Thelma Plum: COVID-19 has made it harder for me to sing

It's taken a couple of months for Thelma Plum to be able to sing again.

The multi-nominee for the first virtual APRA Music Awards, taking place tonight, was fighting for breath for weeks after contracting COVID-19 while on a songwriting trip to London.

When she returned in early March to Australia, which had yet to close its borders and enact hard social-distancing restrictions and shutdowns of mass gatherings, she tested positive for the virus and was treated at the Royal Brisbane Hospital.

"It has been a wild ride," she says.

"I'm finally getting back to feeling like a human being but I still can't wrap my head around it all, it's a little hard to comprehend."

Better In Blak was Australian artist Thelma Plum’s reply to the trolls. Picture: Supplied.
Better In Blak was Australian artist Thelma Plum’s reply to the trolls. Picture: Supplied.

The Gamilaraay singer and songwriter, whose defiant Better In Blak alternative pop song has won her nominations for Song of the Year and Breakthrough Songwriter, was grateful to her carers - and her now-friend Steve who would visit her each day to clean her room - said losing her ability to sing had been "a stressful time".

"It was such a weird and awful sickness; I couldn't sing because I couldn't catch my breath and that lasted to only a couple of weeks ago. I still find it really difficult," she said.

Better In Blak was her emphatic riposte to the trolls and bullies who targeted the musician and activist when she spoke out against injustice or anti-social behaviour.

The title track of her debut album came after several false starts to find where she felt she belonged in the pop spectrum and finally striking a creative partnership with London-based, Australian songwriter Alex Burnett and Oli Horton.

It has been embraced as an empowerment anthem by indigenous and non-indigenous young women who have suffered bullying or belittlement.

Thelma Plum will get dolled up for the APRA Awards online. Picture: Supplied.
Thelma Plum will get dolled up for the APRA Awards online. Picture: Supplied.

"It blows my mind. I love that especially young people can find something healing and soothing in my music; that's what I wrote it for," she says.

"I get quite overwhelmed when I think about (the APRAs) because it is really special being recognised by other songwriters, songwriters I look up to and could never imagine would hear my music and think it was good," she says.

While the COVID-19 restrictions have forced the awards online, nominees and fans are being encouraged to dress up for the virtual red carpet which will be held via social media before the ceremony.

Plum is considering adopting fellow nominee Guy Sebastian's dress code of party on top, casual below for the ceremony.

"I love getting dolled up so maybe now I will, why not?" she says.

"But maybe just the top half!"

 

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Things have come together for The Teskey Brothers. Picture: Toby Zerna
Things have come together for The Teskey Brothers. Picture: Toby Zerna

 

The other nominees for the peer-voted 2020 APRA Song of the Year are:

 

I Get Up - Teskey Brothers

The Melbourne jam quartet comprising Sam and Josh Teskey, Brendon Love and Liam Gough may come to the table with individual ideas for riffs and hooks and melodies but it's the collective effort which brings their songs to life.

"I would give the main credit for this song to Brendon and Josh. Brendon came up with the main chord progression … it seems like it happened really easily when we are together in the room and throwing ideas around," Sam said.

"Josh is great at listening to something and starting to spit out words which we'll jot down with Liam then putting them into some kind of meaning.

"It's a powerful dynamic when the four of us are involved in that push and pull of bringing a song together; it can be amazing and very challenging."

Australian singer-songwriter Thelma Plum with Toni Watson (Tones and I) pictured after the ARIA Award nominations and announcement. Picture: Britta Campion / The Australian
Australian singer-songwriter Thelma Plum with Toni Watson (Tones and I) pictured after the ARIA Award nominations and announcement. Picture: Britta Campion / The Australian

Dance Monkey - Tones and I

One of the biggest songs in the world over the past 12 months, Dance Monkey has clocked up more than two billion streams since it was released last May.

The song was inspired by her busking days in Byron Bay and her desire to write a bop to entertain her friends at the hostel where she lived.

But the upbeat track also released the tension she felt when she busked on the streets from other street musicians who were jealous of her crowds and the drunks who would heckle her when they passed by.

"I was getting a little bit bullied by guys who thought I was taking their customers, and it got to the point where I was anxious every time I set up my keyboard," the star told The Times.

"Drunk people came past and yelled profanities at me. The negative was outweighing the positive, but I didn't want to stop just because people were being horrible."

Guy Sebastian penned a very personal tune.
Guy Sebastian penned a very personal tune.

Choir - Guy Sebastian

The Australian music industry's heart broke when beloved musician Luke Liang died in 2018. Guy Sebastian wanted to celebrate his talented band member and friend and wrote Choir and spotlight the need for mental health care for music workers.

The song became an anthem not only for those who loved Luke but tens of thousands of fans who had lost loved ones.

"Every night it's hard to sing it, it's really tough. At first I didn't want to release it because it was so personal, so raw for me and Luke's family. I didn't want to upset people and I wanted to make sure he was honoured in a way he would be OK with," Sebastian said.

"A lot of my fans loved Luke too and while it's always hard to predict what is going to connect with an audience, I think when you are dealing with loss with a song that's honest about that, that's the power of music."

5 Seconds of Summer’s Teeth is also in the running. Picture: Supplied.
5 Seconds of Summer’s Teeth is also in the running. Picture: Supplied.

Teeth - 5 Seconds of Summer

The 5 Seconds of Summer lads sank their fangs deeper into the industrial pop vein with Teeth which was written after six weeks of intensive sessions for their fourth album CALM.

Frontman Luke Hemmings and drummer Ashton Irwin co-wrote the track with Ali Tamposi, Andrew Watt and Ryan Tedder.

The credits on the track, which has more than 300 millions streams, also feature members of New Order, with trainspotters suggesting a percussion sample runs close to Blue Monday beats.

"It was a tumultuous time in my life and the lyrics in the song definitely reflect that," Hemmings said.

"It speaks lyrically about a trying time in my current relationship."

You can watch the #VAPRAs on Monday from 7pm.

Originally published as Thelma Plum: COVID-19 has made it harder for me to sing



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