“The only reason I agreed to do this is because it’s not on television. If, in future years, you keep it like that, I think it means something more because it’s much more personal” – Elton John, ARIA Music Awards, Sydney 1987. 

If they weren’t already, Sunday night’s telecast proved once and for all that the ARIA Awards are now little more than an insulting joke. Earlier in the day, Jimmy Barnes had spoken out against the event in the media, lashing out at the ridiculous awards procedure that now cuts the official awards night down to just a handful of presentations, mostly for publically-voted categories. The rest, including all the genre-specific awards and technical awards like those for producers and designers, were bestowed on winners at smaller, un-televised ceremonies throughout the week leading up to Sunday’s trashy, tabloid-style craptacular on the Opera House steps.

“It reminds me of Countdown,” he said, in this article. “Get all the kids screaming up front, treat most of the bands like shit up the back.”

Indeed, despite Elton John’s advice at the inaugural ARIA Awards in 1987, the concept has became geared more and more towards being nothing but a TV ratings extravanganza, with apparently little to no consideration toward the people the Awards are intended for. Instead of an industry function celebrating the successes of our country’s musical talent, on Sunday night we got an over-produced, glitzy variety show that paid little more than lip service to the music. Instead of a stage were recipients could approach the microphone, soak up the moment and give a considered acceptance speech to an audience of their peers, there were utterly irrelevant figures like Lara Bingle and Bob Katter reading off names and quickly palming off statues before a hasty cross to some has-been standing among a group of screaming idiots. There was Powderfinger, 22-year veterans of the Australian music scene, playing their final TV gig. Yet instead of showing them drinking in the atmosphere of what was a milestone for both them and the industry, as soon as their final note was played, Channel Ten cut to a series of unfunny sketches. Whatever one thinks of Powderfinger, they deserved far better than that.

The ARIAs have long had their critics, and specifically in the more popular areas of rock and pop their track record for awarding “the best” has been questionable. Clearly, it’s little more than a gauge for what or who happens to be the most popular artist at the time: Empire of the Sun won seven awards at last year’s ceremony, which is the same amount that INXS won over the course of their entire career. In spite of his enormous success and longevity in the indurty, with nine #1 albums as a solo artist and four as a member of Cold Chisel, Jimmy Barnes has only ever taken home three ARIA Awards — the most recent in 1991. To put that into perspective, Wolfmother, with only two albums, have won four. But at least they’ve also won a Grammy. In 2008, Gabriella Cilmi, whose most recent album barely made the Top 20, got six ARIAs for one song alone! But as if that wasn’t ridiculous enough, AC/DC, the greatest Australian band of all time and undoubtedly one of the greatest from anywhere ever, have only won two. Both were for Black Ice, as Highest Selling Album and Best Rock Album of the year.

If it wasn’t already possible to make things worse on the ARIA Awards front, this year ARIA introduced popular vote categories, including — unbelievably — a category for “Most Popular International Artist”. Two of the nominees for this “award” were David Guetta and Ke$ha, two of the least talented entertainers to have ever existed. At least they didn’t make the final cut but, seriously, the fact that somebody thought there was even a need to give an award to an overseas artist — for an Australian industry award — is a sad, sick joke. Even the MTV Awards have more integrity than this show, because at least they don’t pretend to be anything more than a flashy popularity contest.

When Barnes’ band Cold Chisel were nominated for — and won — nine Countdown Awards in 1981, the group not only refused to collect any of them as a protest against the event being sponsored by TV Week, during their live performance to close the night, in a display of thorough awesomeness that proves them to be one of the best bands ever, they played for just a minute and a half before smashing up the set and storming off. The incident so deeply embarassed TV Week that it subsequently withdrew sponsorship for the Countdown Awards. One wonders what would have resulted if Powderfinger had emulated Chisel on Sunday night.