Musicology: Six things learnt from the 2012 Hottest 100

EVERY year I listen to triple j's Hottest 100, even though I'm increasingly becoming a curmudgeon more likely to grumble about the good old days of music (ie. the '90s).

But I still listen, often just to try to understand modern music. It usually leaves me confused, but I learn things. Here's what I learnt this year.

This was not hip hop's big arrival

THE number one spot has previously gone to indie-pop, rock, folk, and pop-rock but last weekend's countdown was the first to be taken out by a hip hop track. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis's ode to op-shopping has outdone Hilltop Hoods (who reached #3 twice - in 2009 with Chase That Feeling and 2006 with The Hard Road), Gorillaz (#3 in 2005 with Feel Good Inc.), and Coolio (#3 in 1995 with Gangsta's Paradise). (Note: before you point out hip hop group Outkast made it to #2 in 2003 with Hey Ya!, just remember that Hey Ya! is what your mum thinks hip hop sounds like). So why has it taken so long for a rap song to top the chart? That's hard to explain, because triple j and its listeners have always had a place in their heart for hip hop. Back in 1993, during the very first of the modern-era countdowns, the likes of Cypress Hill, Salt-N-Pepa and Arrested Development made the Hottest 100, and since then there has consistently been a smattering of tracks in the annual list. Beastie Boys, Eminem, Tricky, and 2Pac have all featured over the years, and the rise of Aussie rap has seen the likes of Pez, The Herd, Hilltop Hoods and Bliss & Eso make the countdown. So is there a greater significance to Thrift Shop topping the 2012 list and finally giving hip hop a #1? Probably not. It does, however, mean that if you want to figure what's going to win next year, compare triple j's playlist with the ARIA charts - every Hottest 100 winner since 2007 has either been an ARIA singles chart #1 or come from a record that's topped the ARIA album chart. Thrift Shop has spent the last 11 weeks in the ARIA top five, including seven at #1.

Rock ain't dead (but it's in poor health)

IF not for Foo Fighters, Black Keys and The Strokes, rock's eulogy could have been read out in the wake of last year's Hottest 100. This year, at first glance, things seem to be doing better. The Black Keys are still flying the flag (#13 and #79), while psych-rockers Tame Impala got two in the top 10 (#7 and #9). Then there's The Rubens, Muse, and Birds Of Tokyo, and British India, who all polled and who are generally considered rock bands. But let's face it - none of their songs in this year's Hottest 100 really "rawked", did they? What was the most rockin' song this year? Probably The Gaslight Anthem's 45, way down at #94. So where's all the really rockin' stuff, the stuff that's not buried in an LSD haze or walking the fine line of guitar-pop? We know it's out there - triple j plays the likes of Japandroids, Kingswood, The Hives and Bloc Party - and the station has specialty shows dedicated to metal and punk. Rock and alternative were the biggest-selling genres of music in the US last year, so why aren't triple j's listeners voting for it? Who knows, but the number of rock songs in the countdown has been in a steady decline since the '00s. Rock appeared to peak in 2002, when Queens Of The Stone Age, Grinspoon, The Vines, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Silverchair all made the top 10. Do the kids not rock anymore?

The Warmest 100 was kinda right (and not necessarily a bad thing)

IN case you missed it, some boffins compiled a heap of votes from social media before the countdown, and came up with The Warmest 100. As a snapshot, it was roughly two per cent of the total vote, but their predictions were pretty good. They correctly selected 92 of the 100, and were out by an average of about 10 positions. Their top 10 was right (just in the wrong order) and they had the top three spot on. Generally speaking, that's a pretty good effort. So now triple j is looking at changing it's social media policy, which means next year you might not be seeing those Facebook and Twitter links showing off what your friends and followers voted for. They also appear to be countering it by playing numbers 200-101 this weekend for the first time ever. Some thought The Warmest 100 was a great addition, adding a new layer of intrigue to the countdown, especially because #1 seemed to be a shoe-in - at least now we had other things to wonder about, such as how close these boffins were gonna get. But some people saw it as the ultimate spoiler. Here's your challenge for next year - write your own Warmest 100 and see if you can get as close without the power of mathematics.

It's a young band's game

INTERESTING stat - Ben Folds Five set a new record for the longest stretch between Hottest 100 drinks. Their excellent tune Draw A Crowd lobbed in at #73, marking the first time they'd made the countdown since 1999 (yes, Folds had made solo entries since then but we're talking about the band). There was no such luck for other veteran acts hoping to ride a second wave of popularity - Grinspoon (who haven't made the list since 2007), Smashing Pumpkins (2001), and Soundgarden (1996) all failed to make the cut despite being played on triple j this year. Not counting guest musicians featured on tracks, the only acts on the list that were releasing albums back in the '90s were Ben Folds Five, Jack White (with The White Stripes), The Shins (under the name Flake Music) and Muse. These bands are now technically into their third decade, and one has to wonder how long triple j will keep playing them, seeing as how the voters and triple j seem to steer away from older acts. If you think this is just old man grumbling, you might be right, but consider this - the next band on the "veteran list" after those four is The Black Keys. Are their days numbered with triple j listeners too?

Wait... was that a novelty song that won?

ACCORDING to some pundits, Thrift Shop is the first novelty song to win the Hottest 100 since Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) in 1998. I must have missed something, because it never occurred to me that Thrift Shop was a novelty song. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, novelty songs "have usually been comic songs" or "tracks from specialist genres (which) turn out to have unexpected pop appeal". Again, maybe I missed something, but I didn't realise Thrift Shop was an attempt at humour - I just thought it was about op-shopping, which I just thought was a cool thing to write a song about, not necessarily a comedic one. As one friend on Facebook put it "Thrift Shop is an interesting example of hip hop in that it doesn't contain any misogyny, homophobia, violence or criminality and ridicules hyper-consumerism". Is this what makes it novelty? Because it's bucking tired trends in hip hop? This would mean any rap that isn't about drugs, bitches, guns and life in the hood is a "novelty song". Isn't that a rather narrow and stifling view of an entire genre? If we use the second definition, hip hop would have to be a "specialist genre" for Thrift Shop to qualify as a novelty song. Surely the days of rap being exotic are long gone - Eminem was the biggest selling artist of the '00s for god sake!

Haters gonna hate

"WORST Hottest 100 ever" was the call from many punters. Others declared it "the best Hottest 100 ever". Back in the '90s and early-to-mid '00s, this bold split was unheard-of. It was a unanimous love of triple j that rang through the streets. Then something happened - people got old. The countdown in its current format began in 1993, and as the age has increased of those who listened to those formative years, so has the volume of the cries of "worst Hottest 100 ever". This is the cry of the person who has slipped out of the target demographic and become a curmudgeon like me, sitting on their porch, yelling at kids with their Skrillex haircuts and their pumped-up kicks, telling them to get off my lawn and to leave me to listen to my AC/DC records in peace. But for the record, I didn't hate this year's countdown. Yes, it left me confused, but I'm trying to use it as a learning experience. Maybe someday soon I will figure out the appeal of Frank Ocean, grow to understand the musical nuances of Flume, and decipher the difference between Of Monsters & Men and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. But the definitive word on hating triple j, read this super-incredible article:

Is Thrift Shop a novelty song or just a good song?

Is Thrift Shop a novelty song or just a good song?


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