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Tina Arena: ‘We’re Here to Break Rules, Not Obey Them’

The music icon gave a stirring call to action for artists during her speech at the 2023 Shure Rolling Stone Australia Awards

Budjerah and Tina Arena duet at last year's Rolling Stone Australia Awards

Tina Arena gave a stirring call to action for artists during her powerful speech at the 2023 Shure Rolling Stone Australia Awards.

The awards ceremony was held in Sydney last week and honoured the best and brightest in Australian music. In front of a crowd of hundreds of artists, media, and industry professionals, Tina Arena was honoured with the first-ever Rolling Stone Icon Award.

It was a deserved triumph: Arena is a true Australian music icon, winning seven ARIA Awards, including Album of the Year for her 1995 hit Don’t Ask, a category no other solo female artist had won at the time.

As she stepped onstage to receive her Rolling Stone Icon Award, Arena was in a reflective mood. “I’m a little bit taken aback for a number of different reasons,” she said. “I never, ever expected to be given any kind of reconaissant award by Rolling Stone, especially when I used to enjoy reading it in the ’90s, and enjoy reading some journalists taking the piss out of me!”

Arena added that she actually felt “at ease” with Rolling Stone historically “making fun” of her. “That’s my comfort zone,” she insisted. “This, the honours and stuff, is not so much of my comfort zone.”

It was at this point that Arena’s speech took a powerful turn. First, she detailed how she’s always viewed her own approach to making music: “I’ve never been one to conform to stereotypes or expectations. I’m not interested in being cool. I won’t toe the line. I tell it like it is. I keep true to my internal compass because authenticity is an absolute must for me.

“I sing from the heart and I write from the depths of my soul. It resonates with some people, because people are craving what is ultimately real. They’re craving truth in a world filled with absolute bullshit.”

The singer continued with an almost art manifesto. “As artists, we have a huge responsibility to do our job with integrity; we must not conform,” she said. “Let’s not allow the powers that be to manipulate us to push their own agendas.

“An artist’s job, in my humble opinion, is to lift people up, to inspire change and empathy. It’s not to be the mouthpiece for different social and political propaganda.” As cheers rang out from the crowd, Arena quickly added, “I’m so glad you agree.”

For Arena, the future depends on an “independent, critically-thinking arts sector.”

“One that demands accountability and isn’t afraid to be politically-in-fucking-correct,” she continued. “Let’s not sell our souls for the fame and the accolades.”

“We’re not here to relay political messaging, but to inspire political messages. We’re here to point fingers at what’s not right, and inspire people to do something about it. Never give in, never surrender. We’re here to break rules, not obey them, break balls, and take names.”

Poppy Reid, The Brag Media’s Editor-in-chief, presented Arena with her award and paid tribute to the singer’s lasting legacy during the awards ceremony.

“Tina Arena is one of Australia’s highest-selling artists, she’s a once-in-a-generation talent, but more than that, she is an icon for young people everywhere,” Reid said.

“Her work comes from a place of love, it comes from obsession, and it shows in everything she does. From her music, to her activism, her feminism, her allyship and the way she fights the sickness in our society around ageism, to her using her platform to lift others up. She’s an inspiration to me and everyone I know.”

Elsewhere at last week’s awards, Budjerah took home Best New Artist, and performed a surprise duet with Arena later in the night. Spacey Jane, meanwhile, won Best Single for “Hardlight”, while Gang of Youths saw off strong competition to win Best Record for angel in realtime..

Global Rolling Stone staff also anointed Tash Sultana with the Rolling Stone Global Award, and local readers and fans gave the hotly contested Rolling Stone Readers’ Choice Award to Lime Cordiale.

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