The tall poppy syndrome applies to the Hottest 100 too

Don’t be surprised if the winner of today’s Hottest 100 is no longer cool in a month’s time. Regardless of whether it’s Lorde, Daft Punk, or a relative newcomer from Murrumbeena that takes out the prize, history dictates that Triple J and its listeners will lose interest in them fast.

Sure, last year’s poster boys Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are still relatively popular, but only on Nova. God knows how long it has been since Triple J last gave that pair the time of day. Likewise, 2011 winner Gotye has migrated away from hipster playlists, joining predecessors such as Angus and Julia Stone, Mumford and Sons, and Kings of Leon in the maligned realms of commercial radio.

It’s a classic case of tall poppy syndrome, not too dissimilar to local trends when it comes to political opinion. Less than 100 days after Tony Abbott entered office, the nation was crying in disapproval via the opinion polls. Likewise, it was only 103 days between “Thrift Shop” topping last year’s Hottest 100 and missing out on Triple J’s Hottest 100 of the Past 20 Years countdown in June.

It would be convenient to blame Triple J for this fickleness, but that would mean overlooking the station’s role as a government-funded public service organisation. Triple J’s job is not to please you, but to tease you. The station unashamedly loves new music, and that’s what they give you. For dated music, you’re advised to look elsewhere.

Admittedly, Triple J is not my station of choice. While I enjoy tuning my clock radio to ABC’s cool cousin every Australia Day, I am a self-confessed Triple M listener. I realise this isn’t a very trendy choice for an undergraduate university student. But prejudice against commercial stations such as Triple M is unjustified, unless of course you are ideologically opposed to endless promotions for 13 CABS, or Mick Molloy.

nickelback300Most critiques against Triple M go something along the lines of “I can’t believe you still listen to Creed and Nickelback”. Such attacks, however, say more about the accuser, who evidently hasn’t tuned into the station in years. These days, you’ll rarely hear Scott Stapp or Chad Kroeger on the network, both having been put out of business by the station’s innovative Music Jury system.

In their place, you’ll find local artists like Powderfinger, Silverchair, The Living End, Grinspoon, and Regurgitator, or international acts such as Muse, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

And can you guess what these bands have in common?

They all used to be Triple J’s babies.

It wasn’t long ago that Triple J was spruiking these names. Indeed, each of the bands mentioned above have been regular visitors to the Hottest 100, including the top ten. Yet Triple J seldom plugs these acts anymore, even if they are still creating tunes. Despite releasing a new album in 2013, only one song from Powderfinger vocalist Bernard Fanning was considered in this year’s shortlist. Similarly, Pearl Jam didn’t score a single mention for their latest work Lightning Bolt.

Triple J’s decision to disregard these recent contributions could be deemed as somewhat political; perhaps the head honchos at ABC have a newly found vendetta against rock music, or are intent on messing with their listener’s music tastes. But rather than concocting conspiracy theories, we should be applauding the national broadcaster for ignoring established players. After all, with cashed-up stations blasting such acts on high rotation, further promotion on Triple J is unnecessary and even counter-productive. For every Pearl Jam song Triple J rejects, the station can launch the career of an unheralded artist with a unique sound.

Even Tame Impala - Australia's weirdest "new" band - have been adopted by Triple M.

Even Tame Impala – Australia’s weirdest “new” band – have been adopted by Triple M.

In the past few years, this policy has benefited the entire Australian radio community. Recently, Triple M has adopted artists such as Tame Impala, Arcade Fire, and Birds of Tokyo – acts once horded only by resistant Triple J listeners. Elsewhere, Nova and Fox have widened the appeal of artists such as Flume, Rudimental, and Lana Del Ray.

Becoming mainstream may have somewhat tarnished these band’s hipster credentials, but it has barely affected their sound. This places the onus of loyalty on listeners, who are torn between chasing the flavor of the month or sticking it out with bands they latched onto “before they were cool”. If the music tastes among my peers is any indication, the former option is becoming more preferable. It appears that young Australian music audiences are willing to sacrifice sounds with which they have grown up in favour of more contemporary options.

This tall poppy trend – which seems to transcend so many elements of Australian culture – is not healthy for us as a people. It makes our judgments on music based not on talent and personal pleasure, but on prestige and peer pressure. We have to overcome it, and the best way to do so is by changing the way we view Triple J.

This Sunday, as the songs of 2013 accompany our beers and barbeques, we need to put the Hottest 100 countdown in context. We must stop perceiving Triple J and its annual poll as an infallible thermometer, informing audiences of the only worthwhile new music on offer. On the contrary, we should be treating Triple J as a sampler, one that offers a diverse array of new sounds from which Australians are to pick.

Sure, they’re the coolest station going around, but it’s important to remember they are just one cog in the Australian radio machinery.

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