DURING the pandemic, there weren't many voices in the Australian music industry more strident than Tina Arena's.
Fiercely anti-lockdown, the Melburnian says she "really struggled" without performing during COVID.
In one passionate television interview, she furiously described the treatment of music compared with professional sport as "categoric disrespect".
Arena's comments last week that she purposely flouted lockdown laws that prevented people from travelling more than five kilometres from their homes, again dumped the Sorrento Moon (I Remember) and Chains star in the middle of a social media pile-on.
But the 55-year-old is no shrinking violet.
She's always had a fierce independent spirit.
It's a quality, you suspect, that has earned Arena as many admirers throughout her 40-year career as her extraordinary soprano, as well as a few detractors.
In May 2021 she was one of the first major Australian artists to complete a national tour.
"I didn't wanna sit there and be riddled by fear when we all had jobs to do," Arena says.
"People have to feed families, they need to put food on the table and you're not going to put food on the table by staying at home and going, 'what if, what if, what if.'
"It's like, get off your arse and go.
"Which is what I did.
"I understand that something is going on. I get it.
"But I also know we need to do our jobs and I also know that people want to come and see live music and I was correct on every front."
Much of the frustration Arena endured during COVID, followed the collapse of her long-term relationship with French artist Vincent Mancini. The pair have a 17-year-old son, Gabriel.
During those bleak years Arena diarised her feelings, which became songs and the basis for her 13th album and first English language release from the multilingual artist since 2015's Eleven.
The album is aptly named Love Saves and featured co-writes on 10 of the 11 tracks with her partner of 18 months, Swedish musician Mattias Lindblom.
"I've found that when you are older you do see things very differently and you learn a lot about yourself and what you can do and what you're willing to do, but you also get a strong sense of what you won't do," Arena says.
"I think that was a pretty brutal realisation for me.
"Having boundaries for the first time in my life was pretty much a new discovery for me.
"Boundaries with your art, boundaries with your relationships, boundaries with your social circles - the sorts of things that you're prepared to put up with and what you're not prepared to be put up with."
The fierceness of Arena's conviction is apparent on Love Saves.
The epic opener, Church, is a rallying call for self-determination, while on the playful Devil In Me Arena lines up Mancini Taylor Swift-style with lines like, "You blew my mind and didn't mind to undermine me/ My friends keep telling me to kill you, should've written you off."
There's also beautifully tender moments as Arena laments her boy Gabriel's approaching manhood on Mother To Her Child.
She sings, "Where you are now I'm not a part of/ You should know that it's a precious life."
For someone who has been in the public eye since they were eight years old, Arena has experienced momentous change in the music industry. In the mid-90s her albums Don't Ask (1994) and In Deep (1997) topped the ARIA charts.
These days, due to the exponential growth of music streaming and its introduction in 2017 to ARIA chart calculations, support for Australian artists has plummeted.
A recent ABC investigation showed there's more Taylor Swift albums in the ARIA top 50 in 2023 than all Australian artists combined.
Arena says she is "profoundly concerned" for the next generation of Australian artists.
"I've had a pretty amazing career, but I lived in a very different time and I'm still able to do what it is that I do because I still feel like I've got something to say," she says.
"So whilst I still feel it, I'll continue.
"The landscape of the industry is a very complex one ... I have always been very vocal about the lack of support for the Australian music ecosystem," she says.
The industry here deserved to be valued more.
"We are dominated by international charts, which is a shame for our community here, because our community is very talented."
Tina Arena's album Love Saves is out now.
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