Australian soap opera starturned pop/alternative rock sensation Natalie Imbruglia made headlines across Europe and the United States, gracing the cover of Spin magazine and turning into an MTV (Music Television) superstar upon the release of her debut albu m Left of the Middle. Containing the hit single “Torn,” Imbruglia’s first recording effort eventually sold close to six million copies. As of early late 1997, “Torn” had already hit number one in most European countries, including the United Kingdom, and LeftoftheMiddlehad sold millions of copies. All the while, American music fans eagerly awaited the release of Imbruglia’s debut in the United States. In a phenomenon usually unheard of in the music industry, Imbruglia appeared on the MTV cable network to release her video for “Torn,” and performed on the American television show Saturday Night Live nearly a week prior to the release of Left of the Middle in the United States in early March of 1998.
Imbruglia’s exquisite looks and singing/songwriting skills brought her international stardom that seemed to occur almost overnight. Elysa Gardner of Entertainment Weekly, describing the artist’s physical appeal, noted, “in the video for Torn, ’ she sulks gracefully in a worn T–shirt and baggy pants—that suggest a young Audrey Hepburn as refashioned for the post–grunge crowd.” Despite her appearance, though, the petite (at five feet, two inches tall), youthful, and innocent–looking musician with large blue eyes, enjoyed the recognition she received for her singing and songwriting abilities rather than her beauty.
The second eldest of four girls, Imbruglia was born February 4, 1975, to the son of an Italian expatriate and his schoolteacher wife. Imbruglia (pronounced Im–BROO–lia, the “g” being silent) grew up in a coastal town located just north of Sydney, Australia. She described her upbringing to Nick Compton in Independent on Sunday as “real Brady Bunch.’The four girls formed close bonds, and Imbruglia’s parents have enjoyed a successful marriage. Nonetheless, Imbruglia always felt different in certain ways from the rest of her family. Displaying a seemingly inborn desire to perform, the future actress/singer started taking dance lessons around age two and developed an interest in theater during her early teens. A self–described “drama queen,” Imbruglia conceded to Compton, “you can always find your own turmoil, a way to isolate yourself…. I felt different and isolated, just in the sense that I was so ambitious, much more than anyone else in the family.”
This desire to add a sense of angst to her life led to rebellious periods, and Imbruglia developed a knack for
For the Record…
Born February 4, 1975, near Sydney, Australia; father was son of an Italian immigrant; mother, a schoolteacher; second eldest of four daughters. Education: Studied at a performing arts school in Sydney.
Started acting in commercials at age 14; joined cast of Australian soap opera Neighbours at age 17; left show two years later; moved to London to further pursue acting career, 1995; spent two years unemployed and began writing songs before releasing 1997 debut Left of the Middle (released in 1998 in the U.S.); recorded songs for two soundtracks including Go! and Stigmata, both released in 1999.
Awards: 1998 Australian Recording Industry (Aussie) Awards for best single and best debut single for “Torn,” best debut album and best pop release for Left of the Middle, and best female artist; 1998 Brit Awards for best international newcomer and best international female artist.
beach bumming with the popular crowd and getting into trouble in school. Onetime, she was suspended from her Catholic school in Sydney forgetting drunkwhile staying at a monastery for a school–sponsored religious excursion. But in the midst of seeking out trouble, Imbruglia had also been taking singing lessons for two years, in addition to dancing and acting in school musicals. At age 14, Imbruglia sought out an agent in Sydney and landed some parts in television commercials. Her mother was against this because she felt that six nights of dance lessons was more than enough theatrical training for her daughter. Around this time, she also earned a scholarship to attend a performing arts school in Sydney, but soon dropped out to try to find a professional acting job. Within six months of leaving school at age 16, she landed her first role.
At age 17, Imbruglia joined cast of a popular Australian soap opera (which also aired in the United Kingdom) called Neighbours, the same show that gave the world pop singer Kylie Minogue, known for her cover of the song “Loco–Motion.” On the series, Imbruglia played the more or less trashy, man–eating Beth Brennan. However, the young actor found little creative fulfillment on the show and left two years later. In 1995 at age 19, Imbruglia moved to London with hopes of finding more substantive opportunities.
To Imbruglia’s dismay, making the transition to London was not as easy as she expected. In Australia, the young actor entered the entertainment field with ease, but in London, she floundered in unemployment for nearly two years, at times existing on nothing but beans and rice for food. In addition to experiencing difficulty obtaining United Kingdom work permits, Imbruglia’s name and face, now attached to the soap opera stigma, further prevented the determined performer from meeting other professionals who would take her seriously. Left without direction for the first time in her life, Imbruglia spent most of this period partying wildly in the London club scene and later sank into a deep depression.
In order to combat the sadness over her lack of success, Imbruglia began writing songs, with no intentions of ever letting anyone hear them. The last thing the admittedly pessimistic and sometimes insecure Imbruglia wanted was for people to make fun of her work or compare her to former cast mate Minogue. Nevertheless, when Imbruglia met her future manager Anne Barrett, her music career started to take shape. Barrett, who thought Imbruglia’s songs had potential, hooked her client up with a host of highly respected, yet not entirely mainstream writers and producers, including PhilThornalley (a former member of the pop group the Cure), Nigel Godrich (who worked on Radiohead’sacclaimed album OK Computer), and singer/songwriter Mark Goldenberg (who penned a hit song for the Eels called “Novocaine For The Soul”). Soon thereafter, Imbruglia gave a demo tape to RCA Records U.K., who like what they heard. She later accepted the record company’s contract offer.
Before long, RCA released Imbruglia’s debut album, Left of the Middle, in late 1997 in the United Kingdom. The album’s first single, “Torn” quickly topped the British charts, even nudging out Elton John’s Princess Diana tribute “Candle in the Wind” in October of 1997 for the number one spot. Although the record and single were not released in the United States until the spring of 1998, Imbruglia was already gaining attention with the American alternative/pop audience. Radio stations began playing “Torn” weeks before the album’s official debut in the United States. Then Imbruglia performed live on MTV for the debut of her “Torn” video on March 6, 1998, followed the next night by an appearance on the television comedy show Saturday Night Live.
The following week Left of the Middlehft store shelves in the United States and entered the Billboard chart at number ten, selling more than 84,000 copies in seven days. The album went certified platinum just five weeks after its release date, making it the fastest album to break that mark in RCA history. Moreover, by March 18, 1998, Imbruglia’s first album became the largest debut for a new, alternative pop–rock female artist in history, selling more in its first week than records by Alanis Morissette, Meredith Brooks, and Fiona Apple combined.
While some critics and fans are quick to dislike or typecast television stars turned musicians, Imbruglia’s first collection of inspiring songs spoke for themselves. She took pains to separate herself from the commercially–minded soap star Minogue, who released sugar–coated pop tunes, and co–wrote ten of the twelve songs on her debut, including the British hit single “Wishing I Was There.” Although Imbruglia’s album remained suitable for pop audiences, she also embraced lyrical depth and attitude. Musically, the singer’s collection revealed references to the folk overtures of American singer Shawn Colvin, Imbruglia’s strongest influence. And unlike Minogue, who continued acting after embarking on a singing career, Imbruglia, who experienced a greater creative excitement with music, opted to concen–tratesolelyonhersingingandsongwriting.’Theonlyway I’m gonna get better at what I do is to stay focused,” she told Gardner. “I don’t believe in spreading yourself too thin.”
Imbruglia, like most celebrities, was not immune to criticism. In England, not long after the release of Left of the Middle, controversy erupted in January when tabloids discovered that anearlier version of “Torn,” which Imbruglia’s frequent songwriting partner and producer Thornalley cowrote with members of the American alternative rock group Ednaswap in 1995, had been a hit in Norway for singer Trine Rein. Imbruglia explained to Gardner, “What happened was, [the British tabloid] The Sun tried to make a big story out of it…. I was ’Naughty Natalie.’ But I never said I wrote [Torn’], and I never said it was written for me…. [Rein’s record company] had the choice to release Torn’ in the United Kingdom, but they didn’t, and so now they’re kicking themselves because another artist had success with it.” Fortunately, the tabloids proved unsuccessful in their attempts to bring Imbruglia’s reputation into question, and the more “credible” British press received her version of the song with stellar reviews. Other standout tracks from Left of the Middle included “Intuition,” “City,” and “One More Addiction.”
After this, the British tabloids delved into Imbruglia’s personal life. While recording her debut in Los Angeles, Imbruglia met and dated American television star David Schwimmer (from the television series Friends). The relationship ran its course, but Imbruglia admits that her involvement with Schwimmer helped boost her confidence while making the record. She also learned to guard her privacy more closely through the experience. Sill, some critics labeled Imbruglia as just another record company puppet, carefully groomed to fit into the pop star image. However, Imbruglia vowed not to go down in music history as another forgotten one–hit wonder, and the majority of the media acknowledged her as a serious musician. For example, the British magazine Melody Maker described her debut effort, according to the website RollingStone.com, as “intelligent songs full of an inner strength, a powerful voice projected with knowing confidence.”
With the controversy behind her, Imbruglia set out on a tour to support her album, beginning in the United Kingdom during the late spring of 1998, followed by an American tour later that fall. One important date Imbruglia accepted included performing at the annual installment of the Princes In The Park Concert, commonly known as the Prince’s Trust Concert, in London’s Hyde Park. Other performers such as All Saints, Simple Minds, Simply Red, Eternal, and Boyzone, also joined the event, with all proceeds benefiting the Prince’s Trust Charity, held on July 5, 1998.
Later that fall, Imbruglia met and cowrote songs with musician Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics). Their collaborative efforts came about by chance after Imbruglia heard one of Stewart’s demo tapes while driving in Germany with a German record company executive. Subsequently, Imbruglia happened to see Stewart in a London restaurant and told him how much she liked the tape shehad heard. “We ended up back at my apartment, which was just around the corner from the restaurant,” Stewarttold MTV. “I was playing acoustic guitarand she was singing and it sounded really great. Natalie and I have written about six songs, and I’ll probably finish them in the studio when we both have time.” Music industry insiders unofficially predicted that at least some of the songs could surface on an Imbruglia’s follow–up effort.
Toward the end of the year, Imbruglia not surprisingly was up for several music awards. She received three nominations for the 1998 MTV Europe Music Awards for best female artist, best breakthrough artist, and best song for’Torn,” as well as three Grammy Award nominations for best new artist, best pop album for Left of the Middle, and best female pop vocal performance for “Torn.” In October of 1998, Imbruglia left the big winner from the Australian Recording Industry Awards, known as the Aussie Awards, taking home five awards out of her nine nominations. These included best single and best debut single for “Torn,” best debut album and best pop release for Left of the Middle, and best female artist. Imbruglia also received honors at the Brit Awards in February of 1999. That night, she took home two awards for best international newcomer and best international female artist.
After a whirlwind year, Imbruglia spent most of 1999 relaxing and writing songs for a second album, although she found time to contribute to film soundtrack recordings. She first recorded a track for the Go! soundtrack, released in April of 1999. Other well–known artists such as No Doubt, Fatboy Slim, and Eagle Eye Cherry also appeared on the album. Imbruglia then sang a breathtaking, experimental number called “Identify” written by Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan for the film Stigmata, released in September of 1999.
The year before, Imbruglia bumped into Corgan while making a video in Los Angeles for her debut. Corgan, responsible for writing and producing the Stigmata soundtrack, told Imbruglia about a song he had written for the record with her in mind to sing. Imbruglia immediately said yes, although she remained unsure if the project would truly come about. So when the deal officially came through months later, Imbruglia felt elated. “I just couldn’t believe it,” she commented to MTV. “I hadn’t even seen the movie, and I didn’t care. I was like, 1 want to do this song.’ Partly because of Billy, and because I love the song and wanted to sing it.” After recording “Identify” and filming the supporting video for the single, something she loves to do because it gives her the opportunity to use her acting skills, Imbruglia planned to give her full attention to completing songs for her next release.
Left of the Middle, RCA, 1998.
(with others) Go! (soundtrack), 1999.
(with others) Stigmata: Music From the MGM Motion Picture Soundtrack, EMD/Virgin, 1999.
musicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
AAP General News (Australia), February 25, 1999.
Business Wire, March 18, 1998; May 6, 1998; September30, 1998.
Daily Telegraph, November 29, 1997; May 21, 1998, p. 30.
Entertainment Weekly, March 20, 1998, p. 42.
Independent, November 20, 1998, p. 13.
Independent on Sunday, February 8, 1998, p. 2.
People, December 28, 1998, p. 114.
USA Today, March 23, 1998, p. 03D.
Launch: Discover New Music, http://www.launch.com (September 24, 1999).
MTV Online, http://www.mtv.com(September 24, 1999).
RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (September 24, 1999).
"Imbruglia, Natalie." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 26, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/imbruglia-natalie
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