Thelma Plum takes out the 2020 Vanda & Young Songwriting Competition for “Better In Blak.”
The Gamilaraay singer and songwriter scoops the A$50,000 ($38,000) cash prize, courtesy of APRA AMCOS, Alberts and BMG, and becomes the first Indigenous winner.
Plum’s inspirational song has resonated in the land Down Under since its release in April 2019. The song was shortlisted in the APRA and ARIA song of the year categories and came in at No. 9 in the triple j Hottest 100 countdown.
Its parent album placed second in the triple j album of the year listeners poll in 2019, was shortlisted for the prestigious Australian Music Prize, and scored the Brisbane-based artist six ARIA Award nominations, winning for best cover art.
“Feeling so honored that ‘Better in Blak’ has won the Vanda & Young competition,” she wrote on social media after her name was called out. Plum also gave “heartfelt thanks” to her co-writers Alex Burnett and Oli Horton “for their creativity and to everyone who connected to a song that is deeply personal, written when I was feeling very alone. I don’t feel alone today.”
Baker Boy, the one-time young Australian of the year, takes second spot with “Meditjin” and is the first prize recipient to include lyrics in a language other than English.
A Yolngu man, Baker Boy (real name Danzal Baker) paid tribute to his co-writers JessB, Jerome Farah, Dallas Woods and Dion Brownfield. “It feels really special that my Yolngu Matha lyrics are getting this kind of recognition,” he enthused.
Ruel, the teenage winner of the 2018 ARIA breakthrough artist award, rounds out the top three with, “Painkiller.” The Sydney singer and songwriter snags A$5,000 ($3,800) courtesy of Aon.
Meanwhile, the AMPAL Emerging Songwriter Prize goes to Western Australian newcomer Carla Geneve for “The Right Reasons.” Geneve scores A$5,000 and follows in the footsteps of Mallrat, Kaiit and other winners of the award, previously known as the Unpublished prize.
For this year’s competition, more than 4,000 entries from songwriters in 46 countries were submitted. Applicants pay a fee of A$50 per entry, raising A$203,000 ($157,000) for Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Australia.
Now in its 12th year, the contest has contributed over A$1.4 million ($1.08 million) to good causes.
A music industry panel decided winners of the prize, which takes its name from the iconic songwriters and founding members of The Easybeats, Harry Vanda and the late George Young.
Previous winners have included Matt Corby and Dann Hume in 2019 for “Miracle Love,” Amy Shark (2018), Gretta Ray (2016), Husky Gawenda (2014), Isabella Manfredi (2013), Kimbra (2011) and one of this year’s top 10 runners-up, Megan Washington.