The Kid LAROI, Comedians, And Us? The Winners And Losers Of The Hottest 100
The 2021 countdown will go down as one of the strangest in history.
The 29th annual triple j Hottest 100 is in the books — fitting, really, considering this was a countdown that was ready and willing to throw out the book.
In a move not seen since 1993 — well before most of the voting demographic for the current Hottest 100 was even born — an artist that had never appeared in a countdown before ended up winning the entire thing.
In a move not seen since… well, ever… said winner was a cover — a cover recorded especially for triple j itself, specifically, via the Like a Version juggernaut. In second place was a song featuring a pop star that had not only never been in the countdown, but had once been threatened with a ban from it entirely. And who’s that in fourth place? Why, it’s one of the stars of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, no less! Who’d literally never put out music prior to 2021!
Through all the shocks, surprises and shoulda-been-highers, it’s time to hone in on the only binary that matters when you’re discussing democratically-curated countdowns of popular music: Once again, it’s that time for the Hottest 100’s winners and losers. Here it comes…
Winner: The Wiggles
Where to even begin here? The Wiggles’ cover of Tame Impala’s ‘Elephant’ not only out-performed the 2012 original (which came seventh at the time), but ended up hitting the top spot with a slew of records in tow.
The first act since comedian Dennis Leary to debut at the top of the list, the first cover (of any kind) to take out the countdown, the oldest winner (the perennially-sleepy Jeff Fatt, at 68) and — as pointed out by former triple j presenter Lindsay “The Doctor” McDougall — the first winner to feature a woman playing drums (the now-former Yellow Wiggle, Emma Watkins).
That’s a lot to take in at once, so it’s understandable that even after a few days people don’t really know how to feel about it. Some were immediately overjoyed that this bright light during another gruelling pandemic year got the recognition they believed it deserved. Some were immediately infuriated that these children’s entertainers had infiltrated their big grown-up list, because as we all know…
a lot of online commenters are still upset about the wiggles winning the hottest 100 because that top spot should only go to serious songs like ‘Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)’ and ‘Macklemore goes to the shops’
— Zachary Ruane (@ZacharyRuane) January 24, 2022
There are, of course, more legitimate gripes about irony vs. sincere artistry and what can and can’t break through to a young Australian audience. But whether you saw The Wiggles’ victory as a nail in the coffin or another primary-coloured feather in the station’s cap, it was certainly one of the most interesting and least predictable victories in recent Hottest 100 history.
Loser: The Kid LAROI
Okay, okay, okay, look. Before you start throwing things at your screen, let nothing be taken away from what the Kid born Charlton Howard achieved over the weekend. He is now officially the highest-charting Indigenous artist in the history of the entire countdown, and he did it on the back of a juggernaut single that elevated him from the humble “Waterloo-boy-done-good” narrative to proper global superstar.
Still, for whatever reason, something held him from that very top spot. So close, yet so far. What can this be attributed to? Did this have more to do with the momentum of ‘Elephant’ than anything to do with ‘STAY’ itself? How about the dip in voting, where “only” 2.5 million votes were submitted as opposed to the three-plus million of 2019 and 2.75 million of 2020?
Did ‘STAY’ feel like too obvious a song to vote for, ultimately leaving it off enough voting lists to split the difference between first and second place — ultimately allowing for The Wiggles to pull off a Stephen Bradbury? Are people seriously still not over their Justin Bieber stigma? Didn’t we all get past that in 2015 when everyone was blasting ‘Where Are Ü Now’ and ‘What Do You Mean’?
There are a lot of factors and a lot of variables to take into consideration, but one key takeaway should be this: Don’t count out The Kid LAROI just yet. After all, it’s not impossible for a former runner-up to bounce back and win the whole thing – look at Kendrick Lamar. He won a Pulitzer the same year ‘HUMBLE.’ topped the countdown. Anything is possible, folks.
Winner: The Animal Kingdom
Boy howdy, the zoo was in full force across the countdown.
The dominance of Doja Cat, the arrival of King Stingray, the ever-continuing story of Australia’s love affair with The Wombats, the return of once and future kings of the countdown Glass Animals, the return of Dune Rats… hell, we even had both Jungle and the Jungle Giants in the mix.
The champion of the whole countdown, however, was the humble pachyderm. The top 10 was essentially topped and tailed by their presence – not only did a song called ‘Elephant’ take the number-one spot, but ‘On My Knees’ by RÜFÜS DU SOL literally features the sound of one trumpeting in amidst its electro-house beats. As Jasper from The Simpsons once prophetically said: “I love that. Reminds me of elephants.”
Loser: Wolf Alice
One member of the animal kingdom that was sadly left out in the cold was Wolf Alice. Fans of the UK indie rockers were left howling when not a single song from their latest album Blue Weekend made the countdown.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a big surprise — after all, Wolf Alice have never charted in the Hottest 100 in the past — but Blue Weekend was clearly an album that resonated with the Js, given it placed in the top 20 of the annual listeners’ poll.
Even more curiously was that of all 20 albums, Blue Weekend was the only one to not even get a song in the Hottest 200. Zip, zero, zilch. What happened?
In short, essentially a vote split would have cost the band. With no clear choice of breakthrough lead single, and a divide between the balladry of ‘The Last Man on Earth’ and the more rocking ‘Smile’ — neither of which were particularly massive to begin with — would have unquestionably lead to them falling short of the mark. Sorry, guys, but you’ll live to see another full moon — and maybe even an elusive Hottest 100 position next time. Again: Anything is possible!
Ever since he teamed up with Jamie Foxx’s revived Ray Charles impression and found arguably the most contentious direct rhyme of the word “digger,” The Artist Formerly Known As Kanye West has served as both omnipotent and omnipresent in the annals of Hottest 100 history.
Every single album he has put out since Late Registration has sported at least one track making the countdown — and even ‘Paris’ from Watch the Throne scored a spot, despite being a write-in vote and never actually being played on the station. That’s just the kind of power Yeezus holds.
2021 was… let’s say an odd year for Ye. The endless delays, the controversial company he kept, living in a football stadium — you were there, you remember. Anyway, even with all of that in mind, the self-proclaimed Jeen-Yuhs still managed to stake a pretty significant place in voters’ hearts and minds. A total of four songs from the beleaguered Donda claimed spots across the countdown — the most Ye has ever received in a single Hottest 100 — as well as a further two in the 200. With a cumulative 18 tracks featured over the last 16 years, Yeezy is nipping at the heels of some of the countdown’s most successful acts like Foo Fighters, Powderfinger and Hilltop Hoods. Watch the throne, fellas.
Loser: Certified Lover Boy
Speaking of the Hottest 200, let’s cross to Ye’s former rival Drake — who had a clash-of-the-titans showdown between Donda and his Certified Lover Boy album the month of release.
October’s very own got four songs in the 200, more than any other artist in that supplementary countdown. When it came to the big dance, however, Drizzy was nowhere to be seen — and considering there was a period when he was responsible for nine of the top 10 songs in the Billboard Hot 100, this genuinely came as a surprise. What’s more, as noted by presenter Dave Woodhead, users of the triple j app listening in to the 200 would repeatedly bomb his entries with vomit emojis (given the choice between it, a heart-eyes and either a thumbs up or down).
Now, it may seem like cognitive dissonance for the voting public to send off vomit emojis for songs that were voted in on their watch, but it’s obvious that a message is being sent here. Despite still pulling some impressive stats and remaining the crown prince of streaming services, Drake is starting to fall out of public favour somewhat. An artist with three top-40 tracks in the Hottest 100 to his name throughout the 2010s now can’t even scrape in the bottom half. Anyone who’s listened to Donda will attest to the fact that, despite it being thoroughly overstuffed as an album, its individual highlights were… well, momentous. Can anyone truly say the same about ‘Way 2 Sexy’?
2020’s Hottest 100 felt like there were few and far between moments to laugh. Sure, there was ‘Get on the Beers’ and Cardi B calling her uvula “that lil’ dangly thing that swing in the back of my throat,” but there were also two posthumous artists, and a lot of incredibly earnest songs, themes of anxiety and depression, break-up anthems…it was a lot, y’know? Fittingly so, of course — given the whole 2020 thing — but the 2021 countdown started to gain a bit more of the Hottest 100 humour that voted in songs like ‘Bevan the Musical’ in the past.
That, by the way, was created by then-triple j contributor Peter Helliar — and we’re not about to call Tom Cardy the new Peter Helliar, but the stats don’t lie. With ‘Mixed Messages’ and ‘H.Y.C.Y.BH’, the man behind Sequel Songs and 95 percent of your Instagram stories last year brought his perfectly puerile style of comedy to either end of the 20-11 bracket in a truly satisfying moment. Not only does Cardy nail his style pastiches — those synth tones are pure ’80s pop — but his mix of the absurd and the relatable made him one of the year’s more unlikely success stories.
It didn’t stop there, either — in the Hottest 200, Candy Moore’s viral remix of influencer Abbie Chatfield ranting about double standards of anti-vaxxers snuck in at 162. This sounds like the start of a beautiful friendship, wouldn’t you agree?
Loser: Attempts At Comedy From The Triple J Listenership
One time, Mark Zuckerberg made a website so he could rank the girls at his college on a scale of hotness. Now, we have Tim from Townsville and Terry from Tarrawanna saying the number one song “shoulda been higher,” or rattling off cricket statistics to say they’re more impressive than whatever song just charted.
We’re not saying everything is Mark Zuckerberg’s fault, but the buck’s gotta stop with someone, right?
Winner: Olivia Rodrigo
Holy shit do people like this kid. Rightly so, of course — she was behind one of the best albums of 2021 and some of the songs with the highest replay value, even if we now effectively never need to hear ‘drivers license’ ever again. Like millennials obsessed with Bluey, however, it feels like those not in Rodrigo’s target demographic rode even harder for her than those that were.
What’s given Rodrigo such momentum in her inaugural year in the cultural zeitgeist? It certainly helps that SOUR was diverse enough to appeal to different tastes — the aforementioned ‘drivers license’ and ‘traitor’ held space with those seeking compelling ballads, while top-five placing ‘good 4 u’ and ‘brutal’ crossed the pop-rock divide to great effect.
The teenage melodrama of the album, too, was easy to invest in and relate to — especially for those that had been there, done that (hi, millennials!).
With 5 percent of the Hottest 100 under her name — tied with Doja Cat for most entries — Rodrigo’s dominance is either going to be looked back at as a fascinating flash in the pan or the start of something truly seismic. Anyone’s guess, but we’re rooting for the latter. How could you not?
Loser: The ‘Triple J Is Alternative’ Narrative
We’re not really pushing this anymore, right? Not after global megastars dominated the lion’s share of the countdown? If you see triple j playing a popular artist and go into your curmudgeonly Gen X spiel about how you thought triple j was “supposed to be alternative” — did you ever stop to think that those lines became blurred long ago?
There’s two ways to look at this. One is that services like Spotify and “the algorithm” (big quotemarks, naturally) have rendered the divide between mainstream music and “alternative” music effectively meaningless — especially when so many current “mainstream” artists have clearly been raised on, influenced by and inspired to do what they do because of the “alternative” culture they consumed growing up.
Another — which perhaps may be more pertinent — is the idea that gatekeeping is a thing of the past. It used to be an event when the cool kids of triple j would “accept” an artist like Kylie Minogue or Beyoncé or whomever else. These days? Who cares if you like a mainstream artist? We all like music, after all — don’t we?
Sure, triple j might not be the “alternative” station that it was when you were in your teens — but it’s worth considering that it no longer needs to be. Who is there left to pander to that would actually matter to them? Not you, certainly — they gave you Double J, so kindly make your way over there.
Winner: The New Kids On The Block
What an impressive year for debutantes in the Hottest 100. It kicked off with Ziggy Ramo and Adam Newling up top, it continued with Tyne-James Organ and Baby Keem, then off to artists as diverse as Telenova, The Buoys, Dave, The Terrys, King Stingray and Sly Withers scoring themselves slots. Hell, a Sydney indie band called The Rions — who, statistically, you likely had never even heard of prior to this weekend past — ranked higher than Cardi B’s ‘Up’ with ‘Night Light’, a song that has 421,961,005 less Spotify streams. That’s a hell of a David and Goliath right there — and that was all only just the first half of the list.
You could feel the reverence and the celebration that came with these new arrivals — particularly when said artists got on the line with triple j presenters to mark the occasion. Regardless of any of The Discourse surrounding the countdown, these are the sort of moments that stick with you. Heck, some of you are old enough to remember a young Missy Higgins cheering down the line circa January 2004 as she made her Hottest 100 debut with ‘Greed for Your Love’. Doesn’t that seem familiar?
Winner: Nostalgia, And Your Parents’ Record Collection
A few people have pointed out the double layer of nostalgia that lead to The Wiggles’ ‘Elephant’ ultimately taking out the top spot. If you’re reading this, there’s a fairly strong chance that you grew up watching some form of The Wiggles — with Anthony Field in that evergreen blue skivvy, pointing his fingers and doing the twist all along. And before you say that Tame Impala’s ‘Elephant’ isn’t an old enough song to warrant nostalgia — we’re staring down the barrel (trunk?) of its 10-year anniversary, my guy. It’s been around the block, and it has thousands of festival laminates to prove it.
Elsewhere, all three of the remaining Like a Version covers that got in pointed to inter-generational nostalgia seeping in again. You had Tame Impala doing Edwyn Collins’ ‘A Girl Like You’, Ocean Alley tackling a Pink Floyd medley and Spacey Jane covering The Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’.
Sure, there’s an argument to be made these were votes for the bands and not necessarily the covers, but one can imagine the kind of familial bonding of a parent overhearing their kid listening to one of these LAVs and them coming together over a mutual love of the song itself. Did this actually happen? Impossible to say without surveying all 2.5 million voters, and we’re a little strapped for time here, so let’s just say it’s a nice thought and move on.
Loser: The Future? Maybe?
The Wiggles generated a hell of a lot of excitement with their victory, but there was also a sense of uncertainty. Regardless of what you thought of the cover, or what you think of The Wiggles, whatever else have you, there is this undisputed fact to reckon with: The democratically-elected greatest song of 2021, according to the public, was a cover version that was recorded especially for a segment on the radio station that is putting on the whole thing.
Every previous winner, at the very least, has reflected something within either global music consumption (‘Zombie’, ‘Wonderwall’, even ‘Pretty Fly for a White Guy’) or the locally-acquired tastes of the nation (‘Buy Me a Pony’, ‘No Aphrodisiac’, even ‘Hoops’). When it comes to ‘Elephant’, it’s just difficult to see where it fits into this lineage.
It’s been described as “a weird winner for a weird year,” but 2020 was arguably even weirder than 2021 and that still managed to have a somewhat understandable and quote-unquote conventional winner in ‘Heat Waves’ — even if most still don’t understand what it had to do with Minecraft fan fiction.
Does ‘Elephant’ winning undermine your Kid LAROIs, your Spacey Janes, your Olivia Rodrigos? Is its victory emblematic of a year largely without big festivals to dictate the anthems that control a crowd? Is it in triple j’s interest to keep pushing Like a Version the way they have? Has this number-one rung true for the prediction laid out by a previous Hottest 100 entrant’s band name — that pop will, indeed, eat itself?
Let’s put it this way: There are interesting points being raised on both sides of the argument here, but right now it’s impossible to predict what this will mean for the countdown going ahead. There’s every chance ‘Elephant’ will give way to an entire Hottest 100 comprised of Like a Versions — which they’ll clearly have to double to twice a week, given there’s only 52 weeks in the year — but there’s also every chance that this was a happy accident and a unique one-off. It’s too soon to say, however fun it may be to speculate.
At the end of the day, though, who are we kidding? We’ll be back next year to dish out spicy takes, and so will you. We need the Hottest 100 just as much as it needs us.