After being honoured with an APRA AMCOS award and announced as Carly Rae Jepsen’s national tour support act, Australian singer Starley Hope has had a big week of career wins.
However, the 32-year-old ‘Call On Me’ hitmaker has said her rise in the music world hasn’t come without its challenges, particularly because of industry attitudes in her home country.
Starley, whose mother has Japanese and Filipino heritage and father is Mauritian, said Australian record labels asked her to ditch her naturally curly hair and change her appearance, forcing her to relocate to England where “there’s a lot more people who look like” her.
“As I got older, people would come up to me and say, ‘You need to straighten your hair to be a singer and you’ve got to lose weight’,” she told HuffPost Australia.
“Different people at different record labels were just closing the door on me without really giving me a chance.”
Starley had her sights set on a music career from a young age, and recalled an incident in the early 2000s when a “very famous music manager” had shown interest in signing her as an artist at age 14.
“He wanted to manage me, he didn’t know what I looked like,” she said. “And I had all my music, all my demos and everything [that] he heard. I was 14 years old and I was singing the national anthem at a boxing match.
“He came to watch me and he was so excited to meet me and my family and everything and he came there, and he left before I even got a chance to meet him. I knew it was because he saw what I looked like and thought, ‘Oh I didn’t realise she was black or brown or anything like that’.”
It was a few years later when a friend in the music industry advised Starley to move overseas for a greater chance at career success.
“He said, ‘If I was you, I’d go to England. There’s a lot more people who look like you and you’ll just feel a lot more at home there, so go there and work on your songwriting skills and go from there’,” she revealed.
“So as soon as I got enough money to do that when I was 20, I went and did that, and my dad helped me a little bit too. We just did it as a family and I went to London and I started writing, and yeah, it was all because I couldn’t really make it in Australia in the beginning.”
Six years later Starley returned home as her songwriting efforts hadn’t taken off as expected. Little did she know a song she penned during a low point, called ‘Call On Me’, would go on to become a chart-topper that has now been streamed over a billion times.
“I came back to Australia thinking I was going to quit music altogether, and I wrote ‘Call On Me’ and ironically I got a little indie record deal at a dance label here with a guy named Archie,” she said.
“Archie was amazing. He just believed in me and that’s where it took off. So it did end up taking off back in my home country which is a really good, awesome thing to have happened but it bloody took a long time.”
Nowadays the singer is much more confident in her appearance, career and her sexuality after coming out as bisexual to her parents in 2017.
“This is my natural hair. I feel good with my natural hair,” she said. “The more I learn to use my hair as a statement, like ‘This is who I am’, the less people bother me about it and the more they compliment me on it actually.”
Last week Starley was recognised on APRA AMCOS’ 1,000,000,000 list for more than one billion streams of her 2016 hit ‘Call On Me’.
She will be attending the ARIA Awards in Sydney on November 27, as she hopes to replicate the success of ‘Call On Me’ with her latest release titled, ‘Lovers + Strangers’.