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The Hottest 100 & How It’s Changed Over The Years

Since 1989, Triple J’s Hottest 100 has subtly changed and we thought to get into a bit of the history behind the “world’s greatest music democracy.”...
Credit: ABC

Since 1989, Triple J’s Hottest 100 has subtly changed and we thought to get into a bit of the history behind the “world’s greatest music democracy.”

If you’ve ever heard someone say that “Triple J just isn’t the same anymore” or “Triple J has gone to the dogs,” they might be missing the point. The overall change in the kind of songs that appear in the countdown is indicative of the changing tastes of listeners. Like many have replied to the above comments, “Maybe it’s just a part of getting older?” It’s easier to understand when you start looking at the countdown’s past so let’s start at the beginning.

The “Hot 100”

Credit: ABC

Producers at Triple J came up with the idea to do a countdown in late 1988. The idea was to run a listener poll to determine what their 100 favourite songs of all time were. It was called the Hot 100, after the Brisbane radio station, 4zzz’s, own countdown.

At the time, Triple J was not a national broadcaster but limited to just Sydney. So for the first Hot 100, Sydney listeners had to write their 10 favourite tracks on the back of an envelope and send it to the station. According to legend, some of the entries were written on a bunch of stuff from paintings, sculptures and even on joints. The winner in 1989 was “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division.

It was a huge success and when Triple J became a national broadcaster, they got other capital cities involved in the poll. Unfortunately, 4zzz were not happy that the station was using their “Hot 100” name so in 1991 it was changed to the Hottest 100 we know today.

The countdown was put on hold in 1992 but would come back with a vengeance.

The Hottest 100 Is Born Proper

Credit: ABC

The relaunch of the Hottest 100 in 1993 introduced the rules that we are familiar with today – you must vote for your ten favourite songs that year rather than from all time. 50,000 votes were received, and all of them via mail.

It was a weird year apparently as it was the first and only time that the number one spot went to a novelty song, Dennis Leary’s “Asshole.”

Dennis Leary (who many under 30 may not even be aware of) beat out classics like Radiohead’s “Creep,” “Linger” by the Cranberries, and “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against The Machine.

Interestingly, the artist with the most entries that year was Sydney rockers, The Cruel Sea, which is not a name that means much to many people nowadays. That isn’t me talking smack about Cruel Sea, it’s just how time treats some acts and songs. Trust me, listen to a few Cruel Sea songs and you definitely are familiar with a couple of them. You’ve definitely heard “Better Get A Lawyer” in a few drink driving ads for sure.

In 1994, “Zombie” by The Cranberries was the first song to top the list with a female vocalist but this, unfortunately, wouldn’t be a continued trend. 

Australian artists were also struggling for representation in the countdown but that was soon about to change.

Aussie Music Goes All The Way

Credit: ABC

 “Buy Me A Pony” by Spiderbait was the first Australian song to top the Hottest 100 in 1996. This was a big deal as less than 30% of the tracks in the Hottest 100 at this point were Australian. This had opened the floodgates as the following year saw another Aussie top the charts. The Whitlams won in 1997 with their single “No Aphrodisiac” and even the former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam himself, was there to announce the winning song.

In 1999, another Aussie song topped the list with Powderfinger’s “These Days.” By this point, Aussie entries had topped 50% of the list. Since then, Aussie involvement has only dipped below 40% twice and it hasn’t dropped past 50% since 2013.

So anyone who gets mad about the “lessened presence” of Australian music on the countdown is, by and large, wrong. Triple J still remains a fantastic representative of Aussie music.

What has changed is the kind of music being played and who is playing it.

Shifting Tastes

Credit: ABC

When the countdown first started, alternative rock was king. Rock in general was killing it. Unfortunately, that meant that not a lot of artists from different backgrounds weren’t really represented.

It wasn’t until 2019 that a solo female artist won the Hottest 100 with Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy.” Women have only appeared on six winning tracks in the 28 years of the Hottest 100. But this trend is changing as the overall representation of women on Triple J playlists, spotlights, and festival spots has improved and continues to do so.

The average amount of acts featuring women in the top 10 from 1993-2007 was just 1.7. Since 2008, that average has jumped up to 3.8. 2016 and 2019 were particularly good years that saw seven tracks featuring women or non-binary members in the top 10.

2017 was the first time a person of colour had won the Hottest 100 thanks to Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble.” 2019 saw Thelma Plum become the first Indigenous Australian in the top 10. And 2020 saw Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion become the first time female rappers to have even made it into the top 10 with “WAP.”

Part of this is the ongoing discourse surrounding gender, race, and sexuality which has in turn influenced music tastes.

The New Cool

Credit: ABC

Alternative at one point might have meant punk, alt-rock, or metal, but now what defines music as “alternative” is far murkier. Now dance, hip-hop, and yes, even pop have experienced a much larger presence in the Hottest 100.

You wouldn’t believe it now but between 1993 and 2000, “Ganga’s Paradise” by Coolio was the only hip-hop to hit the top ten. It wasn’t until “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in 2012 that a rap song took the top spot.

Since 2014, at least one or two hip hop songs always appear in the top 10. But hip-hop has become part of the cultural zeitgeist so its influence has been felt everywhere.

The only genre that is well and truly out of the top ten now is metal. Which is a shame, but it still appears in the Hottest 100 thanks to Parkway Drive, Amity Affliction, and Bring Me The Horizon.

If anyone feels that the countdown is dying, you’d be dead wrong. In 2019, the Hottest 100 received 3.2 million votes which when compared to the 500,000 in 2004, is some pretty substantial growth. Whether or not that number stays put for now remains to be seen but you cannot deny the success of the Hottest 100 throughout the years.

In case you missed it, here are who the betting sites think will win the 2021 Hottest 100.  


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