Junk Explained: How #Tay4Hottest100 Exploded All Over Your Internet

Something is happening to Taylor Swift which almost never happens to an artist: she’s becoming cooler than she used to be.

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Over the past three days, something fantastically weird has been happening.

It started with this BuzzFeed article, published on Tuesday January 13, in which writer and ex triple j newsreader Mark Di Stefano had a go at his old employer for not including Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’ on the Hottest 100 shortlist. Because of the way voting in the competition works, by keeping ‘Shake it Off’ from featuring on the shortlist, triple j made it very improbable that Swift would feature on the countdown — and T.Swizzle fans are not happy.

It was a tongue-in-cheek article, but the ripple has been huge. “I went to put in my Hottest 100 picks and joked to some colleagues that I wish Taylor Swift could be on the shortlist,” Di Stefano recounts. “We had a laugh and tweeted #Tay4Hottest100. And it just exploded.”

Later that day, Faster Louder – a music site that shares a publisher with Junkee — put up their own response: ‘Sorry Buzzfeed but Taylor Swift has no chance of cracking the Hottest 100’. It was a sensible thing to post seeing that the song hasn’t actually been played on the station.

But the #Tay4Hottest100 movement grew so quickly that by the next day, Faster Louder had uploaded a new article: ‘Taylor Swift is now second favourite to win triple j’s Hottest 100’.

The online debate is blowing up with a fervor no one really expected, and the partisans are divided into two distinct camps. On one side, you have those who would argue that the sanctity of triple j’s indie cred should be preserved — an example coming from former Big Brother contestant and current commercial radio presenter, Michael Beverage:

On the other side you have people showing unalloyed love for Taylor Swift, who want to attack what they perceive as out-dated elitism and snobbery over at triple j:

Others are tying #Tay4Hottest100 into a broader feminist statement:

And many are audibly yawning:

Almost overnight, being a fan of the most commercially successful artist in the world has become a subversive act. What in the world is happening?

Triple J Is Having An Existential Crisis

Ultimately, #Tay4Hottest100 is part of a broader discussion that people have been having about triple j and the hottest 100 for years.

Officially, trips jeezy is a state-sponsored alternative music station: i.e. their ultimate raison d’être is play new music that’s too edgy to get played commercial radio.

This, however, isn’t the only consideration the music directors at triple j have to take into account. If it was, they could just play atonal jazz all day non-stop, and be so alternative that nobody with working ears would bear to tune in.

It boils down to this: If too few people listened to triple j, the station would eventually lose its government funding and be shut down. (I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but politicians seem quite eager to make whatever budgetary cuts they think they can get away with these days.)  With a responsibility to their fellow staff and to themselves, the music programmers have some impetus to make sure that a sizeable hunk of the Australian population enjoy and cherish the music being played on the station. As the ratings attest, this is the course that triple j is increasingly focused on.

Essentially, for triple j to justify its existence, it must satisfy two contradictory criteria; being both popular and alternative. The result is sometimes inexplicable. Every year some artists who aren’t the least bit alternative make it onto the triple j playlists, and — often by extension — the Hottest 100. Simultaneously, some artists making genuinely fascinating and alternative music don’t get played at all.

Drake, for instance, is widely acknowledged as one of the best rappers alive, and is also virtually a non-entity on rap-music-eschewing Australian commercial radio. A finer example of an appropriate musician to be played on high rotation at triple j could not be found, but his music is noticably seldom played on the station. On the other hand, Macklemore, who is by no measure an alternative or even critically celebrated rapper, was played on high enough rotation at triple j to win the hottest 100 in 2012. Go figure.

It doesn’t make a scrap of sense that Australian rapper Iggy Azalea is excluded from the shortlist because she’s perceived to be inauthentic, while Bruno Mars is one of the favourites to win this year with his profoundly unoriginal ‘Uptown Funk’.

If you look at individual artist’s careers over the years, it’s even less coherent. Icona Pop were allowed onto the Hottest 100 in 2013 with a song written by and featuring Charli XCX, but this year Charli XCX’s incredibly similar sounding solo work is excluded from the shortlist. Did Charli XCX magically become less authentic as an artist when she started singing her own songs?

Taylor Swift Has Somehow Become Cooler Over Time

Something is happening to Taylor Swift which almost never happens to an artist: she’s becoming cooler than she used to be. Usually, an artist will start off cool and exciting, and then either die, or progressively become embarrassing; one either burns out, or fades away. This is not what has happened to Taylor Swift’s career.

Two albums back, before ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ and ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’, the only people who liked Taylor Swift were country music fans, and girls under the age of twelve. Over the past few albums however, Taylor Swift has become a bonafide, beloved, and well-respected artist by pretty much everybody. Those who loathed Swift now adore her. The sensation is summed up beautifully by Saturday Night Live:

An example of a similar reversal in indie-acceptability can be found in the case of Lady Gaga who, when ‘Bad Romance’ was big, suddenly went from being seen as a vapid pop star to being a genuinely interesting artist. In the words of hipster-bible ‘Pitchfork’, she quickly went from churning out “forgettable fluff”, into being “kind of awesome”.

But triple j weren’t on board. I remember a talk break from that time, in which the band Muse were asked by The Doctor what song they wanted to hear. The answer was ‘Bad Romance’, and the triple j presenter assumed they were joking. Half the track was played on the air, before the presenter turned it off in disgust.

The incident is relevant for two reasons: Firstly, for the presenter’s apparent disregard of Gaga’s newfound credibility; and secondly, for the fact that triple j, bizarrely, still thought Muse were an alternative band in 2009 (that year’s album, The Resistance, topped the charts in 19 countries).

While triple j are slow to acknowledge interesting artists who start out on commercial radio, they’re also slow to part ways with artists who started out alternative, but have lost any vestige of credibility. Case in point:

Arguments about what should and shouldn’t be on triple j aren’t new. What is new is their scale. These discussions are usually small scale affairs between music nerds drunkenly berating each other at Hottest 100 barbecues — but this time the argument is gaining massive mainstream media attention.

Why? Because unlike Lady Gaga, who was always sort of robotic and strange, Taylor Swift is objectively the most loveable human being on the planet. Even though she’s already the biggest artist in the world, people seem to get really riled up when they sense that she is being treated unfairly.

They didn’t like it when Kanye did it at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009, and they don’t like it now. Triple j is  percieved to be ‘doing a Kanye’: depriving Taylor Swift of a moment which her fans feel should be rightfully hers.

How you feel about the debate is going to come down to how you feel about Taylor Swift, and what you believe that authentic, alternative music is, and what you think the future of triple j should look like. In this writer’s opinion though, I’d just like to say HEY, TRIPLE J, I’MMA LET YOU FINISH, BUT TAYLOR SWIFT HAD ONE OF THE BEST SONGS OF ALL TIME — OF ALL TIME!


James McCann is a stand-up comedian and writer.