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Jaguar Jonze, Paulini & Erica Padilla How Representation Has Empowered Their Artistry

The Australian music industry has experienced significant change over the last few years. However, while progress has been made, the industry at large is still facing a diversity and representation problem.
The statistics are pretty damning. A 2018 Pilerats report revealed that 80% of typical Australian music festival line-ups are composed of all-white acts. Triple J Hack's annual 2020 gender report found that you're more than twice as likely to hear a song by a solo male or all-male act than a solo female or all-female act on the radio in Australia. And a 2021 Australia Centre For The Arts survey found that the most prominent challenge faced by First Nations artists was access to adequate financial support. It's clear that a lot of work still needs to be done to even the playing field.
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Eurovision 2022 is just around the corner, and since Australia entered the global competition in 2013, the competition has allowed a vast array of diverse voices to come to the forefront. This year, Jaguar Jonze, Paulini and Erica Padilla (TikTok's Wildcard Winner) are all competing in SBS’s Eurovision – Australia Decides in the hope of representing our country in Italy. They'll be joining the likes of Isaiah Firebrace, Voyager, Sheldon Riley and more, who are each bringing their own flair to the stage.
Each performer's artistry is inspired by their rich and diverse backgrounds, offering a unique perspective on the Australian music landscape. We spoke with Jaguar Jonze, Paulini and Erica Padilla on representation in the music industry, and what they think needs to change in order to empower more artists.

Jaguar Jonze

Why do you believe representation is essential in music? How have your personal experiences shaped this view?
I think we've always known what representation can accomplish, but that representation hasn't always been something that was invited. Recently, we've begun to see people who have been systematically and societally oppressed in all facets of life, including in art and music, pushing to the front to speak out. Representation is needed to look at the drivers which contribute to systemic discrimination, abuse and misconduct in society and in different industries.
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Music and art have always been a cultural conversation, and through this, we can listen and learn about injustices, power imbalances, inequality and exclusion, different privileges and entitlements. We can also share stories, be richer in culture, and create more than one-dimensional experiences. If we are silencing voices that contribute to this conversation, society stays stagnant and fragmented. 
For so long, I felt like I didn't belong. That I wasn't worthy of holding space to tell my story and to share my culture. I was ashamed and felt the pressure through constant rejection [and felt] that if I were to ever find success in my artist career, I would have to whitewash myself. The only reason why I refused and stuck to my path was due to why I started music in the first place - and that was to be more honest with myself, to find strength in my vulnerability and to break down my inhibitions and socialised shame so that I can then find power and my voice, knowing who I am as a person and as an artist. 
Where do you think the Australian music landscape needs improvement in terms of representation?
I think we've seen a shift in attitudes regarding representation as being more than just a checklist that someone is ticking off to hit their diversity quota, which has never been okay, nor is it an accurate definition of representation, but we still have a long way to go. We've seen a taste of what representation can accomplish, but that result shouldn't be enough. It should be a motivator to prioritise that as an industry — imagine what we could achieve as representation progresses in our music landscape.
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There's a leadership deficit due to the prioritisation of commercial gain over inclusiveness and due to the monopoly on power held by 'stale, pale males'. All of that needs to change. We need to see diversity not just in the talent but within employment structures and systems, industry bodies, executive roles, businesses, promoters and booking agents, music and festival programming, radio quotas and education. 
What are some of the positive changes you've witnessed across the Australian music landscape recently?
I thought I was cannibalising my career when I spoke up about my story on sexual harassment and abuse with two music producers on national TV. But I just knew that I didn't want to... be a part of the culture of silence. Through the last two years of my advocacy in creating safer workplaces within the Australian music industry, I've been able to also witness a significant change. In the beginning, it felt hopeless, being met with roadblocks from egos, politics and institutional power, but as more people spoke up, as the movement picked up momentum, we saw that flip.
The industry came together to meet and talk about what to do and put together a Temporary Working Group (which I was a part of), and at the end of last year, we were able to commission a Music Industry Review with expert consultants on systemic discrimination and sexual harm, which is taking place in 2022.
I've always said publicly that we were so far from change because we hadn't even reached the awareness stage. Still, I'm hopeful that through this review, we can start to grow awareness and commit to actionable reform. This is the first Music Industry Review of its kind in the Australian music industry, and I am so proud of the strength and sacrifice of so many that we were able to overcome so many obstacles to get to this place.
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Who, within the music industry, inspires you to constantly create and spread your message?
I look at and lean into the strength of Shungudzo, Japanese Breakfast, Mitski, Jack River and Rina Sawayama. But also, outside of the music industry in our current climate, I am inspired by the resilience and determination of Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame and Amy Remeikis.
I also can't ignore the relentless support from journalists Nathanael Cooper and Lisa Wilkinson. They supported me as an artist and survivor, and gave me a platform to use my voice and share my music. 
What are your main goals (and dreams) for 2022?
Honestly, representing Australia in Eurovision would be a dream come true. To showcase my artistry alongside my advocacy would be a triumph for anyone who has had to fight for something bigger than themselves.
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Paulini

Why do you believe representation is essential in music? How have your personal experiences shaped this?
Representation is as essential in music as it is in life. I wouldn't be a singer, and I certainly wouldn't be answering these questions if, as a young girl of colour, there wasn't a woman with the same colour skin as mine that I could look up to. 
They were all there: Whitney, Mariah, Aretha, Tina Turner — on my TV screen, showing me that I could do it too. I know I will never have the impact of those great icons, but even if there is just one young girl of colour who looks up to me and thinks, "Yes, I want to be like Paulini,", I will be happy. 
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Where do you think the Australian music landscape needs improvement in terms of representation?
I'm not going to name names, but it's evident that women (and men) of colour get less support, both monetary and A&R-wise [Artists and Repertoire], in Australia specifically.
I don't blame the record companies entirely, as I understand they are a business. To be honest, while I don't know how much money is being spent on individual artists in this country, it would be nice to see record labels sign artists based on their talent (not their marketability) and equally distribute financial support to all their artists. 
What are some of the positive changes you've witnessed across the Australian music landscape recently?
For a start, look at SBS’s Eurovision – Australia Decides competition that I'm about to compete in. You've got me as a Pacific Islander; Isaiah, an Indigenous Australian; Jaguar Jonze with a Taiwanese background and Sheldon, Seann and Jude, who are all out and proud.
Twenty years ago, this would never have happened. I think industry leaders likely influence this shift we have seen in accepting change in advertising campaigns and not accepting the norm, which plays a vital role in changes like this happening.
Who, within the music industry, inspires you to constantly create and spread your message?
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The Australian artists who inspire me would hands-down be the likes of Guy Sebastian, Kate Ceberano and Marcia Hines. Their music always comes from a place inside them, rather than being handed to them to sing. 
What are your main goals (and dreams) for 2022?
Italy. I want to represent Australia at Eurovision and give back to the country that has given me so much. I also think a new album might be on the cards. 
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Erica Padilla

Why do you believe representation is essential in music? How have your personal experiences shaped this?
Representation gives people connectedness and makes them feel included. As a young person of colour, I've always idolised the people who come across my TV screen who are Filipina or have the same skin tone as me. It made me feel like there was somewhere I could fit in. I remember watching TV shows such as Hi-5 and The Wiggles. I didn't know it then, but having that representation while I was growing up made me believe it was so normal and that I could be on that screen one day because someone like me was doing it.
Growing up in a Filipino household, I know how much representation impacted the way we saw a singer. We would throw all our support behind our fellow Filipinos, such as Kate Ceberano, because they were the people making it big. We felt so connected by our culture. It makes dreams possible for people looking up to these artists.
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Where do you think the Australian music landscape needs improvement in terms of representation?
There is still an underrepresentation of diverse individuals in the music industry, and by that, I mean who we are putting on our television screens and choosing to bring to the foreground. The music industry is continuing to change, and I think that younger generations are so rich in culture and ideas, are so diverse and not to mention talented. I believe that it's wonderful that now more than ever, diversity is a priority. I believe where it needs improvement is broadening its horizon and striving to find fresh, new and diverse talent.
What are some of the positive changes you've witnessed across the Australian music landscape recently?
I'd have to say the musical theatre industry has stepped it up. Shows such as Hamilton and Six not only have super-modern soundtracks with strong, relevant messages, they've highlighted the importance of POC representation and feminism. They have changed the expectations of musical theatre.
Who, within the music industry, inspires you to constantly create and spread your message?
I think that it's those who have turned me down or just passed upon me for an opportunity. I think it makes me strive to be better and motivate the people around me and the people in my community to keep working hard and reaching for your dreams. It inspires me to keep on creating, learning and growing and not to waste any opportunity. 
What are your main goals (and dreams) for 2022?
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This year I would love to dive into the Australian music scene a lot more and record some more killer music. My main goal is to continue evolving and enjoying the process of being in the music industry. I have a huge dream that I'm chasing and that I'm hungry for.
Honestly, to be able to record music, collaborate with industry professionals and continue to get better all whilst enjoying the process is a big dream. SBS’s Eurovision – Australia Decides has given me a taste of that lifestyle, and I would love for that to be what I do every day.
In the near future, it's all about continuing to reach small goals and then continuing to move the goalposts. I frankly don't think I'll ever be fully satisfied, which in my eyes means I'll always be striving to be better and feed my love for music. 
You can find out who wins SBS’s Eurovision – Australia Decides on Saturday 26th February at 8.30pm AEDT on SBS and On Demand. To find out who took the crown at Eurovision – Australia Decides and watch all 11 performances – Stream Free on SBS on Demand from February 27th to March 26th.
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