Keiren Jolly for Rolling Stone
Capping off a phenomenal year of music, the annual poll featured broken records, incorrect predictions, and a whole lot of Billie Eilish.
It’s quite amazing to realise that the idea for what would become the world’s biggest music poll came to its creator on a whim. Working at 2JJJ at the time, staffer Lawrie Zion floated the idea of a one-off poll – not unlike the annual Hot 100 run by Brisbane’s 4ZZZ – for listeners to vote for their favourite songs.
Similarly dubbed the Hot 100, the inaugural poll in 1989 saw the iconic English outfit Joy Division take the top spot with “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. By the third countdown (which took place in early 1992 and had been renamed the Hottest 100), Seattle grunge rockers Nirvana had stormed the charts, with their tracks “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Lithium” – both of which were mere months old – scoring the #1 and #3 positions, respectively, while Joy Division were adorned with a respectable silver medal.
Taking the following year off to retool the countdown somewhat, the Hottest 100 returned in early 1994, this time with the intent of listeners ranking their favourite songs from the previous calendar year. From humble beginnings that saw the inaugural yearly poll attract 50,000 voters, its popularity has grown exponentially ever since, with the 2019 poll attracting 3,211,596 million votes.
Despite attracting some controversy over the years by way of banned songs, presenters rigging the countdown, campaigns to “troll the poll“, leaked results, and even a successful push to change the date of the annual poll, the Hottest 100 has remained one of the most popular events in not just Australian music history, but around the world.
With the 2019 countdown recently taking place on January 25th, we’re taking a deeper look at the poll that stops the world.
For a few years now, the annual countdown has often been “spoiled” somewhat by Nick Whyte, an Australian analyst who has made it an annual occurrence to try and predict the poll with his Warm Tunas website.
By utilising votes shared onto social media accounts, Whyte collates the information into what available statistics indicate the Hottest 100 will be. While 2016 incorrectly saw Amy Shark’s “Adore” topping the chart instead of its eventual #2 position, 2017 and 2018 correctly saw Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” and Ocean Alley’s “Confidence” predicted to top the chart.
However, since Whyte launched his most recent predictions last year, the frontrunner was the explosive Denzel Curry with his rousing cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade”. Ever since the cover went to air for triple j’s Like a Version sessions back in February, the track was considered to be one of the year’s best, with the YouTube clip of the performance clocking over seven million views to date – the ninth most popular cover uploaded by the site so far.
Though this opened up the floodgates for numerous opinion pieces decrying the possibility that a cover song might top the countdown, we were on the verge of some impressive history for the poll. Curry would have been only the second person of colour to top the Hottest 100 (after Kendrick Lamar in 2017), and he would have managed to break the record for highest-ranking cover song, highest-ranking Like a Version performance, and highest-ranking live song.
As it stands, the record for highest-ranking cover song is a three-way tie. It’s between Björk’s cover of “It’s Oh So Quiet”, Spiderbait’s rendition of “Black Betty”, and Boy & Bear’s take on “Fall At Your Feet” at #5, while the highest-placed Like a Version came by way of DMA’S tribute to Cher’s “Believe”, which hit #6.
Likewise, the highest live entry was from Andy Prieboy, whose Live at the Wireless version of “Tomorrow, Wendy” hit #5 in the 1991 Hottest 100 of All Time countdown.
However, records aside, many found themselves looking at the potential chart-topping status of “Bulls on Parade” as a fitting statement given the recent political climate in Australia. In fact, one user on Reddit recently shared a rundown of the track’s importance, noting that while Australia burns in a bushfire crisis, the Government instead continues its funding of war, climate change denial, and coal mining. “Weapons, not food, not homes, not shoes/Not need, just feed the war, cannibal animal,” Rage Against the Machine’s lyrics famously pointed out.
The year’s other big contender for the countdown was homegrown, with Tones And I’s chart-topping success with “Dance Monkey” viewed by many as a sure thing. In fact, the track itself has broken ARIA chart records with a monstrous 24 weeks at #1, betting agencies such as Sportsbet had the tune slated as the clear winner, leading the pool with odds of 1.90.
Warm Tunas was less sure, with “Dance Monkey” predicted to hit #7, ahead of tracks by the likes of FIDLAR, Thelma Plum, G Flip, and Mallrat. However, while Denzel Curry’s cover was given odds of 3.00, it’s fair to say that the end results shocked just about everyone who was listening on the day.
A Female First
For those listening to the countdown on Saturday, January 25th, the top ten would have been a nail-biting experience for anyone who thought the affair to be a sure thing. In fact, even presenters Veronica and Lewis noted that when Denzel Curry’s “Bulls on Parade” cover reached #5, and Tones And I’s “Dance Monkey” followed directly after, it was set to be anyone’s game.
Of course, as it reached the pointy end, the winner became obvious, with Billie Eilish’s ‘bad guy’ taking the top spot after serving as something of a dark horse. Though it had spent two weeks atop the ARIA charts, keen observers would have noted that Warm Tuna’s predictor of a #2 position, and Sportsbet odds of 3.50 (the third best of the lot) seemed to paint a premature picture of success for the 18-year-old musician.
While Flume almost looked set to take out the countdown for a second time with the Vera Blue-featuring “Rushing Back” (#8 on Warm Tunas, and odds of 26.00), Eilish’s “bad guy” was the winner that listeners had ultimately been longing for.
Historically, the Hottest 100 has been something of a boy’s club. In fact, between The Cranberries hitting #1 with “Zombie” in 1994 and Angus & Julia Stone topping the poll with “Big Jet Plane” 16 years later, no female voices adorned the #1 song. In their 2009 All Time countdown, no female-fronted acts charted at all, while only three entries featured female vocals, with only six charting acts featuring a female member. Reports of the #101-200 list being more “female friendly” were alluded to, though no evidence ever surfaced.
In the years since, it’s become a contentious topic. Following a similar poll in 2013, triple j manager Chris Scaddan responded to accusations of a gender bias by the station.
“Rest assured, triple j takes diversity very seriously and I’d argue we spend more time acting on it than most other media outlets in the country,” he noted, claiming that gender quotas had been suggested by the public who believed the representation of female artists was approximately 5% (a figure he claimed was far higher).
Arguably, the musical gender gap has become far less noticeable as the years have gone by. This year’s countdown saw 57 of the songs come from either male artists or all-male groups, while 29 came from female artists or all-female groups, and a further 14 involving both male and female artists.
Though Billie Eilish’s appearance at the top of the chart has already made headlines due to the fact she’s the youngest-ever artist to reach #1, there’s no denying the fact that having a solo female artist top the poll is a long-time coming, and a refreshing change of pace for the historically male-dominated countdown.
While the lead-up to the 2019 Hottest 100 countdown saw much of the focus put upon Denzel Curry and his monstrous version of “Bulls on Parade”, it was almost easy to forget that other cover songs were actually eligible for the poll.
Ever since the 1993 poll, cover songs have featured almost every year (with 2008 being the only exception). To date, the record amount of covers belongs to 1996, when a massive eight musical tributes made it in, with artists such as Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Hole, Ministry, and The Fugees having a go at a classic tune.
From 2005 onwards though, Like a Version performances have increasingly become more common, with the 2019 countdown now matching 2016’s record of four tracks from the station’s studios hitting the countdown. Surprisingly, the notion of a cover song recorded outside of the walls of triple j now seems to have become a thing of the past.
Though 2019 featured the likes of Skegss, Alex Lahey, Lime Cordiale, and Denzel Curry paying tribute to the Pixies, My Chemical Romance, the Divinyls, and Rage Against the Machine, respectively, Lana Del Rey also managed to sneak in with her rendition of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time”.
Despite Sublime never featuring in a Hottest 100 countdown, Lana Del Rey brought the Long Beach outfit to #85 with her rendition of the tune. Notably, this became the first cover since Meg Mac’s take on Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” in 2014 to chart in the countdown without being recorded for the station’s Like a Version segment.
If you’re wondering about the cover before that, well, it all comes full circle somewhat, with The Amity Affliction reaching #40 in 2013 thanks to their version of “Born to Die”, originally recorded by Lana Del Rey.
A Long Time Between Drinks
One of the most notable entries in the 2019 countdown came to us by way of Iowa icons Slipknot, whose We Are Not Your Kind record boasted “Unsainted” as its lead single. Though it only managed to reach 86 on the ARIA charts, the tune was a breath of fresh air for Hottest 100 voters, who helped the song reach the same height in the annual poll.
Their appearance was more welcome than many would have expected though, with the track serving as Slipknot’s first track in a Hottest 100 countdown since 2000, when “Wait and Bleed” hit #75.
With a 19-year absence, Slipknot had managed to break a record previously set by The Avalanches, who broke a 15-year drought with “Subways”, “Because I’m Me”, and “Frankie Sinatra” in the 2016 poll. Previously, the record had been jointly held by the Ben Folds Five, Robert Smith, and Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha, who all boasted a 13-year gap between drinks.
Interestingly though, most sources have attributed Paul Kelly to holding the former record, thanks to 16 years off between “Every Fucking City” in 2000, and an appearance on A.B. Original’s cover of his own “Dumb Things” in 2016. However, this neglects Kelly’s appearance in the 2009 countdown when he served as a guest musician on Little Birdy’s “Brother”.
An International Affair
As always, the annual Hottest 100 countdown is a musical melting pot, featuring artists from all over the world. As time has gone on, however, Australia has increasingly become the dominating country in the poll.
Though Australia’s lowest-ever result came in the 1993 countdown when just 24 of the songs came from local shores, the race for the the most spots has almost always been against the United States. In 1999, Australian artists set a then-record with 52 tracks in the countdown, overtaking the US in entries for the first time in a single countdown, and kicking off a trend of dominance that continues to this day.
The record was eventually broken in 2014 when 59 Aussie acts featured in the poll, and again in 2016 when 66 featured. For the last three years, the amount has stalled at 65; just shy of the overall record.
The 2019 poll featured artists from a total of seven different countries, making it one of the least diverse countdowns to date. While only three have featured the all-time low of just six, 2019 becomes one of half-a-dozen countdowns to feature just seven countries. For those playing at home, the record of the most diverse belongs to 1994, when 13 different nations were represented.
Overall, Australia’s 65 entries were complemented by 23 from the USA, five from England, three from New Zealand, two from Italy, and one each from Canada and Wales. While Italy matches their record previously set in 2009, England’s five is their equal-lowest to date – down from a record of 22 back in 2001.
Though the 2019 Hottest 100 countdown was memorable for a number of reasons, we’d be remiss to wrap up any look at the poll without mentioning a trio of notable milestones.
While the 2016 poll was the last to be held on Australia Day, it was notable for also featuring the poignant ‘January 26’ by A.B. Original, which managed to reach an impressive #16 on the day. The track also ended up being the highest position reached by an Indigenous artist in the process.
Just three years later, Thelma Plum would break this record with a powerful ode to her Indigenous heritage, with “Better in Blak” managing to hit #9 this year. It wasn’t the only Indigenous representation though, with Baker Boy also appearing twice in the countdown, bringing the Yolŋu language to #98 and #44.
Sadly, the countdown also featured a bit of a somber moment, when Juice WRLD’s “Robbery” reached #42, just 48 days after his untimely death. This makes Juice WRLD the first feature artist to appear posthumously in a countdown since Mac Miller the previous year, and the second since Charles Haddon of Ou Est Le Swimming Pool in 2010.
Finally, in addition to Billie Eilish’s chart-topping appearance, the young artist also featured on a total of five songs in the countdown – just one shy from Wolfmother’s record of six in 2005. However, she wasn’t the only one to come close to breaking the record, with G Flip also appearing on five tracks. G Flip featured four times as a solo artist, and also popped up as a drummer on Alex Lahey’s Like a Version cover of My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to The Black Parade”.
Meanwhile, Lime Cordiale appeared four times, BENEE, Denzel Curry, Flume, Ruel, Tame Impala, Thelma Plum, and Tones And I all appeared three times, with Baker Boy, Dean Lewis, Goodboys, Halsey, Holy Holy, Mallrat, Meduza, Ocean Alley, Post Malone, and Skegss all featured twice.
It’s Not Over Yet
2019 is a rare year for fans of the triple j Hottest 100, with the station set to hold an additional countdown in March. Dubbed the Hottest 100 of the Decade, the polls will open in February, and will allow listeners to vote for any song released throughout the past decade.
It’s only their second countdown of its kind in seven years, with the station previously celebrating 20 years of the annual poll in 2013, where they allowed voters to put their support behind any track released between 1993 and 2013.
triple j’s Hottest 100 of 2019
100. ‘No Plans’ – Dune Rats
99. ‘C.U.D.I. (Can U Dig It)’ – Cosmo’s Midnight
98. ‘Meditjin (feat. JessB)’ – Baker Boy
97. ‘Skin’ – San Cisco
96. ‘Ludens’ – Bring Me The Horizon
95. ‘A.O.K.’ – Adrian Eagle
94. ‘Protection’ – Allday
93. ‘Wow.’ – Post Malone
92. ‘The Real Thing’ – Client Liaison
91. ‘all the good girls go to hell’ – Billie Eilish
90. ‘Here Comes Your Man’ (triple j Like a Version) – Skegss
89. ‘Final Form’ – Sampa The Great
88. ‘Lose Control’ – Meduza x Becky Hill x Goodboys
87. ‘Follow God’ – Kanye West
86. ‘Unsainted’ – Slipknot
85. ‘Doin’ Time’ – Lana Del Rey
84. ‘Hey You’ – DOPE LEMON
83. ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’ (triple j Like a Version) – Alex Lahey
82. ‘Sugar’ – Peking Duk & Jack River
81. ‘Let You Know (feat. London Grammar)’ – Flume
80. ‘Good For You’ – Spacey Jane
79. ‘Stay Awake’ – Dean Lewis
78. ‘Not Angry Anymore’ – Thelma Plum
77. ‘I Am Not Afraid’ – G Flip
76. ‘Something Tells Me’ – Meg Mac
75. ‘Paradise’ – Golden Features & The Presets
74. ‘Nowhere To Go’ – Hayden James & NAATIONS
73. ‘Party Pill’ – Cub Sport
72. ‘Pasta’ – Angie McMahon
71. ‘Blinding Lights’ – The Weeknd
70. ‘Talk Deep’ – E^ST
69. ‘Vacation Forever’ – Violent Soho
68. ‘Then What’ – Illy
67. ‘wish you were gay’ – Billie Eilish
66. ‘Stupid’ – G Flip
65. ‘Homecoming Queen’ – Thelma Plum
64. ‘Circles’ – George Alice
63. ‘Nightmare’ – Halsey
62. ‘Hell N Back’ – Bakar
61. ‘Maybe You Know’ – Holy Holy
60. ‘I Missed Out’ – Hockey Dad
59. ‘Nobody’s Home’ – Mallrat & Basenji
58. ‘Lover’ – G Flip
57. ‘Jellyfish’ – Slowly Slowly
56. ‘MIDDLE CHILD’ – J. Cole
55. ‘Talk’ – Khalid
54. ‘Stained Glass’ – Ocean Alley
53. ‘You Little Beauty’ – FISHER
52. ‘Patience’ – Tame Impala
51. ‘Evil Spider’ – BENEE
50. ‘Teach Me About Dying’ – Holy Holy
49. ‘Free Time’ – Ruel
48. ‘Intentions (22)’ – Ziggy Alberts
47. ‘SUGAR’ – BROCKHAMPTON
46. ‘7 Minutes’ – Dean Lewis
45. ‘RICKY’ – Denzel Curry
44. ‘Cool As Hell’ – Baker Boy
43. ‘It Might Be Time’ – Tame Impala
42. ‘Robbery’ – Juice WRLD
41. ‘HIGHEST IN THE ROOM’ – Travis Scott
40. ‘Graveyard’ – Halsey
39. ‘Longshot’ – Catfish And The Bottlemen
38. ‘Face To Face’ – Ruel
37. ‘Red Light Green Light (feat. Shaun Ross)’ – Duke Dumont
36. ‘Solid Gold (feat. Kira Divine & Marques Toliver)’ – PNAU
35. ‘bury a friend’ – Billie Eilish
34. ‘Tokyo Drifting’ – Glass Animals & Denzel Curry
33. ‘San Frandisco’ – Dom Dolla
32. ‘Money’ – Lime Cordiale
31. ‘Save It For The Weekend’ – Skegss
30. ‘Friends (feat. Reo Cragun)’ – Flume
29. ‘Piece Of Your Heart (feat. Goodboys)’ – Meduza
28. ‘Juice’ – Lizzo
27. ‘Vossi Bop’ – Stormzy
26. ‘Johnny Run Away’ – Tones And I
25. ‘Find An Island’ – BENEE
24. ‘Infinity’ – Ocean Alley
23. ‘EARFQUAKE’ – Tyler, The Creator
22. ‘Painkiller’ – Ruel
21. ‘Pub Feed’ – The
20. ‘Silver’ – DMA’S
19. ‘Glitter’ – BENNE
18. ‘Borderline’ – Tame Impala
17. ‘I Touch Myself (triple j Like a Version)’ – Lime Cordiale
16. ‘everything i wanted’ – Billie Eilish
15. ‘Never Seen The Rain’ – Tones And I
14. ‘Purple Hat’ – Sofi Tukker
13. ‘Inappropriate Behaviour’ – Lime Cordiale
12. ‘By Myself’ – FIDLAR
11. ‘Circles’ – Post Malone
10. ‘Exit Sign (feat. Illy & Ecca Vandal)’ – Hilltop Hoods
9. ‘Better In Blak’ – Thelma Plum
8. ‘Heavy Hearted’ – The Jungle Giants
7. ‘Robbery’ – Lime Cordiale
6. ‘Drink Too Much’ – G Flip
5. ‘Bulls On Parade (triple j Like a Version)’ – Denzel Curry
4. ‘Dance Monkey’ – Tones And I
3. ‘Charlie’ – Mallrat
2. ‘Rushing Back (feat. Vera Blue)’ – Flume
1. ‘bad guy’ – Billie Eilish