For Thelma Plum, nothing has been more liberating and rewarding than getting back on the road after two years. Like many musicians, she was forced to cancel a string of shows during the pandemic, and the downtime led to the inspiration for her latest single, Backseat Of My Mind.
"I wrote this coming out of lockdown and I was feeling very nostalgic," the 27-year-old tells Refinery29 Australia over Zoom after kicking off her 'The Making It Up To You' tour last month.
"I was reminiscing about touring a lot and being back to events and how I really missed it. I missed being on the road. I'm a performer and I love performing for people and so that's what I wrote that about."
The break from singing live presented its own opportunities. Plum embraced her love for style, appearing on fashion magazine covers and collaborating with clothing and makeup brands for the first time.
"I've always loved fashion and doing my makeup but I just feel like I'd never had the means when I was growing up," she says.
"Though I was a pretty stylish kid," she then adds. "My mum has great taste in fashion and in vintage fashion, and is a big advocate for sustainable fashion, so that was very important to her when I was growing up."
What was missing during Plum's younger years was the visibility of women who looked like her in the Australian media and fashion scene. It sparked the basis of her track, Homecoming Queen, which was released in 2019.
"I wrote a whole song about this. I spoke about how I'm not seeing anyone that looks like me in magazines," she reflects.
"And it does something to you when you were growing up. It's not a nice feeling and it's isolating and it's not how it should be. The major media wasn't reflective of how my world looked."
The Gamilaraay woman says that the lack of diversity in the fashion and entertainment industries over the years "doesn't make sense" and there are "just no excuses" for brands not being inclusive these days.
Belonging and identity have always been central to her music since the release of her debut album, Better In Blak, three years ago. Her breakout single, of the same name, detailed the frustrating experiences she's faced as an Indigenous woman and musician.
Three years later, it's hailed as an empowerment anthem on social media with hundreds of TikTok videos — about topics like reconciliation and racism to self-expression and identity — featuring the song.
"That's amazing! I don't think I've seen them so after this, I'm getting on TikTok," she says.
Social media has overwhelmingly become a huge part of the equation for artists in the past couple of years, posing the question, are artists expected to be viral TikTok sensations in order to be successful?
"I'm not great at doing TikToks myself, but I do love watching TikToks," says Plum.
"I try not to get too wrapped up with that sort of stuff. Otherwise, I will send myself mad," she laughs. "I have other people in my team that can worry about that stuff. I want to focus. I'm a songwriter, I'm a performer, I'm not a TikToker."
"I remember her being on Australian Idol. She's definitely someone I've looked up to for so long and and she's just so amazing," says Plum. "But TV [for me]? I don't know. I'm a terrible actor.
"I'm also scared, what if I went on reality TV and they gave me the villain edit? But I guess in this scenario [if it was The Voice], I'm not. In my mind, I'm going on The Bachelor," she laughs.
"Maybe one day," she says after a pause. "If there's another pandemic."
In the meantime, music is undoubtedly her main focus and she's looking forward to singing in front of live audiences again. Last month she kicked off her 'The Making It Up To You' tour — a run of previously cancelled shows from her 'Homecoming Queen' tour in 2020 and 2021 — and she will also be supporting musician Vance Joy throughout October in Darwin, Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, and Melbourne.