“They’re Breaking Barriers Down”: Jessica Mauboy On Her New Album & Being A Cheerleader For First Nations Artists

When I jump on a video call with Jessica Mauboy, the first thing we talk about is her bright red, perfectly swishy hair. "It's been a journey to get to this point," she explains to me about her hair transformation. "I feel a bit like a chameleon in a way. I've had all these experiences physically and visually. It's taken time to really give myself permission to do these things."
While it's just a simple chat about hair, many women can attest to the power of a haircut or a new dye job, especially in a transformative time. Just broken up with your ex? Get bangs. Moved to a new city? Get a bob. Just about to release one of your most emotional and polished albums yet? Dye your hair bright red.

On her new album 'Yours Forever'

"It's definitely a personal deeper dive into the many strings that go out to many places and times and experiences that I've had in life," Mauboy tells Refinery29 Australia. "This record took a really in-depth turn. And I don't mean the surface of the sound, but I think who I am, my character, my personality, my values."
Mauboy explains that there's one song in particular that was special to her in this album, the title track, 'Yours Forever'. "I've always had this idea to do a lullaby or a prayer," she explains. "I grew up in church, and I just had this idea of reciting a prayer or singing a lullaby that felt like saying a confession or being honest and truthful and confiding, and projecting that to the universe, or to God, or to the spirits."
Oscillating from bubblegum pop princess vibes with songs like 'Forget You' and 'Tell Em', Mauboy quickly shifts to equally moving and deeply emotional songs like 'Quite Like You'. Incredibly personal, Mauboy tears up while talking to me, explaining that it's like she's dissecting herself and her past. "I've never ripped up so much of myself and put it together and just thought, 'There I am'," she says.

On her musical inspirations

One song on the album really dives into who inspired Mauboy to become the musician she is today, and that's 'Whitney'. A love letter to Whitney Houston, the song details Mauboy's discovery of the legendary singer as a small child. "It really touches on such a childlike experience," she explains. "I imagine myself barefoot, jumping into my Om and Opa's mini-van... my hand gripped to my diary."
"We're heading to the bakery to pick bread and taking it to those in need of food in the women's shelter," she continues. "When I think of the combination of writing as a young child and having this experience of living and travelling — and then having this desire and passion to sing, because I'm looking up to this incredible singer."
Mauboy shares that she was grateful for the core experience of listening to Houston's music early in life, because it was "bigger" than her, encouraging her to think that maybe just one day, she could be just like her. "I'm so grateful that music was that outlet and a sacred place for me to explore."

On her collaboration with Miiesha and inspiring First Nations artists

One particular standout in the album is the song 'Little Too Late', which features a collaboration with proud Anangu/Torres Strait Islander woman and musician, Miiesha. "I was someone that she looked up to growing up, and hearing that from her, I just got really choked up and emotional," she says. "I felt exactly the same, and I was so grateful to share the space with her." The pop ballad immediately wriggles its way into your ear and will easily take its place in your playlist, thanks to Mauboy's electrical pop vocals combined with Mieesha's smooth, rich backing vocals.
Mauboy's platforming of fellow First Nations musicians undoubtedly has further helped them break down barriers, but she maintains that she's simply their cheerleader. "I often go, 'I want to help that person out', but they're already doing it. They've paved their way." she says. "They're breaking their barriers down and giving themselves permission to make space. That's what I'm proud of."
"I will look at Barkaa, I look at Nooky, I look at Baker Boy — you know, when he came out I was like, 'You did that all on your own'," she exclaims. "I'm just your cheerleader."
Mauboy tells me that when she hears musicians say that she inspired them, she's quick to praise their own hard work in breaking down industry barriers. "I'm like, well you did it on your own. Yes, you can have inspirations and yes you've got to do the hard work, but you've got to acknowledge that you did it as well. You had those conversations, you gave yourself permission, and you made that space."

What's Hot With Jessica Mauboy

Who was your top artist on Spotify Wrapped last year? Dua Lipa. She's just smashing it. Mark Ronson, the collabs, it just ignites such fire in me. I love that and seeing everyone be so in it as well. I mean 'Dance The Night Away'? My nieces and nephews were so into that song and doing all the TikTok moves!

What's something that's in and something that's out for 2024? Crocs are out. Because I haven't had any, so I haven't experienced them. You know what? Maybe I can't judge. Okay, being late is out. And being on time is in. I'm acknowledging my faults here!

What is something that you're watching at the moment? I'm a little bit behind, but Truth Be Told with Octavia Spencer. I mean, she is incredible. I love her. I think she's just boss, and just watching her — her intelligence, her ability, her art form. I'm just into it.
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