Singer-songwriter Amy Shark’s sophomore album Cry Forever came out on Friday, and I was highly anticipating its release! Last year, I came across the Australian alt-pop artist and started listening to her music non-stop (debut album Love Monster, EP Night Thinker, and a handful of singles).
If you’re someone who likes pop with a little bit of an edge or adult alternative with addictive hooks, you’ll appreciate her earlier musicality which is a perfect hybrid of those sounds. And if you’re someone who really values the poetry of lyrics, you’ll love her words. She’s raw, she’s real, she’s vulnerable, and sometimes she’s the tough girl who’s “known as a right-hand slugger.”
Cry Forever is a continuation of the truthful, emotional intensity that she brought to Love Monster, but many of the songs strip away the synth-pop production and the distinctive drums that were characteristic of her debut album to create a more stripped down feel.
That’s one of the things that’s really cool about great songwriters – their songs are really good regardless of genre, and the production is just a way to showcase the songwriting and make it shine within a certain style. I happen to love synth-pop-rock when it’s done right (when it doesn’t drown out and overproduce the vocals of the singer), and it was definitely done right on Love Monster. If you love that kind of music too, you’ll find some of that on Cry Forever, but you’ll also find songs that primarily sound like Amy on an acoustic guitar.
Some of my fellow Americans might be asking themselves right now: Who the heck is Amy Shark?
Amy Shark has been a rising star in her home country of Australia ever since her single “Adore” became a breakout hit there in 2016, peaking at #2 on Australian charts and sparking a bidding war amongst record labels for the chance to sign her. That song (along with a couple later releases) have also charted on adult alternative radio here in the USA, but she is most well-known in Australia.
To date, “Adore” remains one of Amy’s most powerful songs with its pulsing mid-tempo beat layered with synthesized sounds and passionate lyrics that speak to the intensity of infatuation: I want the entire street out of town just so I can be alone with you.
But despite how it might appear at first glance, Amy Shark was no overnight success. Her journey that led to that first successful single all the way to Friday’s release of Cry Forever has been one of hard work and perseverance, and it’s important to understand that “Adore” neither marked the beginning of her efforts as a singer-songwriter nor the pinnacle of things for her. She turns 35 this month, and it was years of struggle that took her to a place where she can now release a new single titled “Amy Shark” that pleads with (or perhaps warns) those who let her down during her earlier years:
Don’t start now, I’m winning
And finally happy
Don’t start now, I’ve done all the years of hard work
Don’t start taking over
And asking for favors
Please just don’t start now that I’m Amy Shark
And what about those years of hard work she references? For starters, she learned to play the electric guitar early in her teen years, eventually playing guitar in an all-girl punk band though she was too shy to sing publicly. She also loved editing visuals to music, which led her to enroll in a university film and digital video course, launch an event filming business, and land a job as a video editor with the Gold Coast Titans Football Club. And how easy it would have been for that to be the end of her music career. Except it wasn’t…
And this is one of my favorite parts of her story. In 2018, Amy told the Sydney Morning Herald that her husband Shane Billings believed in her and encouraged her to not give up the music dream.
She said, “He loved everything I did and believed in it way more than I did. Way more. He booked me gigs, and wrote to people saying, ‘You need to hear Amy’ … Even when I didn’t know he was doing it, he was working … trying so hard to get me heard.”
For years, Amy played cover songs at night while working a day job. In secret, she honed her musical style, obsessively writing songs and making plans with her husband on how to launch an actual music career. She released some of those early songs herself on social media and online platforms under her name Amy Billings and other stage name variations before settling on the coolest of cool stage names: Amy Shark.After draining much of her personal funds on buying studio time to record her own songs, Amy applied for a government arts grant (which she did not get), but she kept on going, applied a second time, and perhaps buoyed by her recent QMusic Pop Award for her song “Golden Fleece,” she was awarded the grant the second time around. Amy had already been talking for some time to Grammy-winning producer M-Phases’s manager and sending him her songs. Her persistence paid off, because M-Phases told her if she got the grant, he’d help her. And it was that collaboration that led to the breakout hit song “Adore.”
So let me summarize all this for the kids in the back with their own dreams: Amy Shark didn’t just magically appear on the scene because “Adore” magically became a hit because she magically sat around daydreaming about magical success. No, Amy Shark finally received recognition for her musical talent because she worked her ass off for well over a decade and played tiny shows and entered contests and bought studio time with her own money and applied for grants and hustled after music producers and Didn’t. Give. Up.
After “Adore” set off a bidding war, Amy signed with Sony Music Australia and released 2017’s EP Night Thinker and then 2018’s full-length debut album Love Monster. I became a fan of Amy Shark’s music last year when I heard “Everybody Rise,” which she released as the lead single for Cry Forever. I did a deep dive into all of her music and quickly fell in love with her sound and lyrics.On Friday, Amy dropped her sophomore album Cry Forever and I spent all weekend listening to it. There is good variety on the album from the romantic, swelling ballad “Love Songs Ain’t For Us” (featuring Keith Urban) to the snappy pop gem “Worst Day of My Life” (I am completely addicted to this song – who knew a song about the worst day of your life could feel so good?).
Other album highlights include the following:
The album’s lead single “Everybody Rise” still stands out as one of the most powerful tracks. It’s a cool combination of talky lyrics over a bouncy musical arrangement in the verses that lead into a rousing, anthemic chorus declaring “Everybody, everybody rise!”
“Baby Steps” has a driving uptempo drumline that belies its content about taking baby steps to get over a painful breakup. The musical arrangement gives it an almost triumphant feeling – as in, you’re almost over it, you’re almost okay, and if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other (to this fast, frenetic beat), someday you’ll finally be truly over it. But wait for the zinger at the end where she flips it all on its head.
Throughout the album, Amy uses both the specificity of memory coupled with effective metaphors to give us feelings we can all relate to. Here are some of my favorite lyrics from other favorite songs on the album:
“The Wolves” has a haunting opening with lyrics that pull you right in:
What’s left of me for the wolves, just pick around the bone
I like your company, why would you leave me here all alone?
Oh-oh, oh, oh
And I lay under the smoke and the falling debris
And all you animals come take a bite out of me
“I’ll Be Yours” is a beautiful testament to long-term love.
Now I’m crawling up your sleeves
‘Cause my hands are so cold
And are you coming home with me?
‘Cause it’s all I wanna know
Yeah, I may not live for forever
But the time I spend here I’ll be yours
My only criticism of Cry Forever is that the album is 13 tracks long and some of the songs clock in at under 3 minutes, so the total album length is only 41 minutes. Call me greedy, but I love Amy Shark’s music, so I want even more of it!
If you want to pour through Amy Shark’s back catalogue, I recommend literally every song she’s ever released, but standout songs for me (in addition to “Adore”) include the following, with some of my favorite lyrics highlighted:
“Middle of the Night” (from Love Monster) – A deliciously dark ode to feeling broken with a rock song edge
“The Slow Song” (from Love Monster) – A sweeping, romantic, dreamy mid-tempo pop song
“Mess Her Up” (from Love Monster) – A rock song that captures the highs and lows of an affair
It’s the little white lies that keep us awake
It’s the long drive home that makes people talk
It’s the fear in our hearts that give us away
It’s the playful fight in a swimming pool, I still think of you
“I Said Hi” (from Love Monster) – Just when you think Amy Shark really might “cry forever,” a song like this reminds you that she’s also really tough. This is an anthem for all the struggling artists out there. Don’t count us out.
I stand in the corner like a tired boxer
One hand on my cheekbone, one hand on the rope
And all my veins pump blood into my throat
So I can hit the note, go do it all again
“Blood Brothers” (from Night Thinker) – A pulsating synth-pop song about being caught up in romance. It’s a song that feels good, but some of the lyrics will make you pause and wonder…
Doc says, “Girl, take one pill”
And you whisper double that, double that
“Spits on Girls” (2014 single) – an eerie, catchy, quirky song that seems to be about a lot of different things. The repetitive vocalizing of “Oh, oh, oh, oh” is a weirdly cool sound that stops you in your tracks. I feel like some of her lyrics are pointing the finger at industry bullshit.
I hope now that we’ve reached the end of this blog, you’ve already turned on some of Amy Shark’s songs and are listening as you read. If not, go check her out now! Please tell me in the comments which songs are your favorites.
Hallie Shepherd is a writer, actress, and film producer and editor. Follow her on Instagram where she celebrates the stories we tell.