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Tina Arena opens up about the struggle for Australian artists to break internationally: ‘We’re really at the bottom of the list’ [Exclusive]

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Tina Arena Credit Kidd Sauve (2)
Kidd Sauve

Forty-five years after she debuted on ‘Young Talent Time’ at the age of just eight, Tina Arena is back with her standout eighth English-language album, ‘Love Saves’. 

Inspired by the breakup of her relationship with partner of two decades, French-born Vincent Mancini, with whom she shares their son, Gabriel, the album is without doubt the most personal body of work to emerge in the vocalist’s 45-year career.   

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Her remarkable journey began in 1974 as a contestant on Australia’s beloved TV variety show, on which Tiny Tina with the big voice quickly became a fan favourite and holds the record for being the programme’s longest serving cast member. 

Her time on screen saw her hone her craft and blossom into one of the world’s most consummate performers and in breaking out she became the only Australian artist to have gold or platinum releases in every decade since the seventies. “But there were a lot of obstacles,” she tells RETROPOP’s August issue. “Particularly after you’ve come out of a television show where you’ve been phenomenally protected, and during those 20 years after that experience I had to work really hard to change people’s perception of me and be accepted as a singer-songwriter.”

She made her album debut in 1977 with the John Bowles collaboration ‘Tiny Tina and Little John’, before releasing her first solo LP, ‘Strong as Steel’, in 1990. Her second studio album, ‘Don’t Ask’ (1994) – featuring classic hits such as Chains, Sorrento Moon (I Remember) and Heaven Help My Heart – sold over two million copies worldwide and reached a record 10x platinum Down Under.

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It made waves internationally, with Chains going Top 10 in the UK and Top 40 on the US Hot 100, while the album itself became a hit across Europe. But looking back on the experience – two decades into her career – Tina admits the industry can be a frustrating place for Australian artists.  

“One of the saddest things for me as a true Australian is that, when it comes to prioritising us as a musical entity, we’re really at the bottom of the list,” she sighs. “Yet, we are extremely gracious when it comes to prioritising the Americans and also the English. You know, the English will always be prioritised on the radio in this country, but I’m not quite sure that’s a reciprocated thing.”

That doesn’t mean her plans for ‘Love Saves’ aren’t big, with a world tour booked for the autumn and dates in Australia, North America and Europe. How will she condense four decades of music into one 90-minute set? “It’s fucking hard! It’s not going to be possible to sing the repertoire that I’ve accumulated unless I spend five or six hours on stage,” she laughs. 

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“So what I think I might do is just take a little bit from every chapter, because obviously people will want to hear the hits – and that’s fine, I don’t have an issue with that – and the other songs I’ll just weave into all of that.”

Right now, she’s working on a bunch of projects, including a film score with her partner and music for other artists, but it’s the live shows where she’s placing her main focus as a “thank you” to the fans that have supported her for the past 45 years. “My plan moving forward is to spend one or two years touring, because I don’t know how much longer I’m going to do this for,” Tina admits. “The important thing for me at this stage in my life is to meet my audience on an international level; that’s a massive priority for me. 

“You know, I still really love my craft; I love the process of creating, I enjoy the process of recording, and I love the live work because that’s where I come alive. That is, I think, where I’m probably my strongest. But I’m at a point where I’ve got to go out and meet the peeps around the world and say ‘thank you’, I guess.”

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‘Love Saves’ is out July 14 on Positive Dream. Tina’s world tour launches in Australia in Sydney, Australia on October 7 and arrives in London on November 24. Tickets are on sale now.

Read the full interview in the August 2023 edition of RETROPOP, out now. Order yours or subscribe via our Online Store, use our Store Finder to locate your nearest stockist, or get Digital Copies delivered direct to your devices.

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