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Oh look! It’s Friday! Got this week all wrapped up like birthday present. To be fair, I didn’t actually write this one. Remember when I co-wrote that blog about shitty Christmas albums with my friend Wes? No? I wouldn’t blame you. It was a while ago. It’s here. Well, Wes has been angry about Triple J for a while now (I know this because he tells me) and he wrote something and had nowhere to put it. So, because it takes me forever to anything and I still haven’t finished writing my review of Pacific Rim, I said I would put it here for all of you to enjoy. For those international folks who don’t understand what Triple J’s Hottest 100 is go here and it’ll make more sense. Now, without further ado I give you Wesley and his rage:
“Let’s start with an admission: the last time I voted in a Hottest 100 was the Hottest 100 of All Time back in 2009. The results of that countdown forced me to confront something I had long suspected: I no longer connected with our national youth broadcaster or their audience. But why? How could I be so out of touch with the youth of Australia already? When the Hottest 100 of all time was run, I was 21 years old – still, well and truly, in the target demographic of Triple J. What I had voted for was so vastly different from what made the list that I simply stopped participating. Now at 25, we’ve just had the countdown of the Hottest 100 of the past 20 years and I feel even more detached than ever before.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn’t vote in the Hottest 100 of the Past 20 Years – not because I no longer identify as a Triple J listener, but because I didn’t feel I could shortlist songs from such a large period of time. Yes, I know I voted for the Hottest 100 of All Time, which, given that it covered the entire history of music, should probably have been a lot harder to narrow down. But, I reread my votes from that poll recently, and while I still love every song on the list, I don’t know that I would vote the same way again. This time around, not only did I not think I could come up with a shortlist that would adequately and appropriately convey my votes for the best songs of the last twenty years, in my experience, voting for your favourites tends to result in disappointment.
This is where it gets tricky.
If you voted, you have probably noticed that, rather than actually picking your favourites, you tend to vote from things that might actually make it onto the final list. You want your songs to make it in the countdown but say, for example, your favourite Radiohead song is Idioteque. Sure, it’s fairly standard for Radiohead fans, but for the greater Triple J community, it’s kind of obscure. So you rethink and you decide ‘Well I want Radiohead to make it, I could live with it being not Idioteque, I’d better vote for Karma Police or Paranoid Android.” Every fan does this and it skews the vote. Some bands have a standout song that will be the popular choice for voting while others might have one or two that are both extremely popular. The result is not a countdown of the best or even the most popular songs of the last 20 years, but a totally predictable list of the most popular bands of the last 20 years.
The format of the annual Hottest 100 is fantastic and, while it doesn’t always provide a definitive list of every individual listener’s favourite songs, it does offer a pretty comprehensive overview of the most popular music over the last year according to Triple J’s listeners. By this theory, if Triple J listeners vote for their favourite songs of the last 20 years, we should get the same sort of results. But unfortunately it just doesn’t work.
In annual Hottest 100s there is usually a good mix of bands and songs, and more often than not, if a band has released a great album, quite a few of their songs make it into the countdown. The system is flawed, and as such, people don’t vote for the best songs, or even their favourite songs. Instead, they go with the popular choice by the bands that either they want to see or they think deserve it. The result is a bland list of songs that everyone knows and everyone expects. Whether you love it or hate it, were you really surprised that Wonderwall was the only song by Oasis to make the list? Or Everlong by Foo Fighters? Or Song 2 by Blur? I’m not even talking about where on the list they were, rather just pointing out that each of these songs was the obvious choice for that band and that all three of these bands, love them or hate them, have released better songs in the last 20 years. Even the thirteen artists who did have multiple entries, were still only represented by, at most, 3 songs that were commercial hits. And in every case these bands have better songs from their catalogues that could have, or should have, made it into the countdown.
Looking at the top 10 artists from the countdown – Oasis, The White Stripes, Jeff Buckley, Hilltop Hoods, The Verve, Foo Fighters, The Killers, Powderfinger, Gotye and Queens of the Stone Age (I have included Queens of the Stone Age as Powderfinger had both their entries in the countdown feature in the top 10) – 6 out of 10 of these artists only had one song in the countdown and they rated in the top 11. Two artists, Powderfinger and Gotye, had 2 songs in the countdown that both ranked within the top 15. Jeff Buckley and The Killers had songs further down the list, at 36, 75 and 86 respectively. My point? We voted for the bands, not the songs. We as a community identified, not their best songs, but the songs that we thought other people voting for the same band would choose. We all did the same thing to ensure that the bands we loved would rate a mention.
That is why the broader countdowns don’t work as well as the annual Hottest 100s. The listeners, and even former listeners like myself, put a lot of stock into these lists and we’re constantly being disappointed by the predictability of the whole thing. I think it’s time to take a different approach to countdowns. The annual Hottest 100 lists are fine, but maybe there needs to be something completely different for the bigger events. I remember not being furious at the end of the Hottest 100 Greatest Australian Albums countdown – maybe because it made us think about more than just ‘the songs’, we got to think about how the albums worked on a whole. Perhaps that’s a better format – avoid the songs on the larger time range and think about the albums.
Then again, maybe I’m just getting old.”