In defense of Triple J and the Hottest 100

Sorry, this will be a long one and may annoy some people… Probably going to be a bit ranty too. I know music can be pretty touchy for a lot of people (including myself) but enjoy what is a bit of a critique on radio in general (yes, with some of my biases quite evident!).

So, people want Taylor Swift to be number one in Triple J’s Hottest 100?

I’ve been following this for the last day since it broke. Thanks to some guy called Mark Di/De/Duuhhh(?) Stefano, there’s a whole lot of tween outrage at the ‘hipster snobs’ at Triple J for not letting Taylor Swift feature on the list because her music is “ssaahhh, amaze”… Well, yeah, it is pretty good. I like Shake it Off quite a bit, not as much as most of the music I listen to, but it rates pretty well!

2014 was interesting. The music that is played on Triple J is pretty controversial (not just for the fact that you might hear a cheeky ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ thrown into the lyrics) because, yes, they have a charter. As with any radio station they have a basic criteria on what they play. It goes hand-in-hand with being successful. Some musicians called it out for that, but the VAST majority of them came out in support of the Js, because unlike the majority of other stations, they play a huge variety of local and international acts!

Ermagerd, curmercial rurdio!

The head of perennial dinosaur radio station, Triple M, said that Triple J was “elitist” and “too focused on cool” (No, we’re the best station with ‘Triple’ in the name!). The fact is though, it’s totally wrong!

Truth be told, I used to listen to the commercial radio stations in Sydney a lot (when I was getting dropped to highschool!) But then I got into marketing and developed a bit more objectivity. I.e. I began to see through the bullshit! They have massive budgets and invested interests from all kinds of major labels. There’s also a massive bias towards pop music from the U.S. and the use of stupid sound effects and repetitive use of the word “Hit”. If you go to the main page of Austereo, owners of two of Australia’s biggest commercial radio networks, you won’t actually find the word “music”, but you will find “Media solutions”, “Advertising” and “Engagement” get pretty fair mention. Basically, these are advertising machines, not music makers.

If I switch to any of the major commercial stations at all, I hear mostly American/English pop (or “rock” in Triple M’s case). In fact, that reminds me of this article from 2011: http://www.pedestrian.tv/music/news/australian-commerical-radio-we-dont-want-to-play-a/57728.htm 

The main reason being that they don’t believe Australian music has the same ‘production value’ as US or UK songs. That is, they don’t appeal to the major profitable market, Females aged 12 – 18. Even Australian music body ARIA has this focus, constantly looking for new ways to embarrass Australian music on the big stage by constantly bringing out terrible Idol contestants and International ‘bands’ who don’t write their own songs and have no idea who they’re even talking about.

The real kicker is, though, even though these stations will eventually catch on with the best of the Triple J playlist (up to a year later sometimes! But hey, heard it first on Nova!) it’s not just that they don’t play Australian music, they don’t play most music in general!

It’s all about the music!

Now, I’m not a fan of all of the music Triple J plays, or even some of the hosts (though they’re genuine and awesome people, which you don’t find anywhere else easily!). Australian hip-hop, for example, is terrible and I don’t do much of the hardcore/punk either. But the fact is that I will listen to Triple J and they play hundreds of different songs from all kinds of artists each day, perhaps because they tend to choose from an artists whole album, not just the main chart singles. Anywhere else, and I’m hearing the same 3 to 5, autotuned pieces of crap each hour and the rest is filled with the ramblings of overpaid bogans who go out of their way to embarrass themselves to an audience of millions who couldn’t really care less.

Triple J differs because it’s a platform for all music, as well as local Australian acts of course. They have AusMusic month (a whole month dedicated solely to advancing Australian artists), they support innumerable music festivals where tens-of-thousands attend to hear music from bands you’ll almost never find on commercial radio (unless they’re big overseas acts) and they even have a digital radio station completely devoted to unsigned Australian bands who want a platform to get themselves out there!

And it’s working!

You don’t have to look far to see the likes of Chet Faker, Temper Trap, Sia, Iggy Azalea, Florence Welch or (a big favourite) Tame Impala making it big, but the fact that Cut Copy was on the Grand Theft Auto 5 soundtrack and that Glastonbury, Coachella and SXSW were dominated by Australian bands in 2014 goes a long way to explaining that those guys in the commercial world are out of touch with what most people are excited to see!

But what other Aussie bands/artists do you hear about on the other stations? Flume? Augie March? King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard? The Preatures? Empire of the Sun? The Presets? Gotye? Big Scary? Cloud Control? Sticky Fingers? DMAs? Josh Pyke? Pond? Architecture in Helsinki? San Cisco? Angus and Julia Stone? Jagwar Ma? Jinja Safari? Lurch and Chief? Andy Bull? Sarah Blasko? Lisa Mitchel? Matt Corby? The Jezabels? Montaigne? Yeah, maybe some of them. But that’s not anywhere near all of the good Australian talent we have and these guys and more are getting out there internationally… But it’s not just Australian Music!

Stepping away from Australian music for a bit, Triple J also plays artists from the U.S. and U.K, but also from Norway, Sweden, Canada, Asia and South America. (Sidenote, remember when no one would play NWA’s Fuck tha Police and it was banned? Triple J decided to play Express Yourself, also by NWA, ONLY! For a whole day more than 300 times, in protest). Run the Jewels, Parquet Courts, Vampire Weekend, Alt-J, Little Dragon, Asgeir, Portugal the man, First Aid Kit, Hot Chip, Future Islands, Lorde, Royksopp, Radiohead, the Pixies… I wouldn’t have cared about any of these bands if I’d heard their lead singles only on commercial radio.

So? What’s my point!?

Well, like religion, I’m happy for people to listen to what they like. There’s nothing better for the soul than the music that makes you feel something and see the world differently for that first few seconds you hear it. Clearly I have my opinion on what good music is, but that’s not for everyone.

The fact is, though, that Triple J plays the most diverse, genre-crossing range of music out of any radio station in Australia. The issue isn’t that they’re not playing Taylor Swift or, god forbid, One Direction and Justin Bieber, it’s that they’re giving an avenue for the majority of artists who sweat day and night, creating amazing music and usually struggling to get it out there, to do exactly that! That’s why bands can come out of high school and have a huge audience eager to listen to their talent.

The Hottest 100 is the ‘biggest musical democracy’ in the world! People all over the world vote for it and the outcome always gets international attention. The best thing about it is that, whoever tunes in on Australia Day to listen to who comes out at #1, they’re going to hear 99 other songs from artists who wouldn’t have had as high a chance of being heard, but still have infinitely better music than the artificial, highly targeted and money driven crap that is 90% of what you’ll hear in the ‘mainstream’.

It’s not elitism, not snobbery. It’s for the love of music and for giving a voice to those who can’t get theirs out there otherwise. I’m one for a more open and outward looking world perspective… And I thank Triple J for trying, and succeeding, in doing the same for music and opening up our world view.

Cheers,

(We love music!)

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