Dami Im – Life In The Liminal In Between

Interview By Jen Seyderhelm

Before I get to my interview with Dami Im, her upcoming show at The Street Theatre on Friday, 14 July, and her new EP and lead single In Between, I want to go back a decade to 2013 and discuss why there should be an idiom added to the Australian lexicon. I proffer the phrase “done a Dami”, which I loosely define as “wildly exceeding expectations in the face of disbelievers”.

Dami with the X-Factor

For those who don’t recall, Dami Im was a contestant on Season 5 of The X-Factor. Born in Korea and living in Queensland, Dami was and is an incredible pianist and gospel singer, and this talent shone throughout the competition.

In the earliest part of that season, as they were whittling the contestants down, Dami was the last person eliminated at the super bootcamp, meaning she didn’t progress to the live finals. A young man in those finals decided he couldn’t commit to the competition and Im ended up taking his place, singing for Dannii and Kylie Minogue in New York City. 

She would go on to win. 

The resultant winner’s single, Alive, debuted at No. 1 on the ARIA charts, with both the single, and the associated self-titled album, going certified platinum.

Let’s now jump to 2016. Dami releases an album celebrating The Carpenters siblings called Classic Carpenters, and is soon announced as Australia’s entrant into the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest.

The year prior was our nation’s debut, with Guy Sebastian being given a wildcard straight through to the finals, ultimately finishing in a very respectable fifth place. This time round, however, Dami would have to do it the traditional way – getting enough votes to get through the semi final, and then again having the final decision wrought by the judging panel and public votes.

“No one expected me to get such a great result,” Dami says. 

And so, a pre-planned trip to Uganda to see her sponsor child Jovia as part of her role as Ambassador of Compassion Australia, literally the day after the competition was over, was not cancelled. 

Im won her semi final and finished second overall, in a result Australia has never bettered. Eurovision had changed its voting process that year to inject new excitement into the format. Under the former system, Dami would have won. It was that close.

In between the changes

Bringing us closer to the present, and this time last year, Dami and her husband Noah celebrated ten years of marriage with the birth of their son, Harry. Somewhere in those early days someone asked Dami if she still sang, like motherhood was some sort of a switch that turned her previous life off.

In the push and pull of this big life change, her Korean heritage, and weighty expectations from both society and record company, Dami started to write an album around her sense of being in the middle of it all, and yet separate.

“When I wrote the EP, I was pregnant,” Dami shares. “It was a really difficult time emotionally, getting my head around the whole change. There’s a double meaning to the title In Between. My life’s always been in between these different things. In between being Korean and being an Australian. 

“I always felt like I was neither in some ways. 

“And now, I find myself in between being a mother and a career person,” Dami continues. “I don’t always feel like I fit perfectly anywhere. I guess that’s a normal thing. It’s a process of constantly shifting and floating around between all these things.”

I found Dami to be somewhat circumspect in her answers, like she was in between two minds as to whether to speak honestly or with a filter. The title song, co-written with Jude York, has a similar meditative tone.

“I wrote it when I wasn’t having a great day. I was just feeling really down,” Dami reveals. “I had a big cry, and decided to walk through the cemetery. I was reading all the stories on the headstones. 

“It got me thinking: in the end, we all end up here. No matter what we do, how long we live for or what kind of life we lead, everyone’s going to end up here.”

And so, from death, life was breathed into a new song.

In Between is about remembering that life is really about those in between moments, not necessarily the big milestones and grand achievements, even though naturally we do look forward to those, and have goals to strive for. 

“It’s the everyday in between moments that matter in the end.”

Dami Dreaming

Speaking of dreams, I don’t normally go into my interviews trying to rewrite the handbook but in Dami’s case I had to ask her a question I was pretty sure she’d never been asked before. 

The most formative friendship of my teenage years and young adulthood was with a girl called Steph whose story is strikingly similar to Dami’s – born in Korea, moved here as a child, also played piano and sang in church. We travelled to Korea, where I stayed with her family. Whilst there in her native home, I asked her what language she dreamed in while overseas, and never forgot her reply. 

Now was my chance to ask the esteemed Dami the same. 

“Ha!” she laughs. “It depends who you’re talking to in the dream; whether it’s your family or people you work with. If it’s an abstract dream, I think it’d be in Korean. If I’m just by myself, walking in the desert, then running away from snakes [it’s at this point I start laughing; I know that dream], I would probably scream in my mother tongue, ‘Umma!!’”

Umma is Korean for mum. I used to call Steph’s mum Umma too. How appropriate.

This tour is about the journey and the future, Dami’s glorious style choices, playing the hits (I’m assured a couple of Carpenters songs will be included) and an acknowledgement of her fans new and old alike.

“I’ll be sharing the new songs, of course, but I also want the show to be relatable to people’s own transitions and seasons in their lives,” she says. “It’s the 10th anniversary of the Dami Army that I met through The X Factor. We’ll have a party with music.” 

We all can relate to being in between relationships, cultures, work identity and life stages. A party with Dami Im to acknowledge and celebrate this unifying experience sounds like a wonderful idea.

Dami Im’s new EP In Between is out 7 July through ABC Music. Her east coast tour starts the same day in her hometown of Brisbane. She performs at The Street Theatre on Friday, 14 July at 8pm. Tickets are $59 + bf via the venue.

You can pre-save and listen to the EP on Spotify and Apple Music

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