Dami Im’s brand new reality

Dami Im is back with a new album, My Reality. Photo: supplied.

Since winning The X Factor in 2013, Dami Im has become a huge star. She spoke with Travis de Jonk about her stellar career, representing Australia at Eurovision and her new album, My Reality.

It was late June when I was first scheduled to interview Australian pop music star Dami Im and she was excitedly preparing to embark on a huge national solo tour. Well, what a difference a week makes, because within days along came the Delta outbreak of Covid-19 to rain on that parade and disrupt not only those tour plans but pretty much life for everyone. 

So Dami Im did the only thing she could do – she wrote and recorded. Despite the disappointment of performance cancellations, she now looks back at that lockdown time as being incredibly unique and valuable. 

Here’s the thing about Dami – she’s passionate, totally motivated and a hard worker. You get the sense that she’s not the kind who gets bored or wastes time, and she relishes challenge. So it isn’t surprising that when faced with Covid restrictions, she chose to make the most of the opportunities offered by disruption and introspection.

“Half of my job is writing and recording music and the other half is performing that music live,” she explains.

“Once Delta took hold I could only really do half my job, which I suppose you could call a silver lining – it gave me more time to focus on writing. I didn’t have all the distractions of travel and touring, so I could just put my head down and spend as much time on writing as possible … I’m grateful [for that], otherwise I think I might have just gone crazy!”

Creating her own new reality

The result of these months in lockdown is her fifth studio album, My Reality. It’s the first album to be produced under her new label deal with ABC Music.

My Reality is a vivid mix of power ballads, quirky tunes and intimate tracks. Fans will instantly recognise Im’s trademark vocal stylings, anthemic music and reflective themes, particularly in the tracks she has already released as singles, such as the colourful and bold ‘Paper Dragon’ and ‘Pray’.

‘Lonely Cactus’ is a standout single with quirky, upbeat observations on people who are afraid to let anyone get close to them, while a melancholy mood flavours the ballads ‘Kiss You Anyway’ and ‘Crying Underwater’.

‘Lonely Cactus’ from Dami Im’s new album My Reality. Video: Dami Im/YouTube.

Overall, it’s a very moreish album that grows on you fast. It reflects the intimacy and intensity of being in lockdown.

My Reality‘s collaborators range from One Above (Hilltop Hoods, Illy) to Andy Mak (Vera Blue, Tina Arena) to Konstantin Kersting (Tones And I, Spacey Jane). Most of the songs were written during the pandemic, with Im meeting collaborators over Zoom rather than face to face. However, she’s quick to clarify that My Reality is not a lockdown album.

“Lockdown definitely did have an effect on it but I wouldn’t say it was the main driver or point of difference. I’ve reached a point in my career where I finally feel I have complete creative control, I can do whatever I want to do, whereas maybe in the past the circumstances weren’t the same. I didn’t have complete control, also I wasn’t mature enough to get to the point I wanted to get to.”

“This is the album I’ve always wanted to make. It’s finally happened!“

– Dami Im

That point for Im only really came when she finally left her deal with Sony Music and signed a new deal with ABC Music, which offered her the kind of freedom she had longed for.

“When I won X Factor all those years ago and I got signed to Sony, it was really exciting to get to work with a major label – but also you have no idea how to work with a major label. No one prepared me or was there to guide me through that. Everything was just chaotic and my only choice was really to play it by ear and make the best of it. It was hard and confusing navigating the system. It took me a long time to work out my place in it all.”

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Im explains that while it is a smaller label, ABC Music offers more support, creative independence and respect – which has allowed her for the first time to make the music she wants to make.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for being automatically signed to a label to begin with, but I didn’t question any of it. I thought, ‘Well, OK, I guess this is it … this is the best an artist can have.’

“This time, with this album, I wanted to make it really honest, really authentic – not just with the lyrics and theme but with the sound as well. It’s something I’m super proud of. I remember listening back when the album was almost finished and I had this moment when I went, ‘Wow, this is the album I’ve always wanted to make. It’s finally happened!’“

Dami Im has finally made the album she’s always wanted to make. Photo: Dami Im/Facebook.

Eurovision: from Australia to the world

According to Im, the biggest inspiration to fight for her independence came from her time representing Australia at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2016. It was only the second time in the event’s history that Australia was invited to participate in the Eurocentric music competition and it was a huge deal. Suddenly, this Australian reality TV pop star was thrust into the international spotlight in the world’s biggest music competition.

“When I was actually there it was really intense … easily the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. You’ve got a lot of pressure on yourself because it’s live broadcast and your performance goes out live to over 40 countries. You get ranked by the three-minute performance you do. You feel that the whole country is supporting you and you don’t want to let anyone down.”

“I think until then I was really just cruising along and being ‘nice’.”

– Dami Im

Eurovision is beamed live across over 40 countries including Australia. Im’s performance came second in the competition, at which she was the media darling and the talk of the event. Her song ’Sound of Silence’ charted around the globe and earned her an international legion of fans. Im lights up as she talks about it.

“It was a game changer for me, my career and my life,” she enthuses. “It was one of those moments that really made me question myself and my abilities. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I just did this and I did well.’”

Dami Im representing Australia at the Grand Final of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest with her song, ‘Sound of Silence’. Video: Eurovision Song Contest/YouTube.

“On a personal level it made me realise that I wanted to be more in control – and that I could be in control of my career, creative direction and the people I worked with. I think until then I was really just cruising along and being ‘nice’.”

With a new record deal and a brand new cracker of an album, Im is radiating, and she’s champing at the bit to get out there and start touring as soon as circumstances will allow. 

“It’s one thing writing and recording an album. But it’s not complete until you perform that music live … well, not for me, anyway. My music comes alive when I perform it in a real place to real people. I look forward to that sometime next year.”

Dami Im’s new album My Reality is released on Friday, 29 October through ABC Music. The singles ‘Paper Dragon’, ‘Pray’, ‘Lonely Cactus’ and ‘Kiss You Anyway’ are now available to stream or download. For more info, visit DamiIm.com.

Listen to our full interview with Dami Im on the Sentinel Speakeasy – the official podcast of the Sydney Sentinel.