“On Never Allowing ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ to Hold a Woman Back”: An Essay by Mereki for Women’s History Month

Death of a Cloud - Mereki
Death of a Cloud - Mereki
In honor of Women’s History Month, Atwood Magazine has invited artists to participate in a series of essays reflecting on identity, music, culture, inclusion, and more.
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Today, Australian/English savant of purposeful pop Mereki shares her essay, “On Never Allowing ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ to Hold a Woman Back,” as a part of Atwood Magazine’s Women’s History Month series – exploring her history and future as a woman in music, leading up to the March 24 release of her debut solo album, ‘Death of a Cloud.’
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ON NEVER ALLOWING ‘TALL POPPY SYNDROME’ TO HOLD A WOMAN BACK

Death of a Cloud - Mereki

by Mereki

here to begin? I guess at the start, a very good place to do so. As a 5-year-old girl I watched all of the women in my family get up after dinner at grandma’s house to clean up. I was dumbfounded as I clocked that none of the men present felt inclined to do the same. The triple Aries in me, stubborn and fiery, refused to join my mother, aunty, grandma and sisters and instead stayed put next to my 5-year-old (male) cousin. Pretty sure not long after that I insisted on wearing only ‘bought shorts’ (read: board shorts, aw cute) and refusing to wear dresses.

When I think about that little person trying to find her place in the world, I feel proud that she stood her ground and I feel sad that she had to. Times have changed and while certain gender domestic tropes seem outdated, there are other patriarchal values that are still deeply embedded into our culture. Which leads me to the music industry and my being asked to share my experience as a woman in it.

Mereki © Rose Waite
Mereki © Rose Waite

I was a bit of a late starter with music and with reflection, I think that a lot of this had to do with the fact that I wasn’t confident enough to follow my dreams earlier on. That and divine timing, of course. I always loved to sing, even as a baby apparently. When I was 16 years old and going for my driving test my instructor told my mum that I had hummed through the entire test – I had no idea. I had singing lessons while I was at school and my mum in particular was very supportive. But I grew up in an Australia that was shy. People who dared to dream were pulled down by something called ‘Tall Poppy syndrome’. This means that when someone grows too tall, the others like to pull them back down to the ground. I was and am very privileged to have been raised by very supportive and loving parents. I’ll never forget the words my mum blessed me with at a young age: ‘Do whatever makes your heart sing’. Turns out that for me, that meant actually singing. My parents grew up in the 50s and 60s and I can’t imagine there was a lot of support then for a woman to fulfil her wildest dreams or for a young man to make his mark. Rather and more likely a trend towards normality. My mother was and is a powerful force of nature; strong and opinionated, whip smart and deeply intuitive and my father was a quiet genius. They both were blessed with immeasurable creative gifts and yet neither chose to pursue the arts.

Cut to me finally starting to find my feet as an artist. I’d moved to America, after a brief stint in a band back at home in Australia, and met a talented artist and producer named Dan. While living in New York I wrote an acapella for a song called “Sirens.” I sent the vocal stems to Dan and he and I began working on the track remotely. This song, save a few niggly things I would now have the confidence to remove, is a great representation of me.

After moving back to LA I had started doing a lot of pop song writing sessions through my then publisher. I quite enjoyed the sessions at the time- it was new and exciting. I was learning the ropes of song writing and I met some lovely people along the way. The downside was being pulled in a million different directions as an artist myself. At the time, most sessions were produced by males and some who thought they knew best. I have to admit though, it wasn’t just that they thought that they knew best, it was that I thought they knew best too! And I really do wonder if that disbelief in myself was just good ole self-doubt or had something more to do with being raised a woman and being a woman in a male dominated industry. A lot of men I know, certainly not all, but a lot, have a certain blind belief when it comes to their ability and their right to be themselves. I don’t resent them for it, I think that it’s much healthier than the alternative. I do wish I could have had more of that back then and do wonder how much my gender played into this.

Anyways, this is where my artistry became a little externalised for a while, with a big focus on output and trying to be what others wanted- a vicious and unsatisfying loop. Even writing this now, and knowing myself as I do, it’s absolutely SHOCKING that I ever let this happen but ‘what surrounds you becomes you’ time and time again. It’s so real. We all have to be extremely conscious about what and who we keep in our orbit.

Mereki © Lizzy Born
Mereki © Lizzy Born

I was going through a difficult time personally too; a challenging relationship, a new culture and my dad was dying. My dad who was my best friend and greatest fan with whom I was unequivocally soul bonded. So here, I give myself some compassion. We all have a journey to take, and this was obviously mine.

Something magical happened during this time, I was introduced to an incredible women’s shelter in Korea Town called Alexandria House and I began going every month to cook dinner. Soon enough I was running my own monthly dinner at the house and inviting fellow music industry friends and colleagues to join. It became such a joyful ritual, and I met so many incredible women through these meals. At the time I had also started my non-profit ‘Be Kind’, then known as ‘Mereki’s Clubhouse’, which was a monthly club night focussed on female artists with 3x very important rules: 1. Be Kind 2. Be Kind 3. Be Kind. From there, I created an annual Be Kind holiday benefit concert and in our final year, before leaving LA for the UK, we sold out the Troubadour! We also attracted the attention of Justin Bieber who went on to film his music video for ‘Intentions’ at Alexandra House and donated a significant amount of money. I remember the day that I found out that had happened, that my tiny toe haphazardly dipping into the pond had created a ripple effect that far and wide. I wept with gratitude and hope.

Through music I have found a community of incredibly supportive, talented and intuitive musical colleagues and industry to work with. I have also learned how to be myself and stand up for myself.

When I look back at the woman I was at that time I do wish that I could tell my artist that my ideas matter the most. That no one else can or will take me to where I need to be other than me. I wish I knew that then. I know that now and I’m grateful. If I could give every young woman out there a piece of advice not just for working in music but for living inside life it would be this: Listen only to yourself. All of the answers you are seeking are seeking you and they live within you. The work is to really know who you are and then work on loving that person, the rest will follow. Mereki

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Death of a Cloud - Mereki

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