For the record; I don’t like Taylor Swift. That said, I don’t particularly like a great deal of what Triple J plays either. Whether or not Swift makes the Hottest 100 on the great Australia Day reveal (a fact that will be known to you, dear reader) probably won’t bother me a great deal. And finally, let’s make this very clear—I’m not going to even pretend that I have something new or insightful to add to the discussion surrounding the #Tay4hottest100 campaign. At this point I think that both sides have made their points, and in some instances made them very well. But this campaign disturbs me—it points to something fundamentally wrong about how we perceive others and ends up hurting those wide of the mark.
That of course, is the essence of this argument: otherness. As the campaign proudly proclaims, ‘let’s teach those music snobs a lesson’, or as one of its loudest speakers for the cause Elle Hunt of the Guardian states, it’s a way to ‘[bait] the over-intellectualised, indie blowhards among Triple J’s audience for whom “mainstream” is the most damning assessment of a cultural text possible.’ To dramatise, voting for the year’s biggest song to be in an underground list is the perfect way to attack those music snobs and hipsters who compose Triple J’s perceived audience.
It’s strange, because for all this vitriolic hatred, the supposed difference and elitism, the gap between the alternative Triple J music and mainstream music world is virtually non-existent. As the head of the School of Contemporary Music, Victorian College of the Arts at the University of Melbourne, Mark Pollard points out, ‘Back in 1991, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit was a triple j Hottest 100 number one… in 2011, the number one Hottest 100 song was Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know which became Billboard’s number 1 for 2012. The same happened for the Macklemore/Ryan Lewis collaboration the following year.’ In reality, the only difference between the two is that Triple J’s focus provides a space for emerging artists to get big. To crowd the Hottest 100 with the likes of established mega-stars like Taylor Swift would be fundamentally against what the list represents.
As for the elitist snobs and the hipsters who are the supposed butts of this campaign: well, while there are no doubt a number of snobs who are keen to argue that their music is better, I’d contend they are a minority. Amongst hipsters, the supposed epicentre of this pretentious snobbery—I’m sorry to report from my experience that Taylor Swift is anything but hated; and while I was unsurprisingly unable to find a study to back this up, I feel that numerous parties I’ve attended do the point justice. Well, this and the lyrics proudly sprayed along the wall of a close friend’s Carlton home. And while this is by no means comprehensive evidence that ‘mainstream is ok’ in the hipster world, I’d say that hijacking the list seems a pretty ineffectual way to piss the alternative off.
Of course, the only people that might really get hurt by the campaign is who Triple J really helps out: the musicians themselves. For every spot taken by a mega-star on the list, an emerging artist misses out on precious exposure. As a pianist in a young band I know how hard it is to get out there. To have a potential channel crowded by the already famous just plain sucks.
But really, that’s almost beside the point. What matters here is that a campaign has been formed from an ill-informed hatred that might happen to spoil what should be a celebration of emerging music. And to what point? To annoy a group of people who listen to something slightly different. Maybe it’s just me, but the whole thing seems kind of dumb.
And if Taylor Swift takes the prize? Good for her—it’s about time a woman took the homeland’s number one.