Heartbreak High: A breakdown of the Australian hip-hop and R&B talent in the series
Netflix’s new series ‘Heartbreak High’ has stacked their soundtrack with phenomenal local hip-hop and R&B acts, paying massive homage to the talent this nation has to offer. The series circulates what it’s like to be a teenager in modern-day Australia and the vast experiences and discoveries that are a part of those crucial adolescent years. ‘Heartbreak High’ is one of many progressive coming-of-age TV shows coming to the fore, in particular it explores the depths of queeriosity, systemic racism towards First Nations peoples in Australia, eshay culture, sex education, toxic masculinity, mental health and the overall diversity that is in Australia. Through valuing the talents of Australian artists, it is further reiterated to viewers that this series does its due diligence in showcasing an authentic representation of Australian culture.
WARNING: Please note that throughout this article and ‘Heartbreak High’ themes of sexual assult, domestic violece and police brutality occur.
‘Final Form’ - Sampa The Great
Sampa the Great kickstarts the entire series with the empowering ‘Final Form’ that never fails to elevate one’s ego. As the two main characters Amerie and Harper are introduced to the audience, ‘Final Form’ adheres to the pair perfectly by symbolizing the chaotic, powerful and indestructible bond that they have with one another. Through the track's multi-layered production the song is able to continuously build even after the chorus, allowing viewers to gradually become increasingly engaged as they watch on. Although this track was released in 2019, the strength and assertion that ‘Final Form’ holds will never age and will forever be an anthemic tune that I’ll listen to within a heartbeat.
FEATURED: ‘Stranger Love’ – PNAU feat. Budjerah // ‘Bye Bye’ – Genesis Owusu
‘So Cold’ – Tkay Maidza
Bringing episode 2 into frame is Adelaide’s Tkay Maidza, whose harmonic vocals on ‘So Cold’ (off of her 2021 EP ‘Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3’) guide us through Amerie’s surreal emotions as she faces being socially rejected from her high school classmates for the first time. The song’s funky tinge creates a spacey atmosphere that replicates how alienated Amerie is feeling. During this scene she’s also seen slowly walking passed her ex-best friend Harper as they lock eyes intensely and Tkay’s vocals project “I guess it was a waste of time, I’m drifting out of paradise”, to highlight the disconnection between the two characters which cements that this relationship is no longer the same as it was in the first episode during ‘Final Form’.
‘Everyday’ – Youngn Lipz
Introducing Youngn Lipz’s first appearance in ‘Heartbreak High’, and although ‘Everyday’ is only featured for a short while, his distinctive voice and melodic cadence is instantly established. The track assists in overshadowing the 'Everyday’ routine of the students at Hartley High as scenic pans of the school play and the newly formed connection between Harper and Dusty is spotted.
‘Good Times’ – Genesis Owusu
The everlasting funky and groovy anthem, ‘Good Times’ immediately radiates rich and luscious summer vibes. This track is just one of many from Genesis Owusu that accentuates his genre diversity as an artist and even though ‘Good Times’ was released 3 years ago, the track’s timeless energy still hits the spot. The song seamlessly fits into the scene as it plays in the background of Dusty’s party as Amerie falls into a pool after sneaking in and leaves both her and Malakai in hysterics whilst they share a sweet bonding moment. Just as the title suggests, Genesis Owusu's discography has all of your ‘Good Times’ covered.
‘H.G.S’ – Arona Mane (feat. Ms. Thandi)
Sydney-based producer and prodigious sound engineer Arona Mane and soul and R&B vocalist Ms. Thandi released ‘H.G.S’ in late 2021 and ended up delivering one of the nation’s most underrated feel-good anthems. Encapsulating the true essence of hot girl summer, the duo’s electronic-funk track pairs perfectly with this scene that is filled with uber vibrant party energy. ‘H.G.S’ also assists in showcasing the veracious essence of an Aussie teen party through using the modern soundwaves of EDM that commonly fills the ears of youthful Australian partygoers.
‘Higher’ – Budjerah
No words can describe how soothing and angelic Budjerah’s vocals are and on ‘Higher’ and his soulful, gospel presence is surely evident through his music. ‘Higher’ plays for a short snippet to showcase the intense butterflies and Amerie’s elevated emotions as she and Dusty become closer. The song gently sets the tone of not only their current situation but what is also predicted to be Amerie’s supposed fairytale ending with Dusty. The melodic and soulful vibrations of Budjerahs voice allows all viewers to be captivated by this scene. The R&B star first entered the Australian music scene in 2020 and since then has worked tirelessly to reach where he is today, featuring on tracks with global icons Ed Sheeran and PNAU. Please be prepared for your breath to be taken away as Budjerah’s vocals are undeniably going to give you goosebumps.
‘Every Hour’ – KIAN
KIAN’s voice always serves as a reminder to me that this nation’s music scene is fueled by unbelievable talent. ‘Ever Hour’ explores KIAN’s parallel experiences with his future partner and how they have both been “ghosted, broken, thrown away” and how together they could have had a nurturing, genuine and loving relationship. As we watch Malakai walk Amerie home and mend her broken heart, KIAN sets the misty tone of the night that foreshadows Malakai’s intentions of creating a deeper bond with Amerie. The mellow reverbs within the production on ‘Every Hour’ further enhances that teenage passion and romantic spirit.
‘Eshay’ – Gucci Dassy
Stepping straight into episode 3 by encapsulating eshay culture, a truly unique Australian avenue, Gucci Dassy serves us ‘Eshay’ that embeds the familiar sounds of Pig Latin into its lyricism. A huge shout out to Gucci Dassy who’s got some absolute killer bangers in his discography including ‘Eshay’, ‘Adlay’, ‘Rick Owens’ and a whole heap more, in this scene, Ca$h and his lads are seen going for a joy ride in Dusty’s fathers car that they’ve just stolen. The Adelaide rapper's song went viral when it was released in 2020 and the catchy melody on the production makes this track unforgettable. With any sub-genre of course, listeners and fans come with an acquired taste but whether you have been integrated into the Australian music scene, or are just one of the many youngins Down Under that have been surrounded by eshay culture, it is something that indisputably separates the Australian teenage experience from any another.
‘Aussie Raver’ – Kota
Another classic representation of Australian youth, Perth-based rapper Kota has all of your House and EDM tracks on lock. ‘Aussie Raver’ depicts Kota’s outgoing lifestyle, from hitting the pub for a few drinks to going back into the booth to create more bangers like this one, his conduct is hectic to say the least. Throughout ‘Aussie Raver’ Kota also pays homage to his hometown Perth to further Aussie-up the track, “I’m from Perth and I love this place, so I stick to my roots and I grind, no skater.” The track appears in the background whilst Amerie experiences a flashback of her and Harper at a festival and serves as a perfect representation of the electronic dance music that Australian music festivals and live shows tend to entail. Kota’s deeply-rooted Australian accent completes this track and I personally believe it should be voted as Australia’s national anthem.
‘Broken Home’ – Youngn Lipz
Firstly released as a double single before being a part of his debut album ‘Area Baby’, ‘Broken Home’ plays as Ca$h (a local, notorious eshay) and Darren (an openly queer and non-binary individual) the two most seemingly polar opposite characters in the series - bond about being outcasts both in school and at home. For Darren, their parents have divorced and they’ve struggled to fit in at either home. As for Ca$h he’s living with and taking care of his grandmother whilst his mother is behind bars. ‘Broken Home’ is an accurate depiction of both of their relationships inside and outside of school as they remain strong despite their adversities and the lyrics, “Seen so many things up in my life, not even 23” resembles both of the characters' many hardships despite their short-lived lives.
‘LOVE AGAIN’ – ASHWARYA
Flawless, this entire track is just flawless. As a regular individual let alone as an artist, being vulnerable is always a difficult task and ASHWARYA’s delicate and articulate lyricism reveals just enough to us to understand her internal debate of whether or not she’s ready to move on and love again. ASHWARYA’s wholesome track ‘LOVE AGAIN’ captures the true essence of love and bliss as Amerie shares her first time with Malakai. The track is soft and delicate just like the way Malakai treats Amerie through the entire series. ASHWARYA’s discography ranges from spacey upbeat indie tracks to modern rock to soulful R&B melodies like this track right here. You can catch ASHWARYA taking over the world just one track at a time.
‘On The Move’ – Arno Faraji
I just love Arno Faraji, everything he releases into the hip-hop realm just speaks of individuality and independent creativity. Always crafting the grooviest of tracks, ‘On The Move’ is phenomenal in every aspect. The single sees Arno reflect on how tirelessly he’s grinded to make this career a successful one and how if you’re not rocking with him then you’ll be rocking solo at the bottom. The feel-good tune is played as Malakai walks Amerie home after they’ve skipped the entire day of school together just to spend more time with each other. ‘On The Move’ elevates his ecstatic emotions as he energetically dances with great satisfaction on his way home.
‘R.I.P.’ – JK-47 (feat. JON Do£ and Jarulah)
As one of the most touching and introspective tracks from JK-47’s incredible debut album ‘Made For This’, ‘R.I.P.’ reflects on the harsh reality of losing your loved ones and the irreversible consequences of wasted time. This is a realisation that Ca$h faces about his own life upon staring at himself in the mirror following a physical altercation with Chooky (the ringleader of their group). Ca$h realises for the first time that his boys have locked him in a cycle that he feels he will never be able to escape. This is the first time the audience sees Cash break down, completely obliterating that hard eshay facade that he’d held up for so long.
‘All Over You’ – A.GIRL
A.GIRL’s ‘All Over You’ is a plea for love and admiration. As Malakai and Ca$h enter Darren’s house for pre-drinks, the soulful melody sets the intimate mood as everyone in the room, in their own ways, have been sentenced to being outcasts at their own school. The song foreshadows Ca$h and Darren’s and Amerie and Malakai’s seesawing love stories as their relationships cement during this scene. Malakai apologies to Amerie for what he’s done previously which signifies his willingness to be open, vulnerable and shameless in this relationship with Amerie. On ‘All Over You’, A.GIRL puts forth that her feelings are immensely strong and that she has no no shame in voicing what it feels like to fall deeply in love.
‘BIG’ – BOY SODA
BOY SODA’s velvety vocals on his February track ‘BIG’ creates the innermost comforting and heart-warming atmosphere that undeniably completes this touching scene. BOY SODA depicts the moments he’s wasted in the past worrying about the perspectives of others and the overarching daunt of anxiety, and realises that the world revolves around so much more than that. The track is first introduced whilst Quinni admits her love for her girlfriend Sasha, after they debate Sasha’s feelings of Quinni being inadequate of making her own boundaries and decisions because she’s neurodivergent. Throughout ‘Heartbreak High’ Quinni solidifies herself as a fierce and independent woman replicating the strength that BOY SODA possesses through this single. The track flows succinctly into the next scene where Darren and Ca$h are singled and share their first kiss during Mardi Gras, with the lyrics evoking their relationship perfectly:
“And don’t you get me started on the birds the bees
Different walks of life but it in the end we all bleed
Everybody working cause we all gotta eat
remind myself that it’s bigger than me”.
Despite both Darren and Ca$h having extremely difficult pasts and polar opposite lifestyles, their love and lust for eachother is bigger than anything else in this moment.
‘ICYY’ – PANIA
‘ICYY’ enters the chat smoothly as Amerie and Malakai are situated at the arcade centre attempting to mend their relationship. Unconsciously Malakai is pulling away from Amerie by not opening up to her about his brutal encounter with the police after Mardi Gras and gently becomes progressively distant from Amerie instantaneously linking directly to PANIA’s lyrics, “Pulling away, this ain’t like me”. On the track, the Melbourne-based singer rawly reflects on running away from her problems and icing someone out of her social realm instead of dealing with the issue head on, which is a common trauma response among young adults.
‘Crowd Pleaza’ – The 046
Just setting the fucking mood, The 046 know how to get the party started. The South-West Sydney collective can be seen fusing both new-wave and old school hip-hop sound trends together to make numerous bangers like ‘Running Game’, ‘My Hood', ‘Out the Mud' and of course, ‘Crowd Pleaza’. Amerie plays ‘Crowd Pleaza’ as she gets ready to host her first ever party to showcase that her social status has risen. The song title also references the reason as to why she’s hosting the party, to ultimately please her school peers and further climb that popularity hierarchy. Shoutout to Sefru for making the production on this track bang.
‘Gold Chains’ – Genesis Owusu
One of just four tracks featured from Genesis Owusu’s debut 2021 album ‘Smiling with No Teeth’, ‘Gold Chains’ creates a beautiful atmosphere where Jai (Gomeroi rapper
Kobie Dee) takes Malakai “out country” to destress and refresh his mental health. After experiencing racially motivated physical abuse from a policeman and being unsoundly coerced into a threesome the same night, Malakai’s perspective on his self-worth and his sexuality is completely blurred. Although ‘Gold Chains’ is only played for a short period of time, the track’s inclusion is no less vital as it provides a melodic segue into what will be a cathartic experience for Malakai’s future.
‘Centrefold’ – Genesis Owusu
‘Centrefold’ is a track fueled by intricate seduction and mesmerising production that’ll leave any listener astounded. ‘Centrefold’ compels listeners into feeling like they’re about to enter a deep hypnosis in which Spider (a confident, misogynistic character) is seen to almost hypnotise Amerie into thinking he’s a genuine and compassionate gentleman. With the help of this mystifying track, Amerie is seen to be captivated by his supple presence which is a side to him the audience only gets to witness in this scene. The suspenseful track is a perplexing mixture between eerie jazz intensely intimate soul that truly accentuates Owusu’s continuous flexibility when it comes to genre-blending.
‘The Other Black Dog’ – Genesis Owusu
This is sconically my favourite scene in the entire series, even without any context, by just listening to the consuming intensity of the track’s production the audience is able to feel wholly submerged in the characters emotions of fear and adrenaline. Genesis Owusu’s unruly track ‘The Other Black Dog’ sees all hell being unleashed as he delves into mystic internal wars and the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in an unwanted situation. During this scene the local eshay Ca$h is on-foot getting chased down by the police, directly linking to the continual thrill that Owusu provides listeners with. The opening line “All my friends are hurting, but we dance it off, laugh it off” is also a direct correlation with Ca$h’s relationship with eshay culture as he no longer wants to be associated with their pact but feels entrapped to stay due to the risk of being socially alienated.
You can stream 'Heartbreak High' on Netflix now!
Created by Hannah Carroll Chapman.
Written by Hannah Carroll Chapman, Megan Palinkas, Marieke Hardy, Meyne Wyatt, Thomas Wilson White, Natesha Somasundaram, Matthew Whittet.
Directed by Gracie Otto, Adam Murfet, Jessie Oldfield, Neil Sharma.
Words by Violet Murphy.