Editors’ Notes “It’s so personal,” Thelma Plum tells Apple Music. “I hadn’t really shared this side of me within my music. I’ve always been very outspoken in my life, but I felt like I was protecting that part of me.” There’s a rush of emotions—love, anger, heartbreak, defiance—on the Indigenous singer-songwriter’s debut album, which arrived seven years after she first began releasing music. “Writing that record was such a therapeutic process, it was very healing,” she says. Whether recounting the strength she found in her Indigenous identity on the title track, channeling her 19-year-old self on the folksy “Nick Cave,” or revealing her innermost fears on “Do You Ever Get So Sad You Can’t Breathe,” she uncovers strength and wisdom in each moment. Gang of Youths frontman Dave Le’aupepe duets on the bittersweet ballad “Love and War,” which highlights the mistreatment of incarcerated minors, while producer David Kahne (The Strokes, Lana Del Rey) helps Plum craft pop textures on the glinting “Not Angry Anymore.” The closing love song, “Made for You,” is wonderful not only for its tender country melodies, but for featuring two revered Pauls: Kelly and McCartney. Yet despite her headline-act collaborations, Better in Blak reveals, above all else, a triumphant, defiant artist worth waiting for. Below, Plum talks through her debut.

Clumsy Love
“I wrote ‘Clumsy Love’ first, just before ‘Not Angry Anymore.’ I feel very differently now, not just the song but I feel like I’ve grown a lot since that time in my life. There’s this funny thing that happens when you write about something so personal and about a time in your life—I feel like when you put that on a record for other people, it kind of gives new meaning to it, a new life. It’s no longer just mine. I don’t feel sad anymore.”

Don’t Let a Good Girl Down
“People are always picking and choosing. I feel like I’ve seen it heaps this year, with Black Lives Matter, a lot of performative wokeness and performative allyship, picking a side that they think will give them the most woke points or whatever. If you’re not doing that stuff in your everyday life, you’re not doing actual, real, tangible things, then I feel like you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.”

Love and War (feat. Dave Le’aupepe)
“I just remember watching the Four Corners episode on Don Dale [Youth Detention Centre]. I’m an abolitionist; I absolutely hate the prison system, I hate everything it’s built on, I think it’s ridiculous. It was on the night before [we recorded] and it was all anyone was talking about. It felt really weird to go into the studio and not write about it, because I was so angry.”

Not Angry Anymore
“I definitely think that anger is important. I don’t think people should ever be like, ‘Oh, don’t be angry, it’s so much easier being happy, get over it.’ That’s not real, it’s not realistic. I was so angry for so long at so many different people, the industry, all of these men. It was ruining my life, how angry I was. I just had so much of it inside me, it was exhausting. I can still be angry, of course, but I can’t let it dictate my life anymore.”

Homecoming Queen
“I had a great childhood; my mum and my stepdad are the best people in the world. But it was really hard. If you see an Aboriginal person at that age, there was nobody in the media that looked like me. Aboriginal women in the media weren’t portrayed in the media that white women were. It was so difficult as a child to think you’re beautiful. I had aunties and my family telling me all the time that I was, but when almost everything I’m being taught outside of my family is that I’m not good enough because nobody in magazines or on the telly look like me, it took a really long time for me to learn to love myself and for me to say that I feel beautiful. I know so many of my friends who I’ve spoken to that grew up similarly. It makes me sad, but it’s so important. I hope that little girls now don’t have to go through it as much.”

Better in Blak
“I let all the dust settle. But there was just this one final incident from one bad person. I was in the studio in London and I was already very emotional, and then I was getting bombarded with these messages, like ‘Go kill yourself,’ ‘You stupid dumb bitch,’ and just lots of really horrible things. I was so sad and I felt like my whole life was falling apart. Anyway, I sat with that for a little bit, and then the next day I got so fucking angry. And that’s where the song came from. So I guess cheers to them for doing what they did—I wouldn’t go back and change anything, because I got this fucking sick record out of it.”

Woke Blokes
“My inspiration was the Inner West boys in Sydney—shout-out to them.”

Nick Cave
“I wrote that song so long ago. It’s really like old Thelma, from when I did my first EP; it’s a bit more folky. I wanted to have that side of me here, to be a bit cheeky. When it all happened, when I was pretending to be a vegan, I was 17. I’m no longer pretending, so I did learn from that—it was very embarrassing, we were at an event one day, and this guy was coming around with antipasto. It wasn’t that I’d said I was vegan, more that he’d said he was and I’d just been like, ‘Oh, yeah, me too.’ I don’t know why. But I love prosciutto, so I reached out to grab some, and he was like, ‘Thelma, that’s meat,’ and I was like ‘Oh, shit. You’re right.’ I was found out. What better thing to write a song about?”

Thulumaay Gii
“Thulumaay Gii means thunder and heart. It’s my middle name as well. I can’t go into too much detail, it’s so personal. I feel like a lot of these songs are very personal, but for me to put this one there, it took a lot. I was worried I might hurt people from sharing so much. I love my mum with all my heart. She’s my hero, my life savior. We’ve always been so close. Sometimes singing the truth can be really hard, but I’m very glad I did.”

Ugly
“That was cheeky, I was being very cheeky. It wasn’t about an ugly person, it’s about a very good-looking person, someone that I thought was very hot—but maybe not so hot on the inside.”

Do You Ever Get So Sad You Can’t Breathe
“This is just a sad one. I was so heartbroken when I wrote this song. I’m sure so many people have had this feeling before. I’d gone through a big breakup and I felt like I was going to die. I thought, ‘I’m going to die from heartbreak’—it really felt like that—and I remember everyone being like, ‘It’s okay, love, it won’t be like this forever, you’ll get over it,’ and I’m just like, ‘Shut up, I won’t, this is the worst thing ever.’ It just felt like such a physical pain, and that song was very healing for me. I was on my bathroom floor, sobbing. It was a lot.”

Made for You
“I listened to Paul Kelly from a very young age. I feel like I learnt a lot from his songs and his lyrics. So to work with him was a dream. I remember after I finished writing that song, on my way home, I was like, ‘The car could crash, I don’t care. This is it for me, it’s only going downhill from here.’ And then Paul McCartney came onto the song, so it actually wasn’t going downhill at all. Later, I was in New York woking with a guy called David Kahne. He often works with Paul McCartney, and he just came in to pick something up when David was working on the ‘Made for You’ mix. He asked who it was, and Dave was like, ‘It’s this Indigenous woman from Australia, Thelma Plum, she wrote this with Paul Kelly.’ He knew who Paul Kelly was and was a big fan, and he was like, ‘Do you mind if I lay something down?’ David was like, ‘Look, I don’t think Thelma would mind.’ I can tell you, I definitely didn’t mind.”

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