Since its debut in 1993, the Triple J Hottest 100 has become a minor national obsession: the subject of intense scrutiny, widespread coverage and constant social media chatter.
This year’s countdown – which will air on Australia’s youth broadcaster this Saturday – is no different: with a Justin Bieber and Kid Laroi collaboration tipped as a favourite to win, along with Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish, conversations about Triple J’s playlisting of mainstream pop music have been reignited – while last year’s firestorm over an allegedly ageist tweet from the station still looms in the minds of many.
If you haven’t been paying much attention over the past 12 months, or need a refresher before tuning in, here’s a form guide to help you through Saturday’s countdown.
The sure things
There’s a pleasing – or, depending on who you ask, galling – consistency to the habits of Hottest 100 voters, despite the music that gets released each year. For example, Eilish, winner of the 2019 Hottest 100 with Bad Guy, put out an album last year, so you can expect its biggest single, title track Happier Than Ever, to appear somewhere in the upper echelons of the countdown.
Transformative and vaguely novelty Like A Version covers tend to do well too – for instance, DMA’s cover of Cher’s Believe (No 6 in 2016), and Alex Lahey’s cover of My Chemical Romance’s Welcome to the Black Parade (No 83 in 2020) – so it won’t be a surprise if the Wiggles’ cover of Tame Impala’s Elephant works its way up there. The website 100 Warm Tunas, which analyses Hottest 100 voting data from social media posts, actually has the kids’ group tipped for No 1.
And perennial Hottest 100 favourites like Gang of Youths, Rüfüs Du Sol, Ball Park Music and Dope Lemon each released a swag of singles in 2021 – so keep an ear out for each of them.
The (not-so) underdogs
Nearly a decade after Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off was banned from entry into the countdown, it would seem that Triple J’s purview has changed – a lot. This year, the Hottest 100 is expected to feature an onslaught of Swift-level pop megastars of the kind you’d ordinarily hear on commercial radio. Laroi and Bieber’s collaboration Stay is tipped to take out the countdown, with tracks by behemoth Rodrigo, e-girl queen Doja Cat, and Eilish not far behind. 100 Warm Tunas also includes tracks by Halsey, Peach PRC, Lil Nas X, Bruno Mars and Lizzo on its prediction list.
It’s easy to balk at this pop invasion, but you could argue that the countdown has always favoured mainstream stars: many past winners – including Glass Animals, Eilish, Kendrick Lamar, Angus & Julia Stone, Mumford & Sons, Kings of Leon and Muse – were all already major-label stars with huge international fanbases when they topped their respective countdowns. Despite the alternative veneer, their cheques were still being drawn from the same well as Swift’s.
There’s plenty to be said about whether Triple J’s centrist shift is a good or a bad thing but at the very least it’s sure to be an interesting countdown. And if Laroi, a Kamilaroi rapper, does take out the top spot, it’ll be a historic one, too: he’ll be the first First Nations musician to ever reach No 1.
Lorde, who made the top 10 in 2013 and 2017, likely won’t crack it this year, after her long-awaited third album Solar Power arrived to an overwhelmingly tepid response. Hottest 100 staples Hilltop Hoods didn’t release anything last year, so they’ll be a notable absence too – as will Flume for the same reason, after featuring in the last two consecutive top fives, he won’t be going for the hat-trick; he didn’t drop last year either.
The absence of these heavy hitters, though, means that there could be some room for someone who had a massive 2021 to sneak into the top 20 – like, say, Genesis Owusu or Amyl and the Sniffers, who each released superlative records in the past 12 months.
The talking points
In September last year, Triple J’s Twitter account – which posts in a meme-y, ironic tone – tweeted “did it hurt? when you aged out of the youth radio station”. Backlash ensued from a number of listeners and musicians, including Ainslie Wills, who said that she stopped receiving rotation on Triple J once she turned 30; music journalist and editor Poppy Reid, who pointed out that there was a broader systemic and gendered issue at play; and Jack Colwell, who said that he was once told by the station he was “too old” to be played.
Although an undeniably bad look, it might not have been an altogether bad move for the station: it’s no secret that, while its national mandate is to serve 18- to 24-year-olds, its audience tends to skew a little older, and there’s a chance that this mildly scorched-earth post signalled a shift.
Still, perhaps the countdown’s winner will be the true judge of where Triple J sits in 2022: with Laroi-stanning Gen Z, or Wiggles-nostalgist millennials.
Triple J’s Hottest 100 will be broadcast from midday on Saturday 22 January