The Triple J Hottest 100 is eternally doomed to receive a hammering from the peanut gallery, but if you can get over the fact that the Countdown differs slightly from what’s on your own iPod, you might actually enjoy it.
It’s a time-honoured tradition that every Australia Day we gather round the radio with the barbie sizzling away in the background, smiling like kids from a Vegemite commercial as the Triple J Hottest 100 Countdown begins. Just as fine a tradition is the Big Whinge on January 27, when we all suddenly remember how much better music was back in the day, accuse Triple J of selling out and call for the head of that most Terrible Tune Tyrant, Richard Kingsmill. There’s nothing like the Countdown for building up the hopes of a nation, before leaving a large percentage of it scratching their heads and pontificating to anyone within earshot about how they would have done it better. And, inevitably, it’s our national youth radio station that cops the brunt of the abuse when we feel our Hottest 100 was merely lukewarm.
The complaints are the same every year and can be sorted into a handful of categories along the lines of: “Triple J has become too mainstream”; “Triple J is full of hipster rubbish”; “the Countdown gets worse every year”; “not THESE guys again!”; “I don’t know a single one of these songs”, and “I hate music these days, you Gen Y kids suck”. The irony, of course, is that each year these complaints are made by people who are a year older than they were last year, and are therefore exponentially more likely to complain about anything, especially “young people’s music” …
This year’s count, despite its many highs, provided enough ammunition for those in the mood for a whinge. Hearing San Cisco’s uninspired, some might say opportunistic cover of Get Lucky at #39 was a spoiler when everyone knew the Daft Punk original would be right up the top (it was #3). The top 20 was somewhat disappointing in its lack of diversity, with Lorde and the Arctic Monkeys appearing three times and Daft Punk twice. And we should all take a long hard look at ourselves for allowing possibly the worst song (and definitely the worst video clip) of all time, Kanye West’s Bound 2, to slip in at #59. But the biggest talking point will surely be the surprise winner and, more to the point, the mega-hit that fell just short.
In 20 years of Hottest 100s there had never been a female solo artist at number 1, and this year looked the most likely to break that trend. However, after eight-and-a-half hours of anticipation, Lorde’s nine-week-US-chart-topping, win-all-the-awards Royals was pipped at the post by Vance Joy’s ultra-catchy ukulele sing-along, Riptide. It’s a result that’s sure to disappoint those who were hoping to see a female winner for the first time, but not one that should be looked on negatively. Even though she didn’t get the #1 spot, Lorde (pictured above performing at yesterday’s Grammy Awards, where she won Song of the Year) is the musical wonder story of the year, coming out of nowhere to release a critically acclaimed debut album and an ARIA-winning song before her 17th birthday. She’s also the most awesome feminist symbol the music industry has seen for a long time: a super-smart, poetic lyricist who relies on her musical talent, not her ability to get naked and lick hammers, for success. And up against this overnight superstar backed by a tidal wave of public support, one man with a ukulele stood tall and still, somehow, managed to claim first place. Surely that’s a victory for the ages, isn’t it?
It wasn’t just at the top of the Countdown that fine young artists made waves. Some of the other big winners were Sydney electro-smoothies RUFUS, British DJ brothers Disclosure and the hauntingly beautiful London Grammar, all of whom made the Hottest 100 for the first time and were rewarded with multiple entries. Other highlights included I Spy at #75 (an upbeat acoustic romp by the hitherto unknown Mikhael Paskalev), Bloc Party’s first entry since 2006 with Ratchet at #36, and Retrograde, the stunning ballad by British soul-electro star James Blake, which came in at #13.
For all the inevitable complaining – some of it justified, most not – the Hottest 100 really is an institution worth celebrating. It’s the most accurate indication of what contemporary music Australians actually like, not just what the pop music industry wants us to listen to. In fact, it’s The World’s Biggest Musical Democracy (I know this is true because it’s printed on the back of the Triple J t-shirt I bought a few years ago). Regardless of whether or not they like the songs that make it to the Countdown, music lovers should be excited at the opportunity to have their say.
Triple J is an easy target for criticism because it has the almost impossible job of fostering Australia’s up-and-coming music scene while also playing enough big-name artists to keep people listening. Considering the very limited taxpayer funding it gets, it does that job pretty bloody well. If you listen to the nightly specialty shows or one of Triple J’s alternate digital stations – Unearthed and Dig Music – you’ll realise what a vast amount of music the station actually exposes, especially compared to any of its commercial rivals. The Australian music scene would be a shadow of its current self if it weren’t for Triple J. So next Australia Day, instead of wasting our energy with snarky comments about how shit everything is these days, let’s just agree to grab a few beers, turn on the radio and spend the afternoon in the sun listening to some music and thinking about how good we’ve got it.