How does Tina Arena feel when she looks back on the past 40 years in the recording industry? “Very old!” she says, laughing. “You think, ‘God, where does it go?’ It has been an incredible adventure, full of highs, lows and in-betweens.”
Arena’s highs and lows have been well documented, with the artist having grown up in the public eye. She was first introduced to Australian audiences as “Tiny Tina” on TV’s Young Talent Time, and became one of the country’s most popular singers at just nine years of age. Now after a career spanning four decades, Arena is one of Australia’s most successful singer-songwriters. She’s the only Australian artist to earn a gold or platinum certification for original album releases in every decade from the 1970s right through to now. Every album of her career has gone gold, platinum or multiplatinum.
To mark her success, Arena is releasing Greatest Hits & Interpretations, a 31-track set that covers a ‘Retrospective’ collection, plus ‘Reimagined’, which includes covers by the likes of Jimmy Barnes, Katie Noonan and Kate Miller-Heidke. She’s also doing an ‘Innocence to Understanding’ national tour in spring.
Having been exposed to the industry at such a young age, Arena credits the support she received from her family and the team around her for helping her transition into an adult performer. “I was well protected,” she reflects. “Once I flew the coop and went out on my own, I realised how horrible it can be if you are not well surrounded.”
Nowadays, Arena has an empathy for young talent. “I feel sorry for them,” she says. “There is a sense of brutality when I think about what these kids go through today with the platforms and the extra layers I didn’t have to deal with, such as social media.”
It’s Arena’s authenticity that’s encouraged her to be a mentor to young Australian artists. “I’ve had lots of conversations with artists and I allow them to open up to me. I will never deny them of the truth,” she says. “I ask them, ‘What motivates you? Do you really want to be there?’ Because if you’re not in it for the right reasons, you will come undone.”
Arena’s breakout album, Strong as Steel, was released in 1990, followed by Don’t Ask in 1994 with the single ‘Chains’, which went 10-times platinum in Australia, platinum in New Zealand, and gold in the UK. She also performed at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000. But despite being at the height of her game, Arena says that personally, she was suffering. Following the divorce from her first husband, she moved overseas to take a break. “For me, it was the difference between surviving and not surviving.”
She moved to France, where she later met her partner Vincent, with whom she has a son, Gabriel. Arena continued her love of music and was embraced in her new home, selling more than five million albums in France alone. She was also awarded a knighthood of the Order of National Merit, the second highest civil honour in France, by the then French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Arena has never been one to shy away from the challenges she has faced. “I’ve had a few chunks taken off me, for sure,” she says. “I’ve been open about it because I believe in being honest. I don’t believe political correctness is where people will learn or understand what I have been through.”
I AM WOMAN
It’s Arena’s determination – and mentoring skills – that inspired her to create the new Reimagined concept album. It started with the unforgettable performance of Arena with fellow Australian singers The Veronicas and Jessica Mauboy at the 2015 ARIA Awards, where Arena was inducted into the Australian Music Hall of Fame. “(The performance) was a moment where I knew I had to navigate through as beautifully and honourably as I possibly could,” explains Arena. “I didn’t want it to just be about me; I wanted it to be about women.”
In accepting her prestigious music award, Arena called out to the industry for not supporting enough Australian music and for pushing out older women. “Don’t tell me when to stop,” says an impassioned Arena, recalling the night. “I will tell you when I need to stop because I will know well before any of you.”
And that won’t be anytime soon. “You may have made some shit decisions but you think, ‘Maybe I can give advice to other people. I can pass something on’.”
It’s a vision that Arena feels is now more important than ever. “The great privilege of my job is the fact that when I walk out on stage, it doesn’t matter where you come from, everyone is there to have a good time. Music is a healer and it does need to continue to play a great part of our lives because it connects us.”