The female factor in Australian music. Episode 2: Fashion in music. Six artists with a stage image that speaks volumes

Fashion and music often go hand in hand.

It’s especially visible in the case of female artists who are global megastars. And it’s not only limited to signing lucrative deals with global brands or famous designers. A musical act’s image is heavily based on the way they dress on stage and for all promotional campaigns related to their brand. Their wardrobe is often carefully planned and executed.

In many cases, the resulting “look” is not necessarily 100% what the entertainers would have chosen themselves. But it fits a broader narrative “designed” for their brand to attract fans and – yes – ultimately sell their product which is music. It sounds brutal, but that’s the way it works in any business.

Sometimes, however, the outfits let a muso’s personality shine and enhance the message they want to send to the world. Thankfully, there is a bunch of female artists in the Australian music business that have nailed the relationship between their music and accompanying stage attire to their greatest advantage. In my humble view, the six I’m about to present deserve to be distinguished, because of different reasons.

For this post, I have come up with some (subjective) categories that I believe fit the style of those musicians the best. They’re based on my observations over the years and include footage from live performances, interviews, press releases or music awards ceremonies.

Here they are, in no particular order.

THE DIVA THAT WE ALL ONCE WANTED TO BE – Kate Miller-Heidke

Just to be clear, I’m referring to the definition of the word “diva” which means “a celebrated female singer” here, not a demanding spoiled celebrity.

The expression is primarily used for women performing opera, but it has expanded to other branches of entertainment as well. So it should come as no surprise that it is a preferred look of Kate Miller-Heidke.

This great Australian artist has conjured up a perfect blend of the classical singing style with more modern genres, like pop or electronic music. Her performance from the Eurovision Song Contest from 2019 is probably the best example. And the glamorous, fairy tale style that she presents on stage complements that concept very well. After all, let’s face it – every girl dreams of being a princess at some stage in her life.

Watch the video to one of Kate Miller-Heidke’s recent singles below to have a better understanding of what I mean. Even though it’s called “Deluded”.

THE ACTIVIST THAT AUSTRALIA STILL DESPERATELY NEEDS – Barkaa

2020 might have been a tough year for everyone. But the amount of talented rapping females that claimed their space on the music map in Australia in that tricky time is mind-blowing to me. For all the good reasons, too. And if there’s one hip hop artist Down Under that I’d love to meet one day, it’s definitely Barkaa.

The artist is a proud Malyangapa, Barkindji woman whose tribe “is very matriarchal, and she’s always had strong female role models in her life”. In my humble opinion, those elements define the NSW rapper’s musical style and image above anything else.

It was whilst serving time in prison when Barkaa realised that she wanted to employ music as her weapon for activism. And it happened as a complete surprise that her song “Our Lives Matter” was played at the June 2020 protests in Australia. But it helped her achieve her goals and be signed to the Aboriginal-run record label, Bad Apples Music.

As a fierce advocate of her heritage, Barkaa draws attention to it through her image as well. Additionally, using her newly acquired recognition, she supports artists creating traditional Aboriginal arts and crafts on her page. The necklace she’s wearing in the photo above is one of those beautiful creations.

THE SURPRISINGLY REFRESHING OFFICE LOOK – Thandi Phoenix

If you ever doubted that the stage is a musician’s office, Thandi Phoenix is living proof of that theory. And this is absolutely not to criticise her!

The drum and bass singer from Sydney has taken the concept of a female suit to a whole new level. One that flirts with the traditional look but is “updated” by bright, shiny colours and “casual” elements, like a short tight top under the jacket. Somehow, this sophisticated, business-like style synchronises with Thandi’s music vibes.

The first time I noticed the artist was at Spilt Milk in Canberra in 2018. Although she performed at a fairly early time, I was drawn to the song “My Way” produced by Rudimental. But it was also because of her stage presence and that checked suit she was wearing that I’ll never forget.

Since then, Thandi Phoenix and her suit have visited heaps of other places. Like triple j’s studios where she performed for the “Like A Version” segment. And she delivered: both on the music and outfit front. See for yourself:

THE FIGHTER THAT KEEPS ON FIGHTING – Sampa The Great

I have to confess to something that might sound unpopular. When I first saw Sampa The Great live, I wasn’t too impressed with her performance. But now, with the time passing, I know it was because I didn’t understand what she was trying to convey back then.

Sometimes, you need time to patiently grow with the artist. And I reckon what helped me change my mind about the Australian-Zambian musician is her image, particularly emphasised over the last couple of years.

And it looks like it’s not only me who has fully embraced Sampa The Great’s heritage but the artist herself as well. We’ve been gradually seeing more and more African roots in her music videos and live shows. And the lyrics from the musician’s recent album, the highly revered The Return, speak to that as well, i.e. “Great state I’m in / In all states I’m in / I might final form / In my melanin”.

The below performance for ARIAs 2020 was recorded in Botswana. It is one of the most courageous ones the awards ceremony has seen, with the opening lines directly calling out the music industry for lack of equity.

THE REBEL WITH A VERY GOOD CAUSE – Ecca Vandal

Before I even knew who Ecca Vandal was as a musician or heard any of her songs, I had already fallen in love with her wardrobe.

This Melbourne-based artist combines various music genres under one creative roof. She sings, raps and belts tunes out if need be. And I reckon her image is an on-point summary of her musical career: it’s loud, colourful and rebellious.

The South-African musician with Tamil, Sri Lankan roots fits the “activist” category as well. As an active supporter of Aboriginal rights in Australia, she often demonstrates it in her attire. And she likes to make other statements on-stage. Check out her “This is not a logo” uniform that was displayed in the Australian Music Vault in Melbourne last time I visited it in 2019 (above).

Ecca Vandal’s music videos are the best illustration of her style. “Broke Days, Party Nights” will take you through the many rebel fashion personas she can be. And it’s an awesome tune, too.

THE GIRL FROM A HISTORIC PAINTING – Montaigne

When you Google “Montaigne”, the first thing you’ll probably find is a French philosopher from the Renaissance. Don’t ignore that search result. It can actually help you understand the fashion choices of the Australian singer, also called Montaigne.

To be honest, I don’t know how the Sydney-based musician came up with her stage image, but it was a genius move. Because she represents art pop in the Australian music industry, so the theatrical and often exaggerated outfits are the best way to amplify it. I have to admit that I’d love to be a part of Montaigne’s wardrobe team (I adore that period in art in general).

Moreover, I reckon the singer could also be easily classified as the diva, rebel and activist in one person. She’s often publicly expressed her opinion on vital issues through her outfits and/or taken part in charitable events, like Fire Fight Australia in February 2020.

One of Montaigne’s catchy, dramatic tunes won her the right to represent Australia in the Eurovision Song Contest 2020. Rightfully so, as you can see below:

A few months ago, I wrote about The Veronicas‘ relationship with fashion as well. The singing sister-duo is famous for their style, and they are undoubtedly considered fashion icons in the music industry Down Under. They have put their sense of style to good use as well, having designed a collection for young girls, promoting a cute rather than provocative look often publicly sported by female (music) celebrities.

It’s uplifting to see that female Australian musicians don’t let themselves be “boxed” into the stereotypical stage image and use their sense of style to let the world know who they truly are. I would hope that young girls who are either music fans or aspiring musicians will adopt that attitude as well. So that women in the business can be respected for their quality as musicians rather than their fashion choices only.

After all, as the saying goes, “it’s not all about looks”.


Check out previous post in this limited series:

On June 21st, let’s all “Make Music”, Australia

Out of all the places in the world, Australia is probably one of the very few where you don’t really have to encourage people to “make music”. With a lively and diverse scene, heaps of cool acts of all shapes and colours and a city that is one of the live music capitals of the […]