Thelma Plum Wins Biggest Songwriting Contest

Rebecca Varidel
14th Mar 2021

Thelma Plum wins first place in the 2020 Vanda & Young Global Songwriting Contest.

Her song Better in Blak takes home $50,000 cash prize, the largest first place prize for any songwriting competition in the world.

The Gamilaraay singer-songwriter was a runner-up in the 2013 competition for her song Breathe In Breathe Out.

“I am so honoured that Better in Blak has won the Vanda & Young Global Songwriting Competition, I can’t even really describe it. My heartfelt thanks to 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."

Plum collaborated with Australian songwriter-producer Alexander Burnett and London-based Oli Horton on the song, which is the title track to Plum’s acclaimed debut album. Released in 2019, Better In Blak’ was a top five finalist in the 2020 Peer-Voted APRA Song of the Year and came in at #9 in the triple j Hottest 100.

The competition’s $10,000 2nd place prize, courtesy of Banki Haddock Fiora, goes to hip-hop artist Baker Boy aka Danzal Baker for his powerful track Meditjin with lyrics both in English and the Yolngu Matha language.

“I was blown away that I even made the shortlist so to come 2nd for the Vanda & Young Global Songwriting Competition is just crazy. It feels really special that my Yolngu Matha lyrics are getting this kind of recognition!

“Couldn't have done it without my co-writers: JessB, Jerome Farah, Dallas Woods and Dion Brownfield," said Baker Boy.

In 3rd place and the winner of $5,000 courtesy of Aon is Sydney performer and songwriter Ruel for Painkiller. Since emerging on the scene in 2017, the teenager has built a global fan-base through his soulful pop songs.

"I feel so honoured to make it to the top 3 in this year's Vanda & Young Global Songwriting Competition! I’ve been working hard to improve my songwriting every day, so it feels amazing to be recognised at this level and be mentioned alongside incredible artists like Thelma Plum and Baker Boy," said Ruel. He wrote the song with producer M-Phazes and acclaimed songwriter Sarah Aarons, and it comes from the Free Time EP.

The $5,000 AMPAL Emerging Songwriter Prize furnished by the Australasian Music Publishers Association (AMPAL), goes to Fremantle, WA’s Carla Geneve, who takes out the honour for the sublime The Right Reasons. She follows in the esteemed footsteps of previous winners Mallrat and Kaiit, winning the award for an outstanding unpublished songwriter.

“I can't say how excited I am to be even considered for the competition, let alone taking home a prize. I see myself as primarily a songwriter over anything else, so this means a lot to me. I'm excited to keep writing!” said Geneve. Her song is from the recently released Dog Eared EP.

For the first time in the competition’s history, 10 runners-up from the top 40 shortlist each take home $1,000 cash. The prize money comes from a generous donor who wishes to remain anonymous. The list includes Gordi for Volcanic and Extraordinary, The Teskey Brothers, Lime Cordiale, up-and-coming artists Shannen James and Annie Hamilton and more.

With all the challenges that songwriters and musicians faced in 2020—and continue to face in 2021—due to the COVID-19 pandemic, songwriting proved to be a meaningful outlet with more entries than ever before.

The full $203,000 raised from more than 4,000 entries from songwriters in 46 countries goes directly to support the transformative work of Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Australia (NORO). In twelve years of the competition’s existence, entrants have contributed over $1.4million, making a huge impact on the lives of others with their songs.

“We are beyond grateful for the $203,000 raised by songwriters who entered Vanda & Young, especially in a year that has delivered so many challenges."

“The money will make a real difference and will allow us to continue to invest in program development and growing our physical footprint so we can assist more people through our life-changing music therapy programs,” said NORO CEO Belinda Leonard.

NORO sees over 1,300 people a week, from small babies to elderly Australians, using music in a variety of programs, including Mini Rockers for Early Childhood, Guitars for Vets to support the mental health of returned Service Men and Women, Guitars for Firies to support the mental health of RFS Volunteers, all in addition to music therapy programs in their own clinics and at aged care centres, schools, disability centres and hospitals.