Another year, another Hottest 100. Even if you don’t follow the countdown or listen habitually to Triple J, the list is a helpful barometer of the listening tastes and in some measure, the cultural psyche of Australian youth as a whole.

This year, the unstoppable Kendrick Lamar took the top spot with “Humble”, a watershed moment for Triple J and listeners’ relation to hip-hop. Other than that, there was a healthy mix of the usual non-offensive indie rock and pop. A breakdown of the countdown by genre is as follows:

Some qualifiers: the genre classification is subjectively performed and based on the aesthetic and sound of each artist. For example, rock and indie rock is defined by the ‘hardness’ or ‘heaviness’ vs the softer kind. For example, the difference between bands likes Queens of The Stone Age and alt-J. In this sense, major contenders Gang of Youths were classed in the less aggressive side of things.

That being said, it is clear that the real winner was hip-hop as a genre. “Humble” is the first hip-hop track to ever take the top spot in the Hottest 100 (“King Kunta” peaked at number 2 in 2015). The genre made up almost a quarter of the entire countdown. This maintains the trend from previous years in which 2016 had 22 hip-hop songs and 2015 had 10.

The big loser you could argue is guitar-driven rock music. Strongly repping the local lo-fi, garage scene, artists like Camp Cope, Dune Rats, The Smith Street Band and Hockey Dad performed well. However, the countdown was dominated by a calmer, less in-your-face style of ‘rock’ (e.g. Tash Sultana while being a guitar-based artist, is quite clearly not in the same sound bracket as QOTSA) .

Camp Cope keeping that riot grrrl spirit alive and well

Noticeably, not one heavy band featured this year — despite there being solid releases on high rotation from artists such as Northlane and Polaris. In recent years, artists like Bring Me The Horizon, The Amity Affliction and Parkway Drive featured prominently.

Lorde made up the majority of pop releases, with 4 total tracks, and Charli XCX taking out the fifth pop spot. Some artists such as Meg Mac, and Angus & Julia Stone were classed as indie pop based on the nebulous concept of ‘vibe’.

A strong presence of artists such as Tash Sultana, Amy Shark, and Vera Blue showed that female solo artists are a major force to contend with. They were divided into a mix of synth-based music and guitar-driven styles . Despite this, the sex breakdown of the Hottest 100 shows that females still make up only a quarter of songs. As for the collabs, zero tracks featured the female as the primary artists — with the possible exceptions of duo acts such as The XX, Vallis Alps, and Angus & Julia Stone.

As expected, the majority of this year’s Hottest 100 belonged to local music. Much has been said of Triple J’s ‘middle of the road’-ness, and their blend of ‘indie’ rock and pop as lacking edge these days. However, one thing you can’t critique them for is their solid backing of Australian talent and voices.

Overall, as indicated in the graph above, the countdown is dominated by colonial powers. Drake and Arcade Fire were the only Canadians this year, with the collab features going to Sweden (MØ and Icona Pop), Scotland (Calvin Harris) and various other US/UK/AUS features. Also worth a mention is that the NZ contingent consists entirely of Lorde songs.

Now, consider hip-hop. While Australia has a strong history in rock and indie music, the majority of the hip-hop we consume is still from the US and our local relation with the genre is still tenuous and divisive*. Still, 7 of the 22 tracks featured actually came from Australian artists, with 10 from the US, proving that there is booming love for the genre.

A special mention needs to go to newcomer Baker Boy, who raps in his native language Yolngu Matha as well as English. With all the controversy around #ChangeTheDate, it’s significant that young artists like Baker Boy are carving a niche out for Indigenous artists, reaching a disillusioned and disenfranchised generation of listeners. “Marryuna” ranked at number 17 and “Cloud 9” at 76.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room: the overwhelming white-ness of the Hottest 100, and thus the indie music scene. A breakdown of ethnic make-up is as follows:

Within error, and at the risk of sounding like a eugenist, almost three-quarters of songs featured are by white artists. It’s no secret that the indie music scene is dominated by white people, but in a time and age where hip-hop is exploding in popularity amongst youth, it’s an interesting crossroads to note in terms of popular music and where the culture is headed.

However, to be fair, there is the issue of population ratios and representation to consider. Aussie hip-hop’s most popular artists tend to be white — artists such as Illy, Hilltop Hoods, 360, Bliss n Eso and Thundamentals are no strangers to the Hottest 100. This is only natural however in that Australia has a significantly lower black population than in the States. With the Aboriginal population at around 700,000 and African Australians at less than 300,000, this totals less than 5% of Australia’s population. The visibility of these communities and their artists in music can only be expected to be lower (but this should be changed!).

Furthermore, the very nature of each respective industry is fundamentally different. Hip-hop and pop in America are much more well-received than on our sunburnt shores. This is only the beginning of the movement, and while Tkay Maidza and A.B. Original didn’t appear this year, together with artists like Baker Boy, they make up the vanguard of a new, exciting subculture in Australian music.

As for ‘mixed’, this consists mainly of collabs such as Post Malone feat. 21 Savage, Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean & Migos, as well as a strong presence from Gang of Youths, who are my choice for the poster boys of multicultural Australian artistry — with a mix of Samoan, Jewish, Korean, American, Polish heritage represented. (Tash Sultana is also half Maltese, and for our intents and purposes classed as ‘mixed’).

It’s worth noting that I couldn’t find a single Asian in this countdown, other than Gang of Youths keyboardist Jung Kim. Here are some Asian Australian artists that didn’t make the cut this year: Temper Trap frontman Dougy Mandagi, Rainbow Chan, Glades, Ta-Ku, Slumberjack, and Jeff Fatt.

TFW your keyboardist is the only Asian in Australian music, apparently (Gang of Youths)

Kendrick Lamar is not only the first hip-hop artist to take out number 1, but also the first black artist to make it to the top. However, judging from the handful of vocal, close-minded individuals expressing outrage at his headlining Bluesfest in 2016, and similar responses on social media to this year’s Hottest 100 results (just read the comments), Australian views towards hip-hop are still generally ill-informed and backwards.

As 2018 rolls on, and with the Grammys reminding us all of the banal hypocrisy of the big business of music, the grassroots feel of something like the Hottest 100 is something to be cherished. It’s no watertight cultural assessment, but can and should be used to gain insight into the state of Australian cultural tastes overall. For the most part, it seems to be the music business as usual — women and minorities are under-represented, and bland, inoffensive music rules the airwaves. However, there is a hint at something new on the horizon — importantly regarding our attitude towards hip-hop as a culture, which is inextricably linked to ideas of race and cultural resistance.

Whatever your opinion of Triple J, it at least remains an authentic Australian voice, and for now, it seems the kids will be alright.

*Remember when this *sarcastic* annotation, written by yours truly, temporarily broke the internet?

This article was originally posted on The Playlist Report blog.



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