Ever since Kylie Minogue first became a superstar in the UK, the phenomenon of the Australian pop import has grown in popularity. Troye Sivan has been embraced in recent times; even Holly Valance scored a No. 1 single around the turn of the century. As the UK has looked on with sadness at other countries putting on festivals and concerts, the next great pop artist from Down Under has been performing to thousands of fans on a weekly basis: with her signature messy bun hairstyle and down-to-earth personality, Amy Shark has risen to the top of Australian music in an alarmingly short time.
Her second album, Cry Forever, came out in April and secured Shark her second consecutive Australian No. 1 album. In just three years, she’s won eight ARIA Awards, the Australian equivalent of the Brits. One only has to consult the guest list on Cry Forever to understand the level she’s currently operating at. Australian royalty Keith Urban features on “Love Songs Ain’t For Us,” and the collaboration came about surprisingly easy. “Keith asked me to perform at the 2018 ARIA Awards so we became friends then,” she tells me over Zoom. “I literally just texted him the song and told him I could hear his country swagger through it. He simply wrote back ‘I love it,’ so I sent him the stems and he started working on it!”
That song also had a superstar co-writer: Ed Sheeran. “He’s an actual machine,” Shark remembers. “He manages to fall into melodies so quickly. I think we also picked a hard topic to write about, talking about finding someone you connect with and are comfortable with, which isn’t really a sexy topic. Somehow he still managed to make it kind of sexy though. He just knows what he’s doing in the studio, he doesn’t stop.” Does this mean the pair are good friends now? “I was just saying to my partner the other day that it’s so weird when Ed’s name comes up on my email because it’s like ‘how do I have Ed Sheeran emailing me right now?’ He’s great, we get on so well and we’re in contact all the time. He’s such a cool dude.”
Travis Barker guests on “C’mon” and Shark says she won’t stop until she completes the Blink-182 set (Mark Hoppus previously collaborated with her on the track “Psycho”). “We’re working on it,” she laughs. “You know I won’t rest until I get them all.” Given that she’s already worked with artists like Barker and Sheeran, I ask who’s left on her dream collaboration list. “I’ve been a Post Malone fan for a really long time,” she shares. “I actually love a lot of rap. I love Mark Ronson too.”
One song, “The Wolves,” even received unexpected approval from Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins, an unlikely alliance. “I played him the guitar chords and I was doing this crazy picking thing and he said ‘I think you need to minimize it because the lyrics and melody are really strong from the start’,” Shark says. “He then played the bass note of it and it did sound so much better! So I probably do owe him some money for that song.”
Shark’s single “Worst Day of My Life” came out in June, the latest song to be taken from Cry Forever’s collection. It’s a solemn and sincere slow-burner but she manages to strike a delicate balance between ballads and bops in the album, highlighting her versatility. “I love it just being me and the guitar but then I also love hearing my drummer shred a banger,” she says with a laugh. “I love all of it so I think if I can find a good balance in an album, I’ve won.”
It’s been a long road to the top for Shark. Her father abandoned her when she was a child. In 2017 as she started to get noticed, he reappeared in her life: “Haven’t heard from my father in 15 yrs until now. It must suck knowing your daughter got all this way on her very own! Now beat it! I’m busy” she tweeted at the time. The last song on the album, simply titled “Amy Shark,” references him in the chorus (“And I did it all without a phone call / Or a Christmas card, you have no heart / This is my way of saying don’t start,” she sings).
“I felt like Cry Forever was the time to do it,” she reflects. “I wasn’t really ready on the first album to go as deep. I’m a lot better at navigating through difficult things now.” The Shark moniker was her incisive way of separating her from her family name. “I was obsessed with Jaws and then I became obsessed with sharks and every other shark film that came out,” she explains. “When I wrote down ‘Amy Shark,’ it felt edgy and scary! It suited me.”
Her first forays in music came on the grueling pub circuit in Australia, an unforgiving landscape. It was really hard,” she sighs. “I still get PTSD when walking past some of the bars. People would give you a hard time, they’d yell things at you. You’d finish a gig at midnight, rush home to sleep, and then go to your day job the next day from 9 until 5. It was so rough.” Things would be so different, though, for her now without that difficult grounding. “If I didn’t do that time I don’t think I’d be as comfortable as I am on stage today,” she says. “It’s how I can do big tours now and do millions of hours of promo because I’d much rather do this than do what I used to do!”
When her first album, Love Monster, catapulted her to stardom, Shark was already in her 30s, a remarkably late age to start making inroads in a career. With hindsight, however, Shark feels it’s been a blessing. “I used to have a chip on my shoulder about it. But I was able to grow up in peace and be a total dick and not have it all on the internet.” I bring up the recent example of Olivia Rodrigo, who only just turned 18. “Exactly, man! Her and Billie Eilish have no chance,” she says. “There’s no getting away with anything for those two.”
As she rose to fame quickly in Australia, detractors started emerging from the shadows, envious of her sudden success. “I’m pretty numb to it now,” she concedes. “Nothing can get to me anymore. I’ve tried to be the bigger person with the internet abuse. It’s tough but it comes with the territory.” Internet trolls targeted Shark’s integrity in particular, insisting that she only found success through working with certain producers. It’s why she decided to make her recent YouTube series Forever Amy Shark. “I thought it would be good to show people how involved I am,” she says, sounding determined. “I write everything, I co-produce everything. I’m there from the very start. I just wanted there to be no excuses anymore.”
I ask if this had anything to do with her prominence as a woman in the music industry, but she thinks it has more to do with Tall Poppy Syndrome, a cultural phenomenon especially seen in Australia and New Zealand. “Everyone loves an Aussie battler, everyone wants to support an underdog,” she explains. “But when the underdog brings out something that does very well and they end up in people’s faces all the time, they don’t like that. People quickly find ways in which to hate you and decide that you’re not cool anymore. I’ve been pretty numb to that for a couple of years now though so it doesn’t really bother me anymore.”
There’s an unerring confidence that filters through everything Shark does. It doesn’t feel undeserved, rather it’s the development of a thick skin, a coping mechanism from her time on the tumultuous pub circuit. Doubts are never far away though. She tries not to listen to too much new music for one. “I get really weird and compare myself a lot to other artists,” she says. She prefers to write alone with no one else in the room, Sheeran being the only person she’s ever allowed to be in the same room as her while writing. “I like to be totally by myself and see what comes out without feeling embarrassed,” she shares. “I haven’t really nailed that openness yet. I still really struggle if there are other people there throwing out ideas for lyrics.”
Having dominated her home country, Shark was making great inroads in the Northern Hemisphere before COVID-19 hit. “It’s frustrating because I was building something so great in both North American and Europe,” she says. “The last time I was over there, they put ‘Adore’ on a perfume commercial. Germany in particular was firing and North America was doing really well.” So confident in her ability to make it abroad was she that she made some big plans in 2020. “I wanted to spend a lot of that year overseas,” she says. “I even packed my whole house up! I was either going to be in Los Angeles or Europe but obviously it didn’t work out.”
Indeed, after so many awards and records in her home country, there’s not much left to conquer. Having won the ARIA Award for Best Pop Release three times, only the iconic Kylie Minogue has more. When I inform her of this fact, I question whether she’d have the temerity to overtake the unofficial Queen of Australia. “That’s massive, that’s so wild,” she laughs. “I’m going to go for it again!” Perhaps nothing sums up the confidence of Amy Shark better than that. She’s certainly earned it.