Gamilaraay singer-songwriter Thelma Plum's debut album, Better In Blak, is one of the most beloved albums of the last decade, and for good reason. It's a powerful project that saw her channel feelings of pain, trauma and love into an album that resonated with music fans in Australia and beyond. Success followed the release of the project, including an ARIA win, a top 10 finish in the Hottest 100 and much more.
She's back with the first taste of new music since Better In Blak, and it's a song that's looking forward to the future. Backseat Of My Mind uses the driving metaphor used to celebrate the unknown. If you've ever been on a long stretch of road, then you'll understand the feeling of driving towards the horizon.
Speaking about the track, Thelma reveals, “I’ve spent a lot of time in vans (although not recently lol) and I really wanted to write a nostalgic feeling “driving” song, which I hope we nailed! It’s been so fun to play live I can’t wait for people to hear the recorded version!"
To celebrate the release of Backseat Of My Mind, we've taken a look back at some of the many milestone moments that have been part of Thelma's journey to date. It's a chance to get up to speed with the events that have brought her to where she is today, so read on to learn more about Thelma Plum!
Thelma Plum uploads Blackbird and Father Said to triple j Unearthed
In May 2012, a 17-year-old Thelma Plum uploaded a pair of tracks to triple j Unearthed, Father Said and Blackbird. Father Said is an acoustic guitar-driven track that Thelma told The Guardian was the “the first one I really took seriously”, while Blackbird is a more blues-influenced track. Together, the songs caught the attention of Australian music tastemakers, and she went on to receive a nomination for Best New Talent in Music at the Deadly Awards, while also winning the Sydney Opera House Deadly Award.
Thelma Plum releases the Rosie and Monsters EPs
Father Said would go on to be Thelma's official debut single, and featured on her debut EP, Rosie, which was released in March 2013. The six-song EP features an ode to her dog Rosie as the title track, with lyrics like "She's got a tongue like Texas and cheeks like the river" bringing to mind a pet that is truly loved (as all pets should be).
Her second EP, Monsters, moved away from the acoustic guitar-led instrumentation that had featured on a lot of her previous songs, and featured more pop/electronic-tinged production. Released in July 2014, standout track How Much Does Your Love Cost? is a fast-paced, groovy pop track, and it was an evolution of Thelma's sound.
Both EPs touch on break-ups, and speaking to The Weekend Edition about her songwriting, Thelma explained that talking about she found songwriting "extremely therapeutic. I’ll be feeling so sad and I get really closed off and don’t talk to anyone and hide myself away. As clichéd and silly as this sounds, the only thing that makes me feel normal again is if I write about it. When I write about it, I’m making it not so much of a problem about that person or that thing anymore, it just becomes something completely separate."
Thelma Plum releases her debut album Better In Blak
The release of Thelma's debut album, Better In Blak, was the culmination of years of hard work. This attention to detail is present in every aspect of the project, including the lyrics. Thelma poured her heart and soul into Better In Blak, using the creation of the album to heal and emerge stronger than ever. The project features Paul Kelly and Sir Paul McCartney on closing track Made For You, a moment that is as tender as any from her discography to date.
She addresses a range of topics across the album, including the searing Woke Blokes, the reflective Homecoming Queen and the defiant title track. Better In Blak explores how Australia treats First Nations people, including the systemic failures that continue to disproportionately incarcerate minors, which she highlights on the gripping Love And War alongside Gang Of Youths lead singer Dave Le’aupepe.
Thelma Plum covers Khalid's Young Dumb & Broke for Like A Version
Thelma Plum was no stranger to the Like A Version studio when she covered Khalid's Young Dumb & Broke, and it's a cover that's full of the deft touches that are present on her debut album, Better In Blak. Incorporating elements of Lil Nas X's Old Town Road for an extra twist, Thelma and her band's soulful rendition of the song highlight why her voice is instantly captivating.
Speaking about the cover, Thelma told triple j, “I just love this song. I think [Khalid] is a real ledge. I actually didn’t know his music until he came to Australia a couple of years ago and I just saw this photo of him wearing the Aboriginal flag t-shirt and I was like, 'Okay, okay.' And then obviously listened to his music and he’s just beautiful. And he seems like a really nice guy. [Laughs] That’s how I choose the music I love – he seems like a really nice guy.”
She also mentioned why she added some of Old Town Road, saying, “Why not? [Old Town Road] is just such a good song and everybody knows it, like, everyone in the world… Also Lil Nas is just so great – he’s wonderful. Seems like a really top bloke.”
Thelma Plum's Better In Blak finishes #9 in the 2019 Hottest 100
The title track from Better In Blak finished in the top 10 of the 2019 Hottest 100, which saw her make history. At the time, the #9 finish meant she was the Hottest 100's highest ranking Indigenous artist in the annual countdown. The title track was written in response to abuse received as the result of another Australian artist's fanbase, and it's a pop track that will stand the test of time. No-one should have to defend themselves for simply existing.
Thelma must have seen into the future when speaking to triple j following the moment, as she said, “That’s pretty cool, but to be honest I hope I don’t keep that [record] for a long time". Kamilaroi artist The Kid LAROI would go on to finish at #2 in the 2021 Hottest 100 with his single Stay, a collaboration with Justin Bieber.
Thelma Plum performs at the 2020 AFL Grand Final
The 2020 AFL Grand Final saw a wealth of Australian talent brought together to perform as part of the entertainment line-up, and this cover is particularly special. Electric Fields teamed up with Thelma and Busby Marou for a powerful rendition of Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody's From Little Things Big Things Grow. We're going to let the footage do the talking.
Thelma Plum performs with Paul Kelly as part of his Time and Tide: Four Decades of Song shows at VIVID Live
While technically this one hasn't happened yet, we're tipping that these shows are going to be ones to remember. She'll be performing as a special guest at Paul Kelly's career-spanning VIVD Live shows, playing shows on May 27th, 28th, 29th and 31st. You can learn more about the shows here.
Speaking to Harper's Bazaar about Paul Kelly, Thelma revealed, “I absolutely love Paul Kelly so much. I used to speak about that when I first started doing interviews and was first releasing music, so I feel like that’s a really nice way to kind of wrap up the 10 years — because it’ll be almost 10 years to the day when I play those shows in May.”
We can't wait to see what's next for Thelma, and to see how these shows go!