Baker Boy has dominated the 2022 Arias, taking home a total of five awards for his album Gela on Thursday night – including the top gong for album of the year, as well as best solo artist and best hip-hop release.
The 26-year-old Yolŋu rapper – real name Danzal James Baker – has been nominated for six Arias in the past, though these are his first wins.
Gela – his 2021 record which features contributions from the late Uncle Jack Charles – continues Baker’s signature fusion of feelgood flexes and sweeping polemics, drawing from both his upbringing in Arnhem Land as well as his move to Victoria, where he now resides. The album also won technical Arias for best cover art and sound mixing.
“Oh my god! Oh my heart!” Baker gushed before delivering an acceptance speech for album of the year in a Yolŋu language.
“I want to dedicate this to my family back home, to the young people back home,” he said in his second acceptance speech for best hip-hop release. “You can make it, you can have success, and all the opportunities … I’ve been there, done that, and I know you mob can too.”
Like last year’s big winner, Genesis Owusu, Baker has been on the Australian music scene for just five years, though his ascension in that time has been stratospheric.
Since breaking out in 2017 as the winner of a competition for emerging artists hosted by Triple J Unearthed and the National Indigenous Music Awards (Nima), Baker has gained significant recognition. He picked up artist of the year and album of the year at the most recent Nimas in August – and in 2021, he was awarded an OAM for his service to the performing arts.
Similarly meteoric has been the Kid Laroi’s rise. The Kamilaroi artist continued his success from 2021, winning best pop release for his hit Thousand Miles – his only solo release this year.
Best group went to punk outfit Amyl and the Sniffers, who also took home best rock release for their 2021 album Comfort to Me. “I was just having a shot of vodka backstage … now here I am,” frontwoman Amy Taylor said.
“Everyone watching back home, I know there’s a couple of drinking games going on,” she joked later while receiving their second award, to raucous laughter. “So enjoy this shit!”
This year saw the Arias back to an in-person format after two scuppered ceremonies where most speeches and performances were prerecorded.
Held at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion and broadcast on both YouTube and television, the ceremony featured a grand return to red carpet fashion – and catering that, to some attendees’ bemusement, included a prominent fast-food chicken establishment. Cowboy hats and moustaches abounded during the pre-show; Genesis Owusu channeled Game of Thrones in a luxurious fur coat and a red mohawk.
Other Aria traditions also reared their heads. International guests once again bestowed awards to musicians they had almost certainly learned of one minute prior; this time, Ellie Goulding presented best video to her “favourite” Vance Joy.
And it was another landmark year for the Wiggles, who broke their own record for most Arias in any category – winning their 15th and 16th awards for best children’s album and best live act. The crowd erupted as the original lineup – bar yellow Wiggle Greg Page – stepped on stage to receive their awards.
The performances came thick and fast. They included commemorations of several late Australian musicians: Archie Roach, Olivia Newton-John and the Seekers frontwoman Judith Durham. Roach also won a posthumous best independent release award for track One Song.
Tones and I – who directed the tribute to Newton-John – also took home the fan-voted best song award for Cloudy Day, her paean to optimism. It marked her fifth Aria win after her 2019 wins for her viral earworm Dance Monkey.
Bundjalung soul singer Budjerah, who accepted the Michael Gudinski breakthrough artist award last year in an emotional speech, won best R&B release for his EP Conversations.
Another First Nations act won breakthrough artist this year: King Stingray, a six-piece surf rock group from the Northern Territory with Yolŋu members.
Best hard rock release went to the Chats for their album Get Fucked – a title uttered, hilariously, with some hesitation by hosts throughout the night. “If you’re seeing this video, it means there’s been a huge mistake over at Aria HQ,” said frontman Eamon Sandwith in a deadpan prerecorded speech. “I’m as confused as you are. I’m hoping that someone will get fired for this cumbersome blunder.”
This year also marked the second time the Arias eschewed their previous male and female delineations in favour of gender-neutral categories – a decision made in 2021 in response to calls for greater inclusivity. “I think it’s really awesome that we now have best solo artist,” singer G-Flip said. “Being non-binary myself, I’ve found it really heartwarming.”
The changes, however, didn’t assuage other criticisms levied at the Arias. When the 2022 shortlist was announced in October, Brisbane-born artist Mallrat took to Instagram to voice her frustrations with the overwhelming skew towards male artists. “Approximately ⅕ of the nominees are non-male,” she wrote. “In categories like heavy rock there are no non-male artists at all. So I’m again reminded that the Australian music industry … is dominated by men and in this case men who don’t think an artist is credible unless it’s a nonchalant dude playing guitar/rock music.”
Earlier this year, Gumbaynggirr rapper Tasman Keith had also attacked the “outdated system” of the Arias’ eligibility criteria, which mandate that a record must have appeared in its top 50 albums chart for it to be eligible for album of the year. Similar rules apply for genre categories.
“The criteria is still structured mainly around a system which upweights physical formats and downloads. Not streams,” Keith said in a statement. “Artists should have the same opportunity in these moments as those with the big budget … Aria needs to evolve. The system isn’t set up for the small-town mission kid, it’s set up for the big label white man.”
Several artist rallied behind him, including Jaguar Jonze, who also urged Aria voters to consider the recent Raising Their Voices report – a long-awaited study which revealed rampant levels of sexism and harassment in the Australian music industry.