Why Vance Joy's 'Riptide' Should Be Celebrated

6 November 2023 | 7:06 pm | Stephen Green

In the commentary about the lack of Australian songs in the charts, Vance Joy is often caught in the crossfire... but are we missing the point?

Vance Joy

Vance Joy (Credit: Christo Herriot)

More Vance Joy More Vance Joy

If you look at Australian music industry commentary over 2023, most mentions of Vance Joy are in the context of how Riptide has been the biggest Australian single of the year and what a tragedy that is for Australian music. Perhaps we’ve buried the lead in our rush to point out the dire position that new Australian music currently holds in the chart.

While we’ve been closely following the plight of the artists that AREN’T in the chart, perhaps its time we stepped back and celebrated the amazing achievement of an Australian song and an Australian musician that continues to engage the Australian public ten years after its release.

The uncomfortable truth for the industry is that Vance Joy’s success cuts down the argument that an Australian artist simply can’t win in the modern era. Talk to industry heavyweights and they’ll tell you a littony of reasons why it can’t be done anymore.

Yet here is an unassuming singer/songwriter from Melbourne who week in week out makes good coin by blasting out of the speakers of average Australians.

Let’s delve a little deeper on those industry myths.

MYTH #1: Australia’s Population Is Too Small For Australian Artists To Break Through
Well clearly it’s not too small for Vance Joy. Ten years on and he’s still in the top 30. Not only that, but Australia’s population proportional to the world hasn’t shrunk over the last ten years. You know back in the 90s when there was Australian music all over the charts? Yeah…. the population wasn’t too small then, despite being smaller. “But the song got its start ten years ago. It’s different now” I hear you say? Sure, but The Kid Laroi didn’t and he had a top ten debut last week. It might be rare, it might even be harder, but it’s not impossible.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

MYTH #2: Streaming Means Australian Music Can’t Break Through
Vance Joy is in plenty of playlists. According to Chartmetric, he’s in 175 Spotify and 137 Apple editorial playlists and if you include third party and personally created playlists, he’s in 315,000 Spotify playlists alone. With that many playlists that are completely up to the general public and out of both label AND Spotify control, you’ve got to admit there’s something going on there. Perhaps people REALLY like the song. And no algorithm or small population seems to be holding it back.

MYTH #3: Radio Doesn’t Support Australian Music Enough, So It Doesn’t Break Through
Perhaps radio could play more Australian songs, but in the case of Vance Joy, it doesn’t seem to have been a major impact. The reality is that ten years ago, radio DID support it and they still do today. They took the song to triple j and it got flogged. They took it to commercial radio and it got flogged. Why? Because they thought it was good, tested it on their audience and it researched well. No conspiracy. His latest track Rock It (a cover of the Little Red banger to celebrate Mushroom’s 50th anniversary) just got added to late nights on Nova. I mean given Riptide is still connecting so heavily with Australian audiences, you’d think they could be a bit bolder, but it’s on air and it’s building three days after its release, even in 2023.

MYTH #4: You Need a Major Label To Break Through
Geez. Vance Joy is making this hard for the conspiracy by signing to Australian independent Mushroom. Sure, having Michael Gudinski in your corner can’t have hurt Vance’s career early on, but Mushroom don’t have the kind of money to walk into commercial radio swinging wads of cash. Neither do the major labels these days just quietly, but the fact that Vance Joy is on an indie does hurt this myth.

MYTH #5: You Need To Be A TikTok Star Or You Won’t Break Through
Goddamn, Vance. You are making this very hard to create a negative narrative here. Joy’s TikTok account is pretty woeful. His videos are picking up about 10-20k views which is not terrible, but certainly wouldn’t be putting him into influencer territory. He’s also getting them professionally done. It’s not him talking about what he had for breakfast. It’s almost like he has a real life to live instead! His Facebook is even worse. VANCE! Haven’t your team told you you have to post EVERY DAY!? And Instagram? Mate! You’re never going to get anywhere with this posting. You didn’t post for the whole of October! You know? That month where you were copping even more heat for having the biggest song in the country? Surely it couldn’t be that you did all this without turning yourself into a social media robot?

It’s an uncomfortable truth for some because by calling out the myths as myths, we’re left with a really stark reality. If it really IS possible for hits to be had from Australian artists, why aren’t we having them? Is it that the singles being released aren’t as good as we think they are? Is it that the amount of money being invested by labels simply isn’t enough? Is it that Australia’s industry gave up on developing artists and is being left behind by other territories? Are the artists writing good enough songs? Are there SOME kernels of truth in the myths?

None of that is comfortable to address, and frankly it’s complicated, but one thing’s for sure, it’s no fault of Riptide.

Vance Joy is everything the industry should be holding up as proof that optimism for the future is warranted. He’s proven you DON’T need to surrender your life to socials, major labels or upend your life to pander to overseas to succeed. Now THAT’S something for our industry to celebrate.

So what are we left with?

Riptide is seventeen times platinum. To put that in context, the only song to better it in last week’s chart was Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. And it’s on track to overtake it in Australia. It’s a bigger song than Glass Animals Heat Waves. It’s bigger than The Killers Mr Brightside. It’s nearly three times bigger than Miley CyrusFlowers.

It’s unfair to compare it to the platinum and gold awards of decades past, given the very different counting methods of pre and post streaming, but it’s safe to say that it’s the third biggest Australian hit of the last two decades after Tones & I’s Dance Monkey and Gotye and Kimbra’s Somebody That I Used To Know. And it’s on its way to overtaking both.

Vance Joy got married earlier this year. He tours when he wants to tour. He takes time out when he wants to take time out. He releases music he and his fans love. Industrially, he should be the hero of every Australian musician, whether you personally like his tunes or not.

So does Australian music have a problem? Yep. We should have WAY more chart success right now and I’m sure even Vance Joy would like to see Riptide toppled from the #1 Australian single position. Especially if it’s by Rock It presumably. So why is it there?

Because ten years on, the song is resonating more than ever with new fans connecting with it every day. Ten years ago Vance Joy released a seminal track that will forever live in the great Australian songbook. We should look to our own backyards as to why we’re not producing anything to better it. We should use it as inspiration for creativity, both artistically and industrially and to strive to produce the next one that will knock it off the perch. We should do that with positivity and the kind of optimistic and fierce rivalry our industry once had, studying and drawing inspiration from other Australian wins rather than writing them off.

That’s a big job for tomorrow, but today, let’s make a toast to Vance Joy’s extraordinary and unprecedented success. To Riptide!