Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Front Page - Pho­tog­ra­phy TANE COF­FIN Styling MA­RINA AFONINA Creative Di­rec­tion ALEK­SAN­DRA BEARE Words CAMERON ADAMS

“Don’t let them say your use-by date is up”


It was 1977 and much of the coun­try had fallen in love with Tina Arena – the small girl with the huge voice on Young Ta­lent Time, one of Aus­tralia’s most loved and watched TV shows. How­ever, not ev­ery­one was a fan of “Tiny Tina”, as she was known. Shortly after re­leas­ing her first al­bum – aged 10 – Arena got an early les­son in the down­sides of fame.

The singer’s mem­ory of the early YTT days is hazy, but she vividly re­calls a “ball-breaker” at her Mel­bourne school.

“She re­ally didn’t like me and she said, ‘I’ll meet you after school.’ I said fine,” Arena says. “I re­mem­ber wait­ing for her and she never showed up. That’s when I re­alised how stupid I was for turn­ing up, but also how these peo­ple were gut­less and all talk. I was re­ally lucky. I copped a lit­tle bit but noth­ing ma­jor. To­day bul­lies hide be­hind a screen; in those days at least they’d come up to your face.”

Arena has a unique per­spec­tive on how celebrity has changed over time. This year marks her 40th year in the mu­sic in­dus­try and, in Novem­ber, she’ll cel­e­brate her 50th birth­day.

“I am not ashamed of those num­bers,” Arena tells Stel­lar. “Who says I should hide that or cringe about it? What is there not to be proud of? Good health is worth cel­e­brat­ing. As for my ca­reer, it’s not about the com­mer­cial suc­cess; that’s been there, but the fact I have been able to do what I do, the fact I’ve been able to keep try­ing new things and I’m still in­spired, that’s also worth cel­e­brat­ing.”

After a six-year stint on YTT – the long­est of any of the show’s per­form­ers – Arena left in 1983 as a 16-year-old and tried her hand at a nor­mal job: an in­sur­ance clerk. She lasted just three months be­fore quit­ting and re­turn­ing to mu­sic. It wasn’t a smooth ride. Her first sin­gle, “Turn Up The Beat”, ar­rived in 1985 but it didn’t trou­ble the charts. “It hasn’t aged well, that song,” Arena ad­mits now. “I was 17, the ex­pe­ri­ence was good, but the song just doesn’t speak to me.”

She worked to cut her teeth on the live mu­sic cir­cuit, but for many she was still freeze-framed as Tiny Tina.

It took just four min­utes for 1990’s “I Need Your Body” to change all that.

The provoca­tive video clip proved she was very much all grown up, and the song soared to No. 3 on the Aus­tralian charts. “That song moved my im­age from one place into an­other,” she says.

Arena’s re­la­tion­ship with the sin­gle proved rocky: she spent years dis­own­ing it, only to re­claim and rein­vent it on her last tour. And now the orig­i­nal ver­sion is back, as the open­ing act of Great­est Hits & In­ter­pre­ta­tions, a new com­pi­la­tion al­bum mark­ing her an­niver­sary year. It’s a chrono­log­i­cal snap­shot of her most suc­cess­ful sin­gles, as well as cov­ers of her tunes by other artists.

After tak­ing the song­writ­ing reins as a co-writer in 1994, Arena’s ca­reer ex­ploded, with “Chains” go­ing Top Five in Aus­tralia, Top 10 in the UK and Top 40 in the US. Her Don’t Ask al­bum sold more than two mil­lion copies glob­ally, go­ing 10 times plat­inum in Aus­tralia alone. She owned com­mer­cial ra­dio, with “Sor­rento Moon” and “Burn”, fol­lowed by 1997’s “Now I Can Dance” and “Heaven Help My Heart” all be­com­ing sta­ples on the air­waves.

Her per­sonal life wasn’t go­ing so well, how­ever. She mar­ried her then man­ager Ralph Carr in 1995 but, as she ex­plained in her 2013 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, had so many doubts on her wed­ding day that her fam­ily sug­gested she be­come a run­away bride.

The doubt-filled nup­tials be­came a bit­ter di­vorce in 1999. When Arena was in­ducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, her 15-minute speech (“No one told me to cut a sec­ond”) made no men­tion of Carr.

“I men­tioned the peo­ple I feel are worth men­tion­ing,” she says of that speech. “If there are peo­ple that feel they’ve missed out, maybe they should have a think about why.”

The au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, she adds, “was im­por­tant to write. I wish I could have gone more in-depth, be­cause it would have been a frig­gin’ cracker of a book!”

In 1997 came an­other turn­ing point. Arena’s al­bum In Deep in­tro­duced her to the French mar­ket and the coun­try would be­come her sec­ond home. She has sold five mil­lion al­bums there and is viewed as a su­per­star. She’s cur­rently work­ing on her first orig­i­nal French­language al­bum since 2008.

“I de­lib­er­ately dis­placed my­self,” Arena says of her move to France. “I was cu­ri­ous to see how other peo­ple lived. I’m still cu­ri­ous. I don’t think I’ve fin­ished that jour­ney. There’s an­other place or two I may go and in­habit for a while, new ex­pe­ri­ences I feel like I have to have.”

Arena has been hap­pily un­mar­ried to French artist Vin­cent Mancini for 17 years; their son Gabriel was born in 2005. He starts high school next year and is trilin­gual – flu­ent in English, French and Ital­ian.

“Gab’s been ed­u­cated be­tween here and France for the last five years, but Vin and I al­ways said as soon as he hits se­condary school, we’ll live in Aus­tralia full-time,” Arena says. “He’s very sporty. Ob­ser­vant. Cu­ri­ous. Fun. He sings well. Re­ally well. Beau­ti­ful lit­tle voice. He’s do­ing dance; he does soc­cer, ten­nis. If he wants to go and study voice when his sched­ule clears, he can de­cide later. I like to let his brain rest. He’ll say, ‘I’m bored,’ and I tell him it’s re­ally im­por­tant to be bored. You can’t be stim­u­lated 24 hours a day. Your body needs to rest.”

Arena and Mancini have tried to keep their son away from tech and gad­gets where pos­si­ble, but like most par­ents they’re be­gin­ning to crack.

“It doesn’t sit well with me,” Arena says. “We ei­ther mon­i­tor what he does [on­line] or we don’t al­low it. I’m not the world’s most in­formed when it comes to tech­nol­ogy. His gen­er­a­tion knows how to ma­nip­u­late a com­puter – I can’t do that and I’m not about to learn. We re­cently sat him down and read through the dos and don’ts about go­ing on­line, in French and in English, and it took about five hours. I took two Panadols af­ter­wards, to give you an idea of how it went.”

Arena likes In­sta­gram (“I love vis­ually beau­ti­ful

“I’m just not in­ter­ested in keep­ing up with the Jone­ses. I’m not a celebrity”

things”) but leaves the rest of her so­cial me­dia to her team. “I’m just not in­ter­ested in keep­ing up with the Jone­ses,” she says. “I’m not a celebrity. That’s a busi­ness model that came up after I started my ca­reer. I’m some­one who’s for­tu­nate enough to be cel­e­brated, I feel priv­i­leged to have that. I earn my liv­ing the very old-fash­ioned way. Call me dull, but I’m kind of cool with it.”

Her bound­aries ex­tend to real-world in­ter­ac­tions, too: she made a de­ci­sion 18 months ago to po­litely de­cline any re­quests to pose for self­ies or happy snaps when out with her fam­ily.

“That’s our time to live away from my job,” she says. “I un­der­stand peo­ple re­ally want a photo, but I ex­plain to them it’s my choice to say no, to have some con­trol over my life. There’s not been one per­son who hasn’t un­der­stood that. I ex­plain it be­cause I owe them an an­swer. I ac­tu­ally pre­fer talk­ing to peo­ple.

“I un­der­stand so­cial me­dia has its place. But I want to con­trol so­cial me­dia, I don’t want it to con­trol me. If I de­cide as a hu­man be­ing, as an artist, as a woman, that I’d pre­fer to not have my photo taken, I think peo­ple un­der­stand. It’s pretty sim­ple.”

After 2001’s Just Me (on which she worked with leg­endary pro­ducer Nile Rodgers, a decade be­fore his cool re­birth with Daft Punk), Arena fo­cused on her French ca­reer, but stayed on the radar in Aus­tralia with tours and two cov­ers al­bums.

With 2013’s Re­set she was re­born as a song­writer. Arena used an ap­pear­ance on Danc­ing With The Stars to launch the al­bum, but, ex­cept for Smooth FM, it was largely ig­nored by ma­jor ra­dio sta­tions. Nev­er­the­less, the al­bum went plat­inum.

In her much-talked about Hall of Fame speech in 2015, Arena tack­led ageism to­wards women in the Aus­tralian mu­sic in­dus­try, and ra­dio pro­gram­mers who won’t play new songs by vet­eran fe­male per­form­ers – or enough Aus­tralian mu­sic over­all. Most of the peo­ple in con­trol of Aus­tralian ra­dio were in the room at the ARIAS at the time, their ears burn­ing.

“I had amaz­ing feed­back on the speech, but it hasn’t changed the re­al­ity,” Arena says now. “Don’t not do some­thing be­cause some­one tells you your use-by date is up. You con­tinue to do what your heart tells you to do when you feel you have some­thing worth say­ing. I don’t ac­tu­ally think lis­ten­ers don’t want to hear a fe­male [on ra­dio] be­cause they’ve reached a cer­tain age. That’s a con­sid­ered de­ci­sion made by an or­gan­i­sa­tion that fol­lows a par­tic­u­lar strat­egy. My voice re­ally hasn’t changed that much. I still make pop songs. They could be played on ra­dio. I un­der­stand in­ter­na­tional acts are im­por­tant, but we have an in­dus­try that needs to be sup­ported and I know that’s not the case.”

Arena is cer­tainly do­ing her bit to sup­port the lo­cal in­dus­try. Great­est Hits & In­ter­pre­ta­tions fea­tures Aussie artists such as Jimmy Barnes, Jes­sica Mauboy, Kate Miller-hei­dke and coun­try star Mor­gan Evans rein­vent­ing her songs. “Hear­ing some­one else tell those sto­ries, you ap­pre­ci­ate them more,” she says.

Arena has also re-recorded “Sor­rento Moon” as a duet with Dan­nii Minogue – the pair’s first time in a stu­dio to­gether since Young Ta­lent Time.

“That song is Dan­nii’s dad’s favourite,” Arena says. “Look at the his­tory we’ve shared – we’ve got such a deep con­nec­tion that goes back to when we were kids. It was ob­vi­ous to do some­thing to­gether again. She’s adorable, the most lov­ing woman who’s had the most ex­tra­or­di­nary amount of growth as a hu­man be­ing and in her job.”

Arena is plan­ning a party for her mile­stone birth­day, but isn’t wor­ried about the im­pli­ca­tions of age­ing, and says her face re­mains “au na­turel”.

“DNA plays a ma­jor role in that. And stay­ing out of the sun. You want to age? Go out in the sun. If I want to do any of that [cos­metic] stuff, I can do it later. Each to their own. That’s the beauty of turn­ing 50 – just do what­ever you want; I’m not in­ter­ested in judg­ing any­one.”

Her an­niver­sary year will be filled with tour­ing, French mu­sic and brac­ing for her son be­com­ing a high-school stu­dent. And for the first time in a long time, Tina Arena is con­tem­plat­ing tak­ing a long break next year.

“I want to do some other things,” she ex­plains. “Maybe go to uni, maybe some theatre... I just need to get a bit of de­tach­ment. There’s so much more to learn and so much to do.” Tina Arena’s Great­est Hits & In­ter­pre­ta­tions al­bum (EMI) is out on April 7. Her In­no­cence To Un­der­stand­ing tour kicks off in Bris­bane on Septem­ber 6.

“I un­der­stand so­cial me­dia has its place. But I want to con­trol it, I don’t want it to con­trol me”

A LIFE ONSTAGE (from far left) Tina Arena at the 2015 Aria Awards; on Young Ta­lent Time in 1978; as pho­tographed for Stel­lar. TINA WEARS Gior­gio Ar­mani dress, (02) 8233 5858; Pierre Win­ter jew­ellery, (02) 9331 2760; Saint Lau­rent shoes, (02) 9362 0510; h

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.