Words by Haneen Martin
Triple J’s annual countdown is incredible to me; an outstanding display of camaraderie where people around the country gather to listen to the 2.38 million votes cast in order to determine the best song of the past year. And without fail, every year, social media is flooded with posts along the lines of “Triple J has really gone downhill” and “I’ve never heard this song, how could it win?”. This year was no different.
Unsurprisingly for most, ‘Humble’ by Kendrick Lamar from the supremely successful DAMN. took out #1 in this year’s countdown, prompting a series of articles and comments about ‘misogyny’ and ‘false feminism’. It was a well-deserved win for Kendrick, who came second in 2015 to The Rubens. For many non-white Australians it was a huge win in terms of representation and recognition in mainstream media. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is.
Of course, there is a lot to be said about the liberal use of the word ‘bitch’ and Kendrick asserting himself as yet another man stating his preference for how women should look, but “there are levels to it, you and I know”.
Kendrick being “sick and tired of the photoshop” is one of the most common statements in faux-feminism, where a man’s preference over a woman looking what he deems as natural is emphasised over how a woman might feel more comfortable or choose to present. However, this does not take away from his artistry or the fact that according to Triple J stats, the last (and only) hip-hop song to take out the #1 spot was Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop’ – make of that what you will.
The thing is, Kendrick is now the first ever PoC (Person of Colour) to ever take out the top spot in the Hottest 100, and this occurring on the first year that our leading youth radio station takes some sort of step towards removing the emphasis on Australia/Invasion/Survival Day is absolutely fantastic. Where the last five Hottest 100 winners were Flume, The Rubens, Chet Faker, Vance Joy and Macklemore, we as voters are beginning to centre the voices of those less-privileged. It is a small shift, but it’s a start.
It’s devastating then, to immediately have that taken away and replaced by the extreme analysis of Kendrick, determining whether or not it deserved to win in a time where the music industry is attempting to pride itself on its ‘wokeness’ – an AAVE (African American Vernacular English) term for socially conscious.
For those of us in marginalised communities, Triple J is hardly a beacon of hope or a means to end racism in Australia, however, it is the conversation around the culture we consume which is significant. It only takes a brief glance at the stats from the Triple J website to realise the bar is set remarkably low. Killer newcomer Baker Boy cracked #17 with ‘Marryuna’, giving Aboriginal artists a voice in the countdown and a chance for a song in language to be heard by many.
'Marryuna' also features Baker Boy rapping in English and Yolngu Matha language, making it the first track with Indigenous language in the Hottest 100 Top 20 and the first to feature non-English lyrics since Art vs Science's 'Parlez-vous Francais?' hit #2 in 2009.
Yes, it’s just a music countdown, but at this stage every single bit of mainstream acceptance counts. If you’re going to break down all the small wins for PoC in creative industries, you don’t deserve us.