Stella Donnelly: Our New VBF
The Australian singer who is fighting creeps one deadpan indie-pop song at a time
Australian singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly is furiously waving the flag for unorthodox feminists
Where we have Saoirse Ronan portraying the gutsy teen Lady Bird on the big screen and Phoebe Waller-Bridge creating the relatable but dysfunctional character of Fleabag for the BBC Three sitcom of the same name, unorthodox feminist protagonists are having a real moment lately as they wave the flag for those of us who don’t feel represented by mainstream media.
In the music world, Australian singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly is furiously waving the flag. Taking on creeps, internalised misogyny and bigots one deadpan pop song at a time on her debut album Beware of the Dogs - which launches on March 8th - she earns the title of our very talented and terribly funny VBF. Her songs may sound instrumentally understated, with dreamy melodies and jangly guitars, but her message is always clear; do not mess with her or her mates.
The 26-year-old from Freemantle in Perth, Australia is a double threat. Not only can she write a catchy indie-pop song with airy vocals but she can use the pen she wrote her tunes with and turn it into a comedic dagger, taking digs at anyone who crosses her. Beware of the Dogs opens with Old Man, a self-aware song that takes aim at big-salary TV presenter who can’t keep his hands to himself and the repercussions he’ll have to face. “Your personality traits don’t count if you put your dick in someone’s face,” she sings directly, “And no, it’s never too late. We sat there silently while you kept your job and your place and your six-figure wage.” On Boys Will Be Boys, her songwriting becomes protective over her friend who was sexually assaulted and she plays into that tired and pathetic excuse that boys can’t be helped. “Why was she all alone, wearing her shirt that low,” she sings quietly and without missing a beat, she loudly condemns rape culture.
In one short turn of phrase, she captures seemingly insignificant moments that define early adulthood. When it comes to romance, Mosquito is a funny little love song that feels so authentic to her character because in a grand gesture, she wants to bring the object of her affection “cake back home from work but you’re allergic”. She means well but admits defeat once that small obstacle of gluten crops up. On U Owe Me, you can practically hear her teeth grinding as she eyes up her boss in the pub she used to work in. “I don’t think I’ll ever be coming back,” she seethes when she realises that he’s late with her pay. Again.
She takes a conversational tone on each of her songs so you feel like she’s venting to you in person, regaling you frustrating tales that feel so familiar. Her new single Tricks, which lies somewhere on the soundscape between Kate Nash and Belle and Sebastian, hits that familiarity streak right in the jugular. “You said I’d look much better if I dropped the attitude,” she sings breezily, taking shots at the men who used to hassle her in her early gigging days “Leave it alone, leave it alone, leave it alone, leave it alone”. Forever a sarky fresh breath of air, Donnelly was born ready to fight in our corner.
Stella Donnelly’s performance from Electric Picnic 2018 will be aired on RTÉ2 at 11:25pm on April 18th. She also plays Dublin’s The Grand Social on April 29th and tickets are priced at €15 from ticketmaster.ie.