It’s hard to put into words exactly what it is about Delta Goodrem’s clear-hearted melodies that continue to deeply move millions of millennials so many years on. The singer’s instantly recognisable piano riffs – supported by rich string swells and a sharp knack for nailing those confessional lyrics – are so engrained within the Australian social fabric that they can transport any Delta loyalist to a past moment with just a few rolling notes.
Goodrem’s record-breaking 2003 debut album Innocent Eyes will forever stand as a 56-minute capture of the early 2000s; those torchy youthful heartaches and that hypotonic hopefulness presented in 14 earnest songs. Take for instance the album’s title track. In the music video, a starry-eyed Goodrem is seen dancing about her dressing room in a black backless gown fit for today’s Jacquemus runway. As she scales her piano keys with such gusto, young girls went searching high and low for ways to bottle some of that candour – or at least take up barefoot piano lessons and cut a side fringe.
As Goodrem, now 35 years old, dances around GRAZIA’s set in a red Gucci power suit, she does so with that same fluidity she had in that dressing room 17 years ago; it’s whimsical, dreamy, playful. And, just as these tracks touch many of us, Goodrem, too, is almost moved to tears when she has a moment to look back at that life-changing era.
“When I performed ‘Born To Try’, I had written the lyrics, ‘Doing everything that I believe in/Going by the rules that I’ve been taught/More understanding of what’s around me/and protected from the walls of love,’” she says, her eyes darting off to the distance. “Those lyrics, they still ring true to today. Gosh, for some reason it’s making me emotional.”
It’s been an incredible ride. But being one of our country’s most successful musicians and having sold over nine million records world wide, doesn’t exempt you from life’s big challenges. “Which mountain should we step on top of and turn into a volcano?” Goodrem jovially quips when I ask her about some of the bigger obstacles in her career. Her health battle and romantic woes have long been a source of public interest, something she says she doesn’t fight against. “There were a lot of magnifying glasses on me during that chapter of my life,” she says. “I guess what comes to my mind is it was quite messy.”
But out of Goodrem’s mess have come her messages – and her vulnerability has proven one of her many strengths in powerfully resonating with generations of fans. Asked what keeps her going when she is beaten down, she’s quick to respond.
“Fire,” she says with a glint in her eye. “It’s that fire in me… When somebody or something changes your course and you’ve got to pivot, I always try and keep the mentality that change can be turned into something good.”
Below, we rewind back through Goodrem’s musical evolution that see her arrive at her new single “Paralyzed”; a powerful ballad that speaks to the beauty unearthed during a pause in life. And right now, as millions across the globe grapple with a halt in this year’s plans, “Paralyzed” – like all of her tracks – documents the hardship and finishes on one big swirling emotional note: hope.
“For me, this is my first ‘woman’ record,” she says. “My next album has really been about being transparent and finding that part of me that wants to be my authentic self at all times. The album is incredibly personal, raw and honest. I have opened up and shared stories that I have not shared before and people have really resonated to the transparency and vulnerability. I just want to make good music for people to have as soundtracks to their own lives.”
Here’s to heralding a new anthem.
JESSICA: When I’m writing, some of my better work comes from being in a place of contentment and looking back at a hard time. Do you find it easier to write from a place of heartbreak or hardship, compared to a place of happiness?
DELTA GOODREM: “I think I’m more like you. I find it fascinating that you say you write from that place too. I think while I’m in something, I allow myself as a human to feel it all and say, ‘OK, what am I learning from this? What am I feeling? How am I processing this?’ and then let it go. With my writing, I much prefer to look back at it and think of how best to capture what it was.”
What can we expect from your next album?
“The next album is definitely about transparency and realness and rawness. There’s a lot more stories on this record that you don’t have to play the guessing game with what they’re about, you can just read them – they are pretty literal and straight forward. I think that’s just where I got to at this point in my life, I just want to share stories that I haven’t before, stories about how I’ve felt along the way.”
“Born To Try” catapulted you into a new and unknown stratosphere of fame. How much did your life change – and when you look back at footage of you performing that song, how confident was that young woman?
“People that know and love me know that I can be free-spirited and out there and [back then] there was a part of me that was quite shy when I first stepped into this world. I just came in with the love of music and knew this was a part of my heart. But I don’t think I changed at all. I think things around me changed. For me, being grounded came from having a great family. I always had the mentality of ‘I can always do better’. I’m always a student. When ‘Born To Try’ came out, I just went for it. Then when that gear shift happened, people started to look at me. I remember at my first Logies and the whole room was watching me when I won my first award. It felt like a different level of awareness – ‘How do I now navigate people giving me all different types of energy in a room?’ It was something that I instantly realised was different.”
“Lost Without You” is one of your biggest songs. How does it feel to create music that moves so many people?
“I feel really grateful. I feel those songs are like time machines. I love seeing people sing along with me when I play them. ‘Lost Without You’ is so special and takes me to many different places in my mind. I think a lot about the UK and being in different parts of the world promoting the song – it was an extraordinary time in my life.”
When “Not Me, Not I” hit, it was clear that almost every track on the Innocent Eyes album was going to top the charts. How did you measure success back then – and is it different to how you do now?
“I’m driven as a hard worker. I worked really hard at that record, I had a vision, I had a goal. And I still do. That part of me is real. But health is your number one; good health and great people around you that you can enjoy every element with. I’ve had my school mates with me my whole life. I value my happiness and sharing everything with all with my best friends and my team who I love and dream with. I think success is a combination of all these things.”
When you look back at the process of writing and performing “Out Of The Blue”, what would you, today, tell your younger self?
“I was living in the UK at that point and I was making that song with a great friend, Guy Chambers; he’s phenomenal. That was a different chapter in my life. I was on a particular trajectory when my life suddenly changed halfway through me promoting Innocent Eyes – everything changed. [Editor’s note: Goodrem was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in July of 2003]. Then, going into the Mistaken Identity album era, I was doing my very very best to navigate that intense time.
There really was a magnifying glass on your life at that time. Is it part and parcel of what you do?
“That’s OK, I don’t fight against it. I accept that it’s part of doing what I love.
“I was just doing my very best when it became a little bit messier than I expected. I hadn’t walked those waters.”
2007’s “In This Life” signified a comeback of sorts. In just five short years, if the gold pumps said anything, it was you meant business. Upbeat and newly blonde, you seemed braver, bolder and the lyrics reflected on the past and looked forward to the future. How did you feel the day you shot that video?
“I was super excited. It felt like it was the right song as I was ready to wrap up being in the studio having been on a lot of writing trips. It had gotten quite heavy and complicated around the Mistaken Identity album era so I wanted the music video for ‘In This Life’ to reflect me walking into a new environment and so I did that with the gold shoes. I didn’t want people to hear that heaviness, hence the line, ‘You give me love/I give you light’. ‘In This Life’ was a good era.”
Where do you go to when writing a song?
“I’m probably the same as you. When I hear things in a day or I have a great conversation with one of my friends, it may spark something. I’m a piano girl, I sit there and play and play and play. If I hear somebody playing a guitar or I start singing a melody, it’s just whatever I feel in the moment – and capturing that.”
You bared your soul again for your fans in 2012’s “Dancing With A Broken Heart”. What would you say the biggest lesson you learnt is when it comes to love?
“Kindness. Finding kindness.”
“Dear Life” is a song that will probably resonate with a lot of people at the moment…
“I had been working on another song called ‘Hold On’ that day and I must have rewritten the lyrics so many times. I was just sick of mixing this song all day. I was at the Sony office [in Sydney] and I went upstairs to play [Sony CEO] Denis Handlin ‘Hold On’. He was finishing up a prior meeting and I went and sat at the piano near his office. Twenty minutes later, I had written ‘Dear Life’. I called Denis over and played him the song.”
“Keep Climbing” seemingly alludes to a time when things appeared overwhelming. A beautiful soundtrack or ode to a past self who had lost sight of all the wonderful things that could lay before them. Would you say this an accurate assumption for the song’s inspiration?
“That’s a wonderful description – one of my favourite things about music is that each person finds their own meaning and connection to the lyrics. ‘Keep Climbing’ very intentionally starts on a single note reflecting the stillness of one’s first steps before starting a new journey. It’s about the resilience in never giving up and to ‘keep climbing’; admitting to the fear in change and feeling stuck (“two mountains, I’m caught in the middle”). My favourite lyric in it is “I see new lines across my face/ I lost some strength that I can’t replace/ Am I too tired for this healing?/ Are my scars now too revealing?’ It’s the idea that as time goes on, you think, ‘Am I too tired to push through? It’s the moment in between where you were and where you are going in your life, and that even if your journey hasn’t been perfect, you live in hope that it leads to a bridge over troubled dreams.
“No dream or life comes without its troubles.”
How have you restored your strength when it’s been beaten down? How does Delta Goodrem get back up again?
“Fire. It’s that fire in me. I’m filled with my intention of love and kindness – that’s what I approach everything with. But I think my mum and dad gave me that fight. It’s hard for people when they get knocked down. We’re all going through something. I’m a fighter for the good.”
Using that fire to fuel or propel yourself forward is so important. And it’s hard…
“Of course. When somebody or something changes your course and you’ve got to pivot, I always try to keep the mentality that change can be turned into something good.”
The track speaks to a lonely valley. Being the best in the game, being so incredibly talented and making it all the way to the top of our country’s music charts – is there any truth to the saying, ‘It’s lonely at the top’?
“I have wonderful love in my life with friends, family and my team. I’ve had some of those experiences at times throughout my career, but I truly have gratitude for the opportunities that I have been so blessed to have experienced.”
What’s been the most challenging part of your music journey, something people might not know?
“I wouldn’t even know where to start! [Laughs] I don’t think one moment has defined me. I’ve taken on a responsibility to be in the public eye. Finding your own freedom to be your most authentic self amongst all of it is hard.”
And that comes with age too. When you hit your thirties, most women surrender to becoming far more self-accepting.
“And I love that! What women share and pass down to you is a gift.”
And so we come to “Paralyzed”. When you revisit these songs – and the stories woven within them – what are you most proud of?
“I’m most proud that I have stayed true to my intention from the day I started, and I hope I’m most proud of this next chapter of my life.
“I stay in my lane in the sense that I’m proud of my resilience to get up again each time.”
“I’m proud to do what I love to do and have a career nearly 20 years later. I still am ebbing and flowing and I feel like I’m just at the start. I’m still just as inspired today as I was when I started and I’m still sharing as much of my heart as I can. I’m not trying to be anything for anyone, I just want to make good music for people to have as soundtracks to their own lives.”
Delta Goodrem will bring her highly-anticipated “Bridge Over Troubled Dreams” tour to Australia and New Zealand in April 2021. For tickets, head to deltagoodrem.com/events.
Photography: Ashleigh Larden
Styling: Jessica Pecoraro
Creative Direction: Dané Stojanovic
Makeup: Noni Smith
Special thanks to Tina Kennedy and Sony Music Australia.
Delta wears Gucci suit, blouse and shoes. Necktie stylist’s own. Jewellery talent’s own.