Music

The Winners And Losers Of This Year’s Hottest 100

cut out images of madonna, doja cat, g flip

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The barbeques have gone cold, the beers have run dry and the arguments have subsided(ish). Another Saturday in January has passed, and the 31st annual triple j Hottest 100 is in the can.

Like most 30-somethings, it went through a lot of changes in its 20s. Some folks love the countdown it’s become, while some that knew it back in the day don’t recognise it anymore — and some folks are still weirdly obsessed with its years of infancy. Sure, Leo DiCaprio wouldn’t date it anymore but that’s hardly a death knoll — it’s still a fun, lively countdown that is learning more about itself every year.

So, what did I learn from the Hottest 100 of 2023? The same thing I learn every year: in life, there are winners and there are losers. From pop stars to dancefloors, plastic toys to mathematics… there’s a lot to break down, so let’s not waste any more time.

Winner: Doja Cat

Going into this year’s Hottest 100 was not, as countdown historians would deem it, a ‘Take Me Out’ year — ie. a year where everyone knows what the number-one song is going in, where the curiosity instead lies in the arrangement of the remaining 99 slots. 

As the top 10 for the 2023 countdown progressed, however, it became increasingly unclear as to who exactly had gotten it — especially when apparent frontrunner Troye Sivan didn’t score second or third, but eighth (AKA dead last in a Mario Kart 64 race).

As soon as the distant voice of Dionne Warwick recommended that we ‘Walk On By’, however, the nation soon saw what the Cat had dragged in: a proper sleeper hit that was dangerously underestimated. 

Doja Cat is the first woman of colour to ever take out the countdown, and only the third person of colour to do so after Kendrick Lamar and Ocean Alley’s Baden Donegal. She had previously come close in the 2021 countdown with her starry-eyed SZA collaboration ‘Kiss Me More’, but the more unapologetic and mask-off nature of ‘Paint the Town Red’ felt like a more fitting portrait of the artist atop the throne. 

The artist as a devil, a bad little bitch and a rebel — not chasing some guy, not chasing clout and not chasing pop stardom. The fact she ended up with the lattermost regardless is simply testament to her staying power. The second of her nine lives begins now.

Loser: Burt Bacharach

This is a bit of a sad one, but it’s worth noting that the legendary Burt Bacharach — who co-wrote ‘Walk On By’ with the late Hal David — passed away in February of 2023, just a matter of months before ‘Paint the Town Red’ was released to the world. 

Given the song was recorded in January 2023, this likely means that approving the sample was one of the last things Burt did before he died. Though it’s comforting to know that he gave the song his blessing, and that Dionne Warwick was “thrilled” for Doja’s success with it, it’s a shame he never got to see one of his most beloved songs discovered by a new generation. A lot of love has been shown to ‘Walk On By’ since the release of ‘Paint the Town Red’, and what the world needs now is love — sweet love.

Winner: G Flip

With the release of their second album Drummer, it was clear that G Flip was en route to becoming Australia’s sweetheart. The album was a blinding success: A chart-topper, an ARIA winner, a sell-out tour with blessings from Mike Shinoda of all people, and — crucially to this context — a J Award winner.

An early showing was strong for the multi-instrumentalist in the countdown, surprising listeners with some deeper cuts before the obvious bigger hits made their presence felt. Equalling the record of six soon felt like a possibility, but when ‘Good Enough’ and ‘Be Your Man’ sandwiched the early 20s at 24 and 22 respectively, before the album’s biggest single ‘The Worst Person Alive’ had been heard, it was a foregone conclusion that the 18-year record was about to ascend to 7th heaven.

To paraphrase Lucille Bluth: good for them. That’s not meant in a condescending manner, by the way — regardless of what you make of G Flip’s music, watching even a minute or two of them talking about it exposes a drive and a passion for what they’re doing that is almost unrivaled in modern Australian music. If anyone was going to set a modern standard for the Hottest 100 equivalent of an album bomb, it may as well be them.

Loser: Wolfmother (And Spacey Jane)

Alas, with G Flip’s victory comes the ultimate defeat of the original album bomb. Wolfmother’s self-titled debut album from 2005 already felt like a relic of a bygone era at the time of its release due to its heavy debt to the sounds of ’70s rock and psychedelia, so in 2024 it feels more like a mythical creature of sorts — where people have claimed to have spotted it in the wild, but only blurry photographs exist.

Still, as far as Australian rock of the era goes the album largely holds up — and besides, what would the last decade-plus of sports montages be without ‘Joker & The Thief’? 

A half-dozen songs — in this instance, literally half of Wolfmother — is absolutely nothing to be sneezed at in terms of impact, and the fact the record has lasted this long with only one other band coming close enough to rival it (more on them in a second) deserves to be commended. 

So yes, Wolfmother are losers in this context — but if a young kid discovers this album purely out of interest as to who held the record before G Flip and maybe gets something out of it? Maybe Andrew Stockdale is a winner after all. Hope he sends G Flip some flowers to congratulate them.

Perhaps Spacey Jane will be doing the same — after all, they’re the aforementioned band that equalled Wolfmother’s record with their own six tracks in the 2022 countdown from the chart-topping Here Comes Everybody. Their 2023 was a little more subdued: they only had one song in, the album off-cut ‘Sorry Instead’, and it came in at number 20 — which meant losing their streak of placing top-three in every 2020s countdown up to that point. Hey, there’s always album number three. Your move, Spaceys.

Winner: Kylie Minogue

Let’s be honest here: our Kylie earning her triple j cool back for the first time in a quarter-century probably wasn’t on everyone’s 2023 bingo card. Then again, neither was the runaway success of ‘Padam Padam’, which took over dancefloors globally and earwormed its way into queer lexicon.

For those too young to remember, which is probably a lot of you: vack in the mid ’90s, Kylie had a period of rebelling against her original girl-next-door pop-starlet persona. She’d been hanging out with Michael Hutchence and Nick Cave, she’d split with her longtime songwriting team of Stock Aitken Waterman and she’d started exploring sounds that were — gasp — an alternative to her previous sound.

This resulted in three appearances in the Hottest 100, as the station warmed to her new approach: ‘Confide In Me’ (1994), her murder-ballad duet with the aforementioned Cave ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ (1995) and ‘Did It Again’ (1997). With the release of 2000’s Light Years and the arrival of the golden hot pants in ‘Spinning Around’, however, it was clear that Kylie had made her return to pop and had no intentions of looking back.

So, how did she end up back on the Js? The same way she got on them the first time around: by being undeniable. The electric shock of ‘Padam Padam’ was just as impactful as the dramatic strings and spiralling darkness of ‘Confide In Me’ — each a crucial reinvention in a career that has largely been defined by them. Whether she’s the girl next door or giving mother, Kylie Minogue is one of the most important artists in Australian music history. Long may her heart beat.

Loser: Madonna

For an artist that was largely on the pulse for decades, Madonna’s Hottest 100 timing couldn’t have been worse. She returned to the Hottest 100 after 23 years via her collaboration with The Weeknd, ‘Popular’, in turn smashing the record of longest gap between entries previously set by Slipknot’s 19 years. That would normally put her in the win column, naturally… but there’s just one little thing.

Literally just five songs earlier, Kylie had charted with ‘Padam Padam’ — making it 26 years between entries and setting the record herself. If this had been a year without ‘Padam Padam’ — or, perhaps, if Rita Ora had recorded it instead of Kylie — then Madge would have easily taken it. It’s funny the way things go, isn’t it. Life is a mystery…

Winner: The Barbie Soundtrack

Chin up, Margot. Even if you didn’t get the Oscar nom, at least know back home the soundtrack to your movie killed it in the Hottest 100. 

The top 10 saw the arrival of former winner Billie Eilish’s tender piano ballad ‘What Was I Made For?’, making her two from two on incredible soundtrack songs (shout-out to her excellent Bond theme ‘No Time to Die’) and arguably going emotionally hardest in a film aimed at children this side of Phil Collins’ Tarzan soundtrack. 

Elsewhere, Dua Lipa arrived on the scene (for the first time ever in a Hottest 100, no less) with her delightful self-parody ‘Dance The Night’, and Nicki Minaj of all people returned to the Hottest 100 for the first time in 13 years with her Ice Spice collab ‘Barbie World’. This technically also means that Aqua, who were sampled and credited as a feature artist, were technically voted into the countdown. First Eiffel 65, now Aqua… who’s next? Look forward to the Hottest 100 of 2024, where Fred again.. and Four Tet remix the Vengaboys.

Loser: The Oppenheimer Soundtrack

You mean to say that the other biggest movie of the year produced absolutely no hit singles? What a tragedy! The subject matter of the film is actually fitting given that the soundtrack bombed in this year’s Hottest 100. Poor Ludwig Göransson — the guy poured his heart into anthems like ‘Destroyer of Worlds’, ‘Los Alamos’ and song-of-the-summer contender ‘A Lowly Shoe Salesman’. None of them even scratched the Hottest 200!

RIP Robert Oppenheimer. You would have loved Ice Spice.

Winner: The Dance Revolution

Arguably not since the EDM boom of the late 2000s and early 2010s has dance music dominated in such a manner. Skrillex returned with his first entries in eight years (not to mention his first as lead artist since ‘Bangarang’), veterans of the game like Four Tet and Boyz Noise made their debut, club favourite Peggy Gou stepped out with her  and Australian dancefloor wunderkind Dom Dolla went back to back in the top five with two bangers — plus a bonus spot in the top 20 with Nelly fucking Furtado of all people.

Fred again.., the saviour of 2021 lockdown and the breakout star of Laneway 2023, totalled four entries in the countdown — including a lush collaboration with Nigerian singer Obongjayar that ascended into the top 10. From headlining Coachella to introducing zoomers to Brian Eno, it’s safe to say he’s had the best year of his career.

The genre’s prominence was so undeniable that it even scored a top-five spot for a complete unknown: that would be Welsh twentysomething Cassö, who is the only top-ten entrant in Hottest 100 history to not have their own Wikipedia page. His Soundcloud remix of D-Block Europe’s ‘Ferrari Horses’, rebranded as ‘Prada’, became a social media sensation. This was the debut single of an artist who had only been making music for less than a year, too — it’s like dance music’s ‘Rich Men North Of Richmond’ without any of the fatphobia and conspiracy theories. Good onya, kid.

Loser: Kyle Gordon

All this dance music across the countdown and the internet’s hottest new musical jester couldn’t get a look in with his ’90s house homage ‘Planet of the Bass’? How does it mean?? Perhaps everyone had gotten sick of it by the time of voting. Either way, go back and have another listen. It’s funnier than you remember.

Winner: Interpolations And Samples

As previously mentioned, the first voice one hears in ‘Paint the Town Red’ is not Doja Cat’s, but Dionne Warwick’s. As it turns out, this was far from the only crate-digging and archive-searching to be found in this year’s Hottest 100.

The top 10 boasted a further three samples/interpolations: MK and Dom Dolla’s ‘Rhyme Dust’ lifts from Q Tip’s ‘Breathe and Stop’, Fred again..’s ‘Adore U’ is based on Obongjayar’s ‘I Wish It Was Me’ and Jack Harlow’s ‘Lovin On Me’ uses elements of Cadillac Dale’s ‘Whatever (Bass Soliloquy)’. 

Elsewhere, you’ve got Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice wholesaling Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’, Troye Sivan’s ‘Got Me Started’ ascending with the hook from Bag Raiders’ ‘Shooting Stars’ and Peach PRC reworking parts of Paris Hilton’s mid-2000s hit ‘Stars Are Blind’ on ‘Perfect For You’ — a move given the “that’s hot” blessing by the heiress herself.

This kind of reworking, admittedly, is a bit of a cheat code. You know your song is going to be accessible from the jump because you’ve got a familiar element in the mix — it’s just up to you to stick the landing. Even so, the reworkings on offer throughout the Hottest 100 did largely come from a place of creativity and adaptation. They’re easter eggs rather than reheated leftovers, if that makes sense.

Loser: Like A Version..?

Here’s a big question that’s come out of the 2023 countdown: Has Like a Version fatigue set in? 

Three LAV covers made the countdown this year — which, yes, is equal to the amount in the 2022 countdown. There’s a key difference, however: All of the 2022 LAVs charted in the top 50, while this year’s countdown only saw them scraping the bottom half. A few more ultimately cracked the 200 the following day, but it simply wasn’t enough to get it over the line into the main countdown.

There’s a few things to take into account here. One is that the Like a Version Hottest 100 was just six months ago. The other is that the constant hammering home of Like a Version as the station’s flagship segment and the most important thing a band can do in order to “make it” nationally may well be starting to wear folks down. No-one wants to end up in an Alien Ant Farm position of their biggest song being a cover, and this constant pressure for artists to go viral with their “epic” Like a Version is likely starting to get to both artists and listeners. 

Winner: The Original “Should’ve Been Higher” Joke

As time has gone on, the internet outlaw and enigma known only as Ben Lawson has been seen as both the saviour and the death of Hottest 100 online discourse. Seven years removed from his original prank, however, it’s time to give the devil his due.

What a lot of people tend to forget is that the original point of “Ya jokin shoulda been higher” was not just the fact that Lawson was saying the phrase in relation to every single song that entered the countdown — the guy was cooking something up. When that year’s number-one song was finally announced, Flume’s ‘Never Be Like You’, he revealed his grand finale: “Ya jokin should have been Daryl Braithwaite – The Horses.”

Yeah, it was a ‘Horses’ joke all along. How 2017 is that?

Loser: People Who Non-Ironically Say “Should’ve Been Higher” In The Year Of Our Lord 2024

Unfortunately, since Lawson’s original escapade, the phrase has been taken quite literally and reinterpreted as a serious expression of outrage by people that cannot comprehend that their music taste does not perfectly align with 2.5 million other people.

It’s about time that this was said. Here’s what people who comment “should’ve been higher” think they’re saying when they post it on an artist’s socials after they reveal they’ve gotten in the Hottest 100: “I love this song, and I wish more people loved it as much as I do so it could have gotten a better ranking overall.” Here’s what it actually comes across as: “You have failed. You achieved something statistically highly unlikely and it still wasn’t good enough.”

In October of 2022, Music Business Worldwide reported figures that suggest on average, 100,000 new songs are released globally every day. Not 100,000 a month, not 100,000 a week. 100,000 per day. Let’s be generous, then, and take 20 days off a calendar year — accounting for Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Boxing Day, public holidays etc. Even with that framework, you’re still looking at roughly 34.5 million songs released in one year.

The Hottest 100, then, is a grand total of 0.00028985507246377 percent of the music released in one year. A fraction of a fraction of a percentage. And then we’re going to have the gall as a society to say something should have been higher? Look at the numbers! It’s a little miracle that the song is even there at all.

There’s a story about how there was a poster mapping out the solar system pinned up in the Seinfeld writers’ room. The writers supposedly did this in order to give them a sense of perspective when they were stuck in a quandary with their writing — that, ultimately, their small problems didn’t matter. Perhaps everyone that complains about artists they like not doing well enough in the countdown needs a solar system poster of their own.

 

David James Young is a writer from Wollongong. The first Hottest 100 he listened to was the 2002 countdown, where the presenters snickered about a song coming in at number 69. He was 12 years old at the time and didn’t get the joke. Follow him on Instagram: @djywrites.