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20 Years of ‘Innocent Eyes’: How Delta Goodrem’s Debut Album Reset the Local Pop Landscape

‘Innocent Eyes’ broke records, redefined success for local female artists and spawned a legion of fans.

Delta Goodrem Innocent Eyes

Twenty years ago, Delta Goodrem’s debut album Innocent Eyes hit shelves.

As time ticked on, the iconic Australian album would spawn six number one singles, be certified 15x Platinum and go on to hold the number one spot on the ARIA Albums Chart for the decade of 2000 to 2009.

To this day, it remains the ninth highest-selling album ever on these shores. For those by Australian artists, it’s only beaten by the 24x Platinum Whispering Jack by John Farnham, which had a 17-year head start.

To set the scene, Goodrem was just 18 in 2003 when Innocent Eyes was released. She was playing Nina Tucker on Neighbours at the time. Her debut, and often forgotten, first single “I Don’t Care” had been released in 2001, peaking at 64 on the ARIA Singles Charts.

“Born to Try”, however, the first single from Innocent Eyes, gained national exposure on Neighbours when Goodrem, as Nina, performed the song in 2002.

At the time, Neighbours could still command over one million viewers per episode.

It was, to put it lightly, a different era.

George W. Bush was president of the United States. Tony Blair was in the Prime Minister’s chair in the UK. Locally, we were still in the John Howard era.

We were still 11 months away from Facebook, over seven years away from Instagram.

Even MySpace was months away, as was the first commercial 3G network in Australia, “3”.

It was the year that Lance Armstrong won his fifth Tour de France. The UK had its highest-ever recorded temperature at 38.5°C.

Plus, there was an outbreak of SARS, caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (or SARS-CoV-1), which was making its way around parts of Asia.

50 Cent’s “In Da Club” was the number one single in the US. It was the year that Beyonce’s game-changing debut solo album, Dangerously in Love, topped the Billboard charts.

The day Innocent Eyes came out, Australia’s number one single was Goodrem’s “Lost Without You”.

The record-breaking album should logically have led to a sell-out national tour. On July 8th, however, the fledgling star was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Her world was turned upside down, she left Neighbours and began treatment.

Exactly 15 weeks after her diagnosis, Goodrem would appear at the Sydney Superdome (now Qudos Bank Arena) for the 17th ARIA Music Awards, which would go to air on Network 10.

She swept the awards that night. Goodrem won Best Pop Release for Innocent Eyes, Breakthrough Artist Single for “Born to Try”, and Breakthrough Album for Innocent Eyes. She also won Highest Selling Single and Highest Selling Album for the same releases. Best Female Artist? You guessed it, she won it, as well as Single of the Year. She was only pipped at the post for Album of the Year by Powderfinger’s Vulture Street.

She couldn’t perform at the ceremony, so former Savage Garden frontman Darren Hayes performed “Lost Without You” for her.

Just prior to the ARIAs, Dido’s Life for Rent had a two-week stint at the top of the ARIA Albums Chart, however by October 20th, Innocent Eyes was back on top for another eight weeks, taking its 2003 total at the top to 27 weeks. It would clock up an extra two weeks in January 2004, knocking Australian Idol’s inaugural winner Guy Sebastian off the top spot for Just As I Am.

Perhaps due to the changing nature of music sales, selection and streaming, no local artist has since outstripped Goodrem’s success with the album.

It redefined just how long an Aussie artist could sit atop the charts (Farnham’s Whispering Jack – while over time selling more copies than Innocent Eyes – was atop the charts for 25 weeks in total in the mid ‘80s).

And it once again put a spotlight on how Aussie soaps could do more than just produce one-hit wonder assembly line pop stars, and could instead platform artists who could have decades-long careers.

The album defined the decade and continues to define and guide Goodrem’s career.

Indeed, later this year, the singer will embark on an eight-date, five city Anniversary Tour in celebration of her seminal debut.

People in the crowd won’t have watched Neighbours the night before, with the show cancelled last year (and then ‘uncancelled’ this year). Most, if not all, of them would have escaped the SARS-CoV-1 run at the time of the album’s release – as there were only six confirmed Australian cases and no local deaths – but probably won’t have been so lucky with SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).

They’ll have 5G on their phones, which is likely also where most of their music library is now housed.

The past two decades will have changed everyone in the crowd, but seeing the album performed again in 2023 will give them a chance to recapture, restore and revive the ‘innocent eyes’ through which they used to view the world.

Goodrem’s album is a national treasure, and we’d be lost without it.

Rolling Stone AU/NZ recently named Goodrem’s Innocent Eyes era as one of the Top 50 Most Iconic Australian Music Moments of all time.