and whether her music itself harkens back to the days of old with Missy Higgins, is beside the point. Amy’s music is still encouraging, even with the comparison.
I guess it’s like how Lauren Daigle now is going to be forever compared to Adele– because she literally sounds like the British star. Nothing that Lauren can do, but that doesn’t discount the impact of Lauren’s music. I guess the same with Amy Shark and Missy Higgins. The comparisons I think will still be there. I reckon that as the years go by though, Amy will become more noticed for her music she creates herself, rather than the vocal and stylistic comparison to an artist whose popularity has unfortunately been only confined to the 2000s/early 2010s. Amy’s songs are not for the people who want to listen to music in the background- they do require extended periods of time just mulling over the lyrics. It’s not your ‘party mix’, or even ‘your mum’s music’. Its hard and heavy at times, raw and honest. And that is what is refreshing about a lot of newer artists coming up right now in the industry. There’s a sense of this ‘no filter’, and maybe that can either help your chances in your career, or maybe it can hinder them. Regardless, it is good to see up and coming artists like Apollo LTD, Mandy Harvey, Riley Clemmons, Lauren Alaina, Lewis Capaldi, Lindsay Ell and Zach Williams, remind us all, of how poignant and needed, honest music really is. Amy Shark is also one of these artists, writing and performing with her heart on her sleeve, and basically distinguishing her and setting her apart compared to the myriad of up-and-coming Australian artists, within the last few years or so.
‘…Cry Forever is very much about what I’ve been through in the last few years while becoming Amy Shark and dealing with things, and people, in my life who have changed. I made it my job to write about every time I felt very hypersensitive or any emotion like that. So by the time I had to go into the studio I had all these songs that I’d written from times when I was really upset about someone or something. This album is about people learning about me…’
‘…when you romanticise this life, you never think of that side of it [the other side]. You never go to bed thinking ‘oh I wish I was a musician but there’s probably some downsides to it’, you don’t think of that. But it is weird for people. This didn’t happen to me at 16, so it’s not like people have known me like this for ages. It’s more like suddenly they are seeing their friend on television, or on the radio. It’s weird for them, I get it, it’s weird for me too. I’ll never fully wrap my head around what happens to people. But I just have to keep my circles a bit smaller now I guess. Which sucks. It’s not all great, that’s the thing. It’s not always amazing even though people think it is. As an artist, you never want to say that. You never want to say it’s not amazing because then you feel ungrateful. You want to always say ‘no, I’m super grateful, I’m living my dream’. But that doesn’t make it easier when people come out of the past or people who were not there before feeling entitled now…’
Releasing 2 albums so far, Amy Shark’s music isn’t necessarily for people who want something light, fun, boppy, something that has been very similar to what Missy Higgins herself has created in the past. Because even though Amy and Missy share similar vocal tendencies, and Amy’s musical style echoes Missy’s a little bit; the similarities stop there. I wrote about Missy’s influence and impact in a blog post last year, and I’m going to review the new album Cry Forever by Amy Shark very soon. And while on the surface these two artists can seem very similar (and that was why I was initially intrigued by Amy- I thought her music was similar to Missy’s), Amy’s 2 albums seem to hit harder and be more poignant and heartfelt than Missy’s first two (just my opinion), leading to me asserting that Amy’s musical trajectory is travelling to become a much more emotive singer-songwriter than Missy was at that certain point (after 2 albums). Nevertheless, both artists are good- maybe Amy is a bit more current (and musically edgier), but in a general rule of thumb, Missy’s music has more along the pop side of pop, and Amy’s songs are dancing around the alternative side of pop (but both still under the very loose umbrella of ‘pop’). Needless to say, what I’ve experienced throughout the whole process of listening to Amy’s album is an artist who is down-to-earth and humble, someone who is a straight-shooter who tells things as it is, and that is refreshing in a music industry where listeners of artists can sniff out fakeness from a mile away. To change a certain society means the artist has to be authentic, real, honest, and hopeful, and it requires us listeners to give grace and respect to the people putting their own feelings out there through song, for all the world to see. Amy’s music catalogue has been one of mature growth, and with many of the songs on Amy’s most recent album Cry Forever being autobiographical, we see a level of vulnerability delivered by this Aussie artist, such a display that allows other young, aspiring musicians to hopefully become vulnerable with their craft as well. Amy’s music is what is needed in such a polarising society as this- someone that isn’t willing to speak up and sing about things that people would’ve been uncomfortable about, years ago. While only producing music professionally as Amy Shark since 2017 (her material as Amy Cushway has unfortunately been discontinued), it has been Amy’s two albums Love Monster and Cry Forever that has become pillars in Australian music over the years, as Amy the artist, is fast becoming one of the most relevant and encouraging Aussie female solo artists of this generation.
Amy’s first (and only to date) EP Night Thinker released in 2017 to a whirlwind of critical and commercial acclaim and respect, as Amy’s 6 song EP delivered a brand of pop that wasn’t necessarily seen within the industry at that point. Her music was different, out-of-the-box, something that Australia (and maybe by extension, the world) didn’t expect. And that was what set Amy on a trajectory that now has her being one of Australia’s most respected pop artists at the moment. And she’s not even the brand of pop that made waves on the radio throughout the last 20 years or so. It’s a pop that makes you think- songs that allow us to dig deep within our own psyches and figure out things about ourselves that maybe were lying dormant all these years. Described by Amy herself as being her favourite song on Night Thinker, Amy reminds us all, through song that we all have a side of ourselves that we don’t necessarily like, a side that does drive people mad. And for better or worse, we are stuck with this side of ourselves that we can either be embracing or ashamed about, a side of ourselves that can be impulse, headstrong, opinionated, and dogmatic on a variety of things. It is when the compassionate and graceful side of ourselves that leave us, that we’re left with someone who always wants to assert that they’re right, even ahead of nuance and dialogue. ‘Drive You Mad’ is a reminder that we all have this ‘beast’ inside of us, and it can either be repressed, managed and controlled, or immediately take over everything that we do, causing detrimental results in our family and home life. Or as Amy herself divulges, ‘…I remember really liking this person and it wasn’t really the time for them to like me back and I didn’t really give up. Hence the line ‘I’ll ask every night to wear you out’. When I really like something, I really want it, because it doesn’t happen very often with me. It was a realisation I had of me as a person. A bit of me acknowledging to people close to me that I know I’m not easy, I’m not the easiest daughter or friend or wife, I know I’m hard work. Hence the ‘drive you mad’. It’s like an ode to them. It’s about me being a psycho really…’ ‘Adore’, Amy’s first single (as Amy Shark) is a standout on Night Thinker, and speaks about Amy’s own personal moment of reflection, and recounting a night out for Amy and the positive feelings she was feeling towards a guy. It is a song that speaks to the heart of people who are ‘crushing’ on other people; and allowing them with a sense of hopeful confidence to maybe break out of their proverbial skin and allow them all to take more risks with their own love lives.
‘Weekends’, another musical standout on this EP (and quite possibly, the most relatable song on the EP), provides to us light acoustics and a looping electronic beat, to provide to us a sense of nostalgia- to title a song ‘weekends’ is to harken back to the observation of the natural working week and weekends, and that sense of structure that we as people as people had when we were younger. We went to work during the week; and did whatever else on the weekend- saw our friends, our family, even caught up with potential significant-others. Yet in this climate, the concept of a weekend (and a weekday) seems to be thrown out the window. We are more connected on a global and technological level, and there is a sense of ‘being on call, 24/7) in whatever job or role we have in society. It’s not explicitly said, but it is sure implied. ‘Weekends’ is a song that harkens back to the simpler times, when life wasn’t all that complicated, and we can have a clear distinction between when you went to work, and when there was time for relaxation and play. Now, people may work on Saturdays and Sundays, families may not have 2 days off together, and people may work night shifts, may even have a ‘weekend’ during the week, that this definition of a ‘weekend’ seems to not age as gracefully and as well as we think. And so, a song like this is a reminder that maybe life was better back then, maybe it was different, but in all seriousness, it’s to hopefully allow us to cherish the times we did have when we were younger, and to not take whatever we have for granted. Or as Amy bluntly puts it, ‘…when I was younger a lot of my time was spent hanging around waiting for people to finish work. They are the best years of your life when you don’t have any responsibilities and you just have this s***ty part-time job you suck at, and you are just waiting until you get to hang out with someone special on the weekend. One of my favourite lines I have ever written is “I call your house phone”. It’s so outdated now but that was a big deal when you called someone’s house phone and you got a little taste of what their home life was like and you spoke to their mom or brother and you were like ‘I feel like I am a little bit in now’…’
Amy then rounds on the EP with songs ‘Worst Girl’, ‘Blood Brothers’ and ‘Deleted’- ‘Worst Girl’ is Amy having an honest look at herself and believing that she can be considered the ‘worst girl’ if she holds people back from their dreams and longs for them to stay in a relationship with her (with the caveat that they remain where they are and not explore whatever life has for them); while ‘Blood Brothers’ is a longing for wanting to become something more in a relationship than ‘just friends’, as she tries to imagine what it can be like for her to be a significant other of the person she’s crushing on, wanting to play out scenarios in her head as to how she believes the relationship would unfold. ‘Deleted’ is the last song on Night Thinker, and speaks about how you can fall hard for someone, but in the end, break it off anyway, for whatever reason that you deem valid- and maybe in order to keep the relationship alive (at least the good parts anyway), you hope for them to always replay the ‘deleted scenes’ in their mind, reminiscing on the good times in a relationship that didn’t really make it into the ‘final cut’ of someone’s life. Using filming metaphors on a song that tries to convey relationship truths is a very unique way of delivering said song; and allows us all to see how ‘Deleted’, just like ‘Weekends’, stands high and tall on an EP that unfortunately becomes forgotten as soon as you check out Amy’s next 2 album releases Love Monster and Cry Forever.
Love Monster dropped in 2018 (maybe that’s when I watched Amy- I think she may have guested on The Voice (Australia) during that year, promoting her song ‘I Said Hi’ or another track like ‘Adore’ or ‘All Loved Up’); and regardless on when I first heard about her (I’m sure it was in 2018), the point is that I did hear her then, as I’m reminded that the time in which you first hear an artist, is perhaps one of the most sentimental and special times you can recall- that’s if an introduction into an artist’s discography can lead to an appreciation and love for a whole artist’s discography, and not just loving a few tracks here and there. Hearing Amy in 2018 has allowed me to be drawn more to her first full-length album Love Monster than her newly released Cry Forever, and for me it’s just a simple fact that because I heard Amy for the first time in 2018, her album Love Monster has a sense of enjoyment and freshness that Cry Forever unfortunately doesn’t have for me. And that’s not to say that Cry Forever isn’t good- it’s just that Love Monster was in and of itself quirky, unique, and different, so therefore, it stood out. Cry Forever may be more personal to Amy, and while I do respect her second album as a whole, I do keep coming back to Love Monster and the themes expressed in this album that placed Amy on the map and basically, changed her life forever. Amy’s ability to carve an album such as Love Monster is a reminder of just how committed she is at creating her musical craft, as we see that her process in creating the album is one of intentionality and purpose- ‘…it was really hard to start culling songs, because we’re in a world now where no one has much patience. I easily could have put out a 25-song album. It sucks, because I move quick with songs because I write so often, so when I had to say goodbye to some songs, it was like saying goodbye forever, because I’m not the type to keep them and go back to them if I’m desperate or something. So it was really like saying goodbye to a child that was sitting there, on the hard drive, in the folder marked “Love Monster,” and now it’s gone. But it was important for me to have a strong album to cement Amy Shark into the music industry. I just wanted to give everyone the absolute best of me…’ And it’s out of this quote, that I’ve respected Amy and her music, and have continued to do so- because of her sense of maturity when it comes to the song-culling process, that can be as brutal as this year’s The Cut on The Voice Australia 2021.
Love Monster stands at a whopping 14 tracks, and while it can seem a little daunting trying to highlight the songs that stood out for me (because there is a fair few), I’ll try to do my best. There are a million reviews of the album online- from articles and online publications like The Music, A Bit of Pop Music, Female, Thomas Bleach, B-Sides Badlands, Weekend Notes & The Spotlight Report, so I reckon this next paragraph or so won’t rehash anything that has been covered in these publications from the get-go. But what I will say is this though- Amy’s first album is compelling, honest, raw, real, emotive and poignant, and something that hasn’t come out of Australian music in quite some time. There’s rarely anything radio-like or formulaic about Amy’s first album- ‘All Loved Up’ unites Amy with long-time Taylor Swift-producer Jack Antonoff to deliver a song that brings to the fore 80s-stylised instrumentation, a powerful bass and an anthemic atmosphere. ‘All Loved Up’ provides a scenario where the persona is wrestling between staying safe in the comfortable small town, and stretching their metaphorical wings and venturing out into the unknown, to see things that would enrich the soul, but will be overall less comfortable and more unsettling. ‘I Said Hi’ is Amy’s debut single from Love Monster, and at a quick-fire 2:48 in length, the song wastes no time in getting to the punchy bit. The song itself is a funny dig at an industry that wanted to write with Amy in ways that she herself didn’t really adhere to, or even sign up for. As she relays herself, ‘…that track was really special, it’s a very new track to my life. I had a one day left with [producer] Dann Hume and we’d worked on the whole record and we had one day left to fix up a couple of songs before I was going on tour again. The night before I wrote ‘I Said Hi’ and I was so excited about it, it came out very quickly, like in five or 10 minutes. I had the melodies there and I was so happy with it… I had so many friends and family over the years that were like “Oh, are you still doing your music. Come on Amy, get a real job.” So it’s a real passive aggressive song, like “oh, tell them I said hi.” [and that’s the meaning of the song]…I started saying that all the time. My manager would say ‘I’ve got a meeting with such and such today’ and it would be someone who was a dick to me, or whatever, and I’d say “tell them I said hi.” I was saying it so often I think that’s why it came out on the night I was writing…’
Amy also showcases a sense of regret on the song ‘The Idiot’, a song about Amy herself falling out of love with someone, and then regretting in the end, the fact that she fell in love in the first-place (maybe because there was trauma attached to the relationship); while ‘Psycho’ is a duet between Amy and Blink-182 frontman Mark Hoppus as we see how asking how someone is can be taken and perceived in 2 different ways. Asking how someone is can either be from a place of genuine help, or unintended worry and jealousy- that phrase can either show that you are really caring and want to comfort the person you’re asking the question to, or it can imply that you’re controlling, not trusting of the person, and just paranoid about who this person interacts with (and you just want to control them, unintentionally, that is). ‘Don’t Turn Around’, the second single from the album, has Amy deliver a few stanzas of spoken word/half-rap as she relays to listeners this notion and understanding that she longs for someone to come into her life, that knows her, that she has a history with, but then understands that often with people who you know, there’s baggage and things both people have to deal with, whereas it can just be ‘easier’ to start something with someone new. ‘Mess Her Up’ talks about something that songs don’t necessarily discuss about- infidelity. Yes, the word that people seem to avoid, because as much as we all detest such an act, we all have different opinions as to who has most of the blame for such a situation to even occur in the first place. Amy sings the song from the POV of the person doing the cheating- having intimate connections with a man who is married, and the person who the man is married to, is her friend. Most marital affairs are more complicated than we think, and ‘Mess Her Up’ tries to relay the fact that these circumstances and situations are never cut-and-dry. Yes, the act in and of itself is definitely cut and dry, but the whole circumstance may have a bit of nuance towards it. I guess the only other song that speaks about such a difficult topic is Sugarland’s ‘Stay’, and that song as well is from the POV of the person who is ‘breaking up’ a stable relationship. While the act itself definitely needs to be discussed, what can unintentionally result from a song like ‘Mess Her Up’, would be that the song gives a kind of ‘soft spot’ for the person doing the cheating, humanising them and clouding the situation even more. Maybe in the future, a song about affairs and cheating, but sung from the wife’s point of view…other than the song ‘Babe’, also by Sugarland?
At this current moment, Amy is one of Australia’s most accomplished and sought-out musicians over the past few years. Amy’s brand of pop has been trending over the last 2-3 years or so- with the songs having a lyric-focus while still sounding folksy and singer-songwriter, but always trying to deliver songs that are catchy and compelling. Maybe it’s because this whole word of ‘pop’ has changed and is meaning something now totally different than before, that Amy’s music is even considered to be classified as pop in the first place; but that’s neither here nor there. What I have heard from Cry Forever is something unique and different, and while at times her vocals and the way she sings conjures up someone like Missy Higgins, Amy’s music sounds a lot more hauntingly emotive compared to Missy’s- her songs are much bouncier and jovial on the surface, even though they do touch on some heavy topics. Amy’s on the other hand tends to wear her heart on her sleeve more often- there’s more songs on Cry Forever that are indeed slower and much more introspective, and that’s ok. In such a climate of today, you do need songs that reflect that mellow and inwardly looking feeling we have gravitated towards for a while now. The album overall has its fair share of upbeat and reflective songs, even though I myself would’ve preferred a more upbeat album experience (but that doesn’t really matter). But that’s neither here, nor there. Nothing against Amy’s songwriting as a whole, it’s just that the album experience could’ve been bolstered with a few songs to remind us all, that life ought not to be reflective and contemplative all the time. Yes, there’s songs upbeat like ‘Everybody Rise’, ‘The Wolves’, and ‘C’mon’, but maybe I expected more? I went into Cry Forever with not much expectations, and what I did experience though was good; but left me wanting more jovialness when the album was over. You can be in your feelings every once in a while, but Cry Forever was so much so, that at the end of it, my spirits weren’t as lifted as much as they were when I listened to other Australian artists previously, like Guy Sebastian, John Farnham, Delta Goodrem, Missy Higgins and Natalie Imbruglia. Maybe it’s a sign of the times of the way Aussie music is going and I’m just scratching my head wondering if I got the memo. Regardless, Cry Forever is good, but don’t expect to be dancing around the house or bopping your head to songs like this. This album requires attention, the deep-thinking and undivided kind, especially with songs like ‘All the Lies About Me’, ‘Everybody Rise’ and ‘Love Songs Ain’t For Us’.
I will review the album Cry Forever in a little bit, so I’ll save my album exegesis to that particular moment, but what I do want to do is highlight a few songs that stood out for me- tracks that really showcase what Amy is about right now, and songs that have reminded me of the power of music, even mainstream music, and how God can continue to use the things that we deem uncomfortable and unsettling, for His glory and our good. ‘Everybody Rise’, the first single from Cry Forever, released in 2020, and tries to tackle this topic of unrequited love, from a sense and framework as someone on the outer, hero-worshiping and idolising the person they look up to, and wondering what it’s like to hang around this person and be with this person (not necessarily in a romantic way)…borderline stalkerish, but ‘Everybody Rise’ speaks about people’s desire to want to be known by people who are famous, wanting to have a slice of attention themselves. They like the idea of the person; and like to have a certain image. Can it be borderline fanatical? Of course! Can it be creepy for someone to fan over someone else in a ‘unrequited love’ way? Most definitely. And ‘Everybody Rise’ offers us this insight into the mind of someone who just can’t let someone go.
Throughout the rest of the album, we see Amy deliver some hard-hitting emotive themes as we dwell upon these vulnerable and poignant melodies that have the potential to challenge us in our own behaviours in the upcoming weeks ahead. ‘Worst Day of My Life’ presents the track acoustically with light electric guitars, hand claps, and percussion, as Amy tackles love in a unique, fun-filled way, carrying on from whence ‘Everybody Rise’ left off. It’s when you are trying to express to someone that you’re into them, yet the only way you believe you can do it, is if you go big and over the top (arrive at their house, express ‘love’ in a grandiose way) so that they notice you the way that you’ve noticed them. ‘All the Lies About Me’ strips down the instruments till all that it is, is Amy’s voice and light acoustic guitars. The song itself speaks about the darkness of fame, and how when you place yourself out there in any capacity (on youtube, apple, spotify, Instagram, tik-tok etc), there’s bound to be negative comments, and whether or not they’re true or not is beside the point. You start to believe what people say about you, because…well, people behind a screen saying something about you can be very convincing in the moment, right? You start to assume they know more about you than you do, and ‘All the Lies About Me’ depicts this struggle that anyone who is a creative can relate to- that once your content is available for someone else to see, they’ll always have an opinion- about anything, even about you. ‘I’ll Be Yours’ is a song of devotion to a significant other, as Amy states that ‘…I may not live for forever, but the time I spend here, I’ll be yours…’, a way of declaring love to someone regardless of difficult and trying times; while Amy’s duet with country singer Keith Urban on ‘Love Songs Ain’t For Us’ is a great fusion between acoustic pop and country, in a song that has actually become for me, one of the brightest spots on Cry Forever as a whole. The song itself speaks about love between two people that has come to a point where it’s organic, and that ‘love songs’ aren’t really needed for the relationship to ‘kickstart’, rather, when love runs deep and is engrained in a couple, and goes beyond lust, butterflies and infatuation, it becomes more than just a description of something, but rather, love in its proper and purest form, is a verb- it’s a doing thing. Amy reminds us that as good as love songs are, they ought not be for the people who want something much more real than the sappiness and superficial things that ‘love songs’ seem to promote.
The album then rounds out with songs like ‘That Girl’, ‘Baby Steps’ and ‘Amy Shark’- ‘That Girl’ is a hard-hitting song about a persona who places every single blame upon the new girl in a relationship that ‘broke up’ the relationship the persona was in, when in fact in any relationship breakdown (and subsequent reforming later on, or people moving on to different relationships), there are indeed two to tango; while ‘Baby Steps’ depicts a time in Amy’s life when she was broken and feeling as though she was never getting anywhere- and the song is Amy’s way of trying to show everyone that she’s moving forward, one baby step at a time, with her life, as she tries to turn things around. The last song ‘Amy Shark’ (kinda odd for a song to be named after yourself) is an autobiographical track about Amy grabbing her opportunities to venture into music; and pressing through struggles and obstacles along the way. As Amy herself has said, ‘…if there’s any song that describes a real, current feeling that I’m living right now, it’s this. That’s why I called it ‘Amy Shark,’ which I know it sounded weird and probably confused a lot of people, but it’s just such a personal song. The journey to get here has almost killed me. It almost killed mine and Shane’s marriage. I needed help when I was struggling, I needed guidance, love, and support, and I didn’t get it then. Now, I’m stronger, I’m working, I’m busy. No one will ever understand the sacrifices, the things I’ve missed. A lot of the time I’m just a typical self-deprecating Australian, but here I just f***ing went for it. I really have worked so hard to get to where I am right now. It hasn’t all been fun, but let’s enjoy this bit…’
Cry Forever on the whole, is such an album, that gives us all permission to be able to explore our own feelings, and to delve deep into ourselves just like Amy has in her album, but if you were to boil it all down to it, Cry Forever is more about lamenting, reflecting, contemplating, and reminiscing, and nothing much about being excited about future prospects and opportunities. I know there’s always a time a place for anything, but too much of the emotive content this album delivers, is what I believe could hinder the lasting effect of Cry Forever in the long run. Nonetheless, Amy’s recent music allows us to reflect upon our lives thus far, especially now during times of uncertainty. Cry Forever, in all it’s reflectiveness, can still speak and encourage to people, and maybe, just maybe, God can use an uber-reflective album like Cry Forever, for His glory and our physical, mental, and spiritual good. But…Cry Forever, Love Monster and Night Thinker are not the end of the story- there are a few singles and songs that Amy has released over the years, not attached to any album. ‘Spits on Girls’, a single from 2014, is a heavy song about drugs and the advice that Amy would find herself trying to give people around her, as we’re reminded to not ‘…be the boy that spits on girls, everybody hates that guy, that’ll be the reason why…’ Emotive and heartfelt, we see Amy presenting a song that is arguably one of the most personal she’s recorded, and while people generally don’t really understand or receive it well, the song itself still has purpose in a society that seems to be very pro-drugs, especially drugs like cigarettes and marijuana. As Amy herself has said, ‘…so ‘Spits on Girls’, I remember when I put that on triple j, and the comment from Richard Kingsmill was ‘I really like this song, but I have no f***ing clue what she’s talking about.’ And the reason he had no idea what I was talking about is because that song is so personal – I’m talking about my family; I’m picking apart everyone in my life. It’s hard to follow that song emotionally. That line in particular, I was hanging around with bad dudes at the time. It was the same thing every weekend: they’d do a bunch of drugs and they’d sit there thinking that they were God’s gift, and it’s like, you’re in a s***ty rental, and it’s sorta like me just taking the piss – if you’re gonna do all these drugs, do them next to Kanye! I dunno, do it somewhere cool. You guys are just total losers sitting here thinking you’re so cool, and I was never a big drug user or anything, I was just exposed to it a lot, and I guess it was just me having a dig at people who thought drugs were cool…’ ‘Spits on Girls’ is a great eye-opener. Rarely do we have someone who writes songs that try to say something about drug culture and try to change the course of direction about it…until now, of course. ‘Golden Fleece’, from 2016, is the last remaining ‘single’, and is a track that brings elements of the mythology of what a ‘golden fleece’ means in Greek culture, and places it front and centre and likens finding a fleece to that of wanting a relationship so bad, that you actually want what you can’t have. The song is left to interpretation, and you don’t know if the persona really gets what they want, by way of ‘moving away’ the competition, or if they just accept, that the person they ‘like’, isn’t going to like them back. Whatever the case, this song is a reminder to not let the chase towards something consume us, especially if what we want to attain is already ‘claimed’ and ‘grabbed’ by someone else.
Amy’s music career thus far has been one of honesty and hope, one of persistence and patience, of poignancy and heart. It has been a thorough joy for me to explore the depths of what Amy’s music has to offer, and a reminder that sometimes in the moments where you least expect, you can find the Lord trying to speak to you in places you wouldn’t necessarily see it (i.e.: Amy’s music). To be authentic and humble in your approach to music can seem like an art to master, and it probably is. Rarely do we see honesty in such a way that we can look up to people in an industry without second-guessing their private life. People who are not ashamed to declare that their private life and public persona are congruent with each other can be a rare breed to find these days, but they are indeed out there. Amy is one of them- a straight shooter, and a down to earth person who has worked very hard to be where she is today. While her approach in being heartfelt and vulnerable may not necessarily gel with everyone (that is indeed why we have superlative radio-friendly material, because that is what people crave and want, not necessarily the heartfelt, deep moments of epiphany), there is indeed a freshness that comes about when listening to Amy’s songs, a moment of realisation and revelation, that it’s ok to be honest and vulnerable, it’s just that you need to be honest and vulnerable to the right people.
Amy’s career is in front of a world-wide stage, and maybe what is needed for her to experience freedom and joy in her own personal life, is to be honest in her public life also. Because music artists and other Hollywood people are always under the watchful eye of people, you can never get away from conducting something transformational (like being honest about things) in front of people. But that doesn’t mean that we (the average joe) need to emulate someone like Amy; and declare things publicly too. There’s this sense of discernment we all should have. Wisdom, that counsels us about who we should share things to, because not everyone is going to react the way that we want them to when we become honest. They’ll be people that have all sorts of opinions, and as I’ve seen in Amy’s music life so far, is that you can only be as authentic as you can, and even if people aren’t as receptive to what you have to say, doesn’t mean that whatever is being said, isn’t worth it. Amy has toiled and toiled to get where she is today, even titling an album Cry Forever, meaning that there probably was a lot of tears and heartache along the way. People’s opinions of her were reinforced, realigned, or destroyed, and this is reflected in our own lives too. Just not on a massive scale like Amy’s. But we still go through things too- things that bind all humans together.
Which is why songs and music as a whole, is the universal language of the soul. People connect with songs in a way that they couldn’t in a sermon. People have permission to speak about things through song, that they would never say out loud. And maybe that’s why an artist like Amy exists in the first place- to give people a voice who can somehow relate to her and her own relationship struggles. While I’m probably not even her targeted niche demographic (I probably wouldn’t have sought out Amy if it wasn’t for this blog series), I still gained a lot from listening to her songs, as I’m reminded that there’s more music out there (especially Australian) that I don’t really know much about. Yes, there’s Keith Urban, The McClymonts (a band I discovered whence I wrote about them in 2020), Delta, Guy, for KING & COUNTRY, Tina Arena, Missy Higgins, John Farnham and Hillsong, to name a few. But there’s so, so, much more. And Amy is just the tip of the iceberg- maybe let’s discuss within a year; and see how much I’ve grown (in terms of Australian music) till then. Until that time, I’ll continue checking out other Aussie artists- maybe I’ll listen to artists like Kylie Minogue, Jimmy Barnes, Jessica Mauboy, Daryl Braithwaite, Michelle Tumes, and the early Paul Colman stuff…what’d you reckon? This is just the beginning of listening to Aussie music. Maybe, just maybe, some of the greatest artists and most prolific, are just right in my own proverbial backyard…and I didn’t even know it!
‘…If you want to know what has happened the last four years, a lot of it has actually been this next album. I kind of got to a place where I can look at it now and break it all down, and digest it and see what bits I enjoyed, what bits I didn’t enjoy, people who I thought I could trust but I can’t, people who are here now but they weren’t then. And there is so much I look back on, and because I’m a bit of a weirdo like that – I remember everything – and it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing for song writing because you can really pinpoint certain moments and put them into a few words, but when it comes to trying to sleep at night it’s a bit harder. It’s been a journey, and its been a great journey and I love what I get to do now, but its definitely not all popping bottles and celebrating. There’s some tough times and hard conversations and relationship breakdowns, and it’s a lot. But at the end of the day you can’t have it all; no one has it all. It is what it is, and I get to write songs every day, or at least talk about songs, and play music, so it’s been awesome. It’s been really good…’
‘…I think it’s the pure fact that we have all been there at one point [having unrequited love], whether it was more hardcore for someone than the other, but I always have to write about things that I have really experienced; that I know about really well. And I have definitely been on the bad side of unrequited love before, and I know the pain that it brings, and that hiding everything and trying to get by, knowing that this person doesn’t give a shot about you, or doesn’t even know anything about what you feel. It’s pretty painful; it’s not like an obvious bruise or something that you can show someone and say “give me a break because I’m feeling hurt”, you know? It’s a different sort of lingering pain, and I think that is sort of the magic of that song [Everybody Rise], and its sung with a sort of tongue in cheek; it’s sung in this big glittery pop song, but that’s what I kind of like about it, because if you break it apart and really unpack it its kind of sad and depressing…’
‘…I really feel like I know what I am doing now. I didn’t really know what I was doing the first time, and I think that there is some beauty in that as well; in the rawness of ‘Love Monster’ and the way it looks and feels and sounds was [of] that time. I know a little more now, I’m more comfortable now as an artist, and I have kind of shaken off that imposter syndrome a little bit; [although] it still flares up every now and then…’
‘…apart from the fact that it was just sounding super sad [the title of the album ‘Cry Forever’], I remember I had this one breakdown moment and I was with a manger, and I was just a bit of a mess, and I was apologising, “sorry I don’t know why I’m this upset’. And he was like, “this is your life now, and you are going to have these ups and downs, and you will probably be crying forever”. And I was like, “yeah, that’s probably pretty true”. And that was okay. It’s okay; its pretty normal. But I guess the intensity of the music industry, and I guess I have a bit more baggage than most people have – that kind if emotional baggage that I drag along with me – I honestly have never cried so much since I have been this ‘figure’, I guess. Everything is under a magnifying glass, and its so much to take in; you go from living a very pedestrian life, which I liked; a 9-5 routine. Then your dreams start coming true, and there are parts of that dream that you never romanticise, and you never think about. And they are the bits that rear their head, and you are like “oh, wow, that’s a really bad part of this industry”, or “that was a really ugly thing I had to listen to”, or see, or hear, you know what I mean. So, yeah, that’s why I cry forever. In saying that though, it hasn’t all been bad. There are times where I will get to another stage in my life, where I’m like “I can’t believe this is happening”, and it will bring me to tears because I am just so happy. It goes both ways…’
Does Amy Shark make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of the next 5-10 years’ list? Is there any song, like ‘I Said Hi’, ‘Everybody Rise’, ‘All Loved Up’, ‘Mess Her Up’, and ‘Love Songs Ain’t For Us’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!