Why You Should Be Paying Attention to PANIA, Melbourne's Reigning R&B Matriarch

A generation of fresh voices has been leading an R&B renaissance in Australia.

21 February 2022, 5:45am

It’s been a long time since the Australian music scene has had a shake up.

In 2010, most radio stations - even those that were “staunch” alternative - seemed to fall into a repetitive cycle of indie/ surf rock and alt. pop. Being a teenager in Australia meant you were almost definitely guilty of fraternizing with these genres exclusively (OK, maybe a couple of others), and though there’s nothing wrong with that, after a while it all gets pretty boring.

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However, in the last five years or so, a generation of fresh voices has been leading a renaissance of R&B, soul, rap and hip hop on Australian shores. A move I like to think of as the “great diversification” of the 2020s. One of those voices – leading the charge in Melbourne – is Pasifika Queen B, PANIA.

Growing up in West Melbourne, PANIA’s musical appetite consisted of hip hop, R&B and Polynesian reggae. But it wasn’t until high school, after being exposed to Erykah Badu and neo-soul, that she picked up a guitar and started recording demos.

In 2018, she officially rolled onto the Melbourne scene with her single “Lotus”, and almost instantaneously became an up-and-coming icon with her breathy, late-night bops circling around themes of love and longing. 

However, 2020 was the year. Flicking on Pania’s “ICCY”– a slow jam exploring the cold-heartedness that comes after enduring continuous hurt in a relationship – made for a delightful, and escapist, listen. The song itself has an addictive quality, stemming from the artist's kick to falsetto in the chorus. Trap-progressions and melodic rap tick through the rest of the song, and PANIA’s husky vocals swoon throughout. What becomes obvious by the end, especially when flicking through the artist's backcatalog, is that this song was a definitive moment in deciding her direction in music.

Since “ICCY”, PANIA’s collaborations have seen her work with artists like Melbourne’s CD on the sensual “Catcha Grip” and 3K’s Keziah Feterika on “ICCY PT.2”. “Tiki” is PANIA’s latest offering: A magnetic ode-to-club, with both song and video retelling the narrative of club hook-ups and across-the-room stare downs to see who will make the first move. 

It’s irreverently 2000’s, the video is POC dominated (we love to see it), and the outfits are reminiscent of Destiny’s Child/ 90s girl-group dominance. All in all, it’s a tantalising mix of culture, sound and aesthetic. 

PANIA is at the forefront of new artists that have put the Australian music scene into a transitory period. What they all have in common is that they’re hungrier, more diverse and - bottom line - cooler than ever before. PANIA is just one artist pushing Australia’s still “baby” music scene into something a little more interesting, powerful and woman-driven. 

One to watch, for sure.

Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.

Read more from VICE Australia.

Tagged:

Music, Australia, NEW ZEALAND, Spotlight

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