By Amit Gurbaxani
For some people, it’s tradition to wake up on Republic Day, switch on the TV and watch the parade. For me, over the last few years, it’s become tradition to log on to the internet, go to Australian alternative music radio station Triple J’s website and tune into their annual Hottest 100 countdown, which they air on January 26 or Australia Day.
The Triple J Hottest 100 ranks the most popular songs of the past twelve months based on the public’s votes. For a significant number of indie music fans across the world, the countdown is among the most-awaited election results of the year. Hundreds of thousands from around the globe ballot – this year, nearly three lakh people from 172 countries cast over two million votes – and the results are discussed, analysed and debated for days to follow. To me, it’s always a great way to discover and catch up on music that I may have missed, especially acts out of Australia, as the home nation is always well represented on the survey. On the 2015 list, 54 tracks were by Aussies.
Of these, singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, who scored an unexpected Best New Artist Grammy nomination last month, and psychedelic rock group Tame Impala were expected to dominate, and indeed they each played four songs on the Hottest 100, the most for any individual act. However, Barnett’s tunes figured mostly in the lower regions; ‘Pedestrian At Best’, arguably her most popular track, ranked the highest of her quartet of entries, at No.43. Tame Impala on the other hand had two tracks in the top five, ‘The Less I Know The Better’ and ‘Let It Happen’, at No.4 and No.5 respectively. The news should finally allay frontman Kevin Parker’s fears about how fans feel about his shift from a guitar-heavy to a more electronic-based sound on their third album Currents.
Electronic music in fact featured strongly in the Hottest 100. Acts such as Major Lazer, DJ Snake, Disclosure and Jamie XX each appeared multiple times, showing once again that ‘indie’ music is no longer just limited to rock’s guitar-bass-drums format.The average tempo of the Hottest 100 of 2015 was 123 beats per minute, faster than any year before. Given the number of electronica tunes on the countdown, I thought that one of two irresistibly infectious dance smashes, Jamie XX’s ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ or Major Lazer’s ‘Lean On’would top the chart but was wrong as they placed at No.26 and No.3. However part of the fun of listening to the show is trying to guess where you will hear your favourite songs. The No.1 song was one I was hearing for the first time, ‘Hoops’ by Sydney’s The Rubens, who makethe kind of rock music you can dance to. Melbourne electro-pop exponent Chet Faker (Nick Murphy off stage) topped for 2014. Notably, from the first annual countdown in 1993 until 2013, either an alternative rock band or singer-songwriter won the crown.
Despite the dance music domination, the 2015 paradewas not without its diversity, at least in terms of genres. The selection is always eclectic and this year was no exception, especially among the Australian artists with metalcorebands (Parkway Drive, The Amity Affliction) and homegrown hip hop MCs (Illy,TkayMaizda, Urthboy) regularly popping up in the chart. While more commercial pop doesn’t usually make the scene – and attempts for it to find a place are thwarted, like when Taylor Swift was banned– I was surprised to find such Billboard Hot 100 regulars as The Weeknd and Drake on the countdown. Of the American hip-hop contingent, current MVP Kendrick Lamar was always a shoo-in but I was hoping he’d get more than just two songs in there.Lamar’s politically charged ‘King Kunta’ ended up in the runner-up spot. Some critics have said that by picking ‘Hoops’ over ‘King Kunta’, Australians had made a “safe” choice. While one can counter-argue that the other 99 songs were a truly varied mix of what’s widely popular and genuinely indie, it’s harder to dispute that women are under-represented in the exercise. Not a single solo female artist has ranked No.1 in the 23-year history of the Hottest 100.
What this all means though is that even while the programme is also an excuse for eight hours of some good ol’ drunken revelry at a couple of thousand ‘listening parties’, the Hottest 100 is considered a very important gauge of an act’s popularity. The chart leader has often gone on to become a huge hit everywhere else. ‘Somebody I Used To Know’ by Gotye and ‘Thrift Shop’ by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, which were No.1 for 2011 and 2012 went on to top Billboard magazine’s year-end Hot 100 in the following years. Vance Joy’s ‘Riptide’, 2014’s champ, was all over US radio in 2015. The Rubens can hence have some high hopes for ‘Hoops’.
The author is a music writer and the co-founder/editor of thedailypao.com.