THE COUNTDOWN BREAKDOWN: A GENDER ANALYSIS OF TRIPLE J'S HOTTEST 100 FOR 2017

BY KATE CHAPMAN AND SARAH MCCOOK

02/02/2017

Like many in Australia and overseas, we tuned into Triple J’s (Australian national radio station) Hottest 100 countdown last week, and noticed a clear trend. Once again, the 100 most popular songs as voted in by listeners in “the world’s biggest musical democracy” showed an undeniable bias towards male artists, with solo act Flume taking out the number one spot.

Since the countdown started in 1993, there have been three years where the top place was taken out by acts with a female band member (The Cranberries, Spiderbait and Angus & Julia Stone). It has never been won by a solo female artist. In this year’s countdown, Tash Sultana was the sole female-only act to place more than one song in the countdown, while 21 male-only acts had multiple songs voted in. In 2009, the radio station ran the Hottest 100 of All Time. Every single track that was voted in was performed by a male artist or band; the only women featuring in the list were feature vocalists on Massive Attack tracks. Female greats like Blondie, Madonna, Dianna Ross, and Stevie Knicks, were entirely absent.

After the countdown, the radio station has emphasised the success of women at the ‘business end’ of the countdown, with female artists appearing in seven tracks out of the top ten. Solo artists Amy Shark and Tash Sultana took out #2 and #3 respectively, and others appeared as feature vocalists alongside male acts.

As a bit of fun on a Friday afternoon, we decided to take a closer look at the gender ratio of acts and tracks voted into this year’s Hottest 100. We have tried to categorise each artist in the countdown as their self-identified gender, however we recognise that they may not see themselves as fitting within this gender binary. We have also not included featured artists in our calculations. While this was a bit of fun, the results highlight a more serious trend in our listening habits, and reflect a much broader gender gap in the Australian and international music industry.

If each act in the countdown is counted as one artist, regardless of the number of people in the band, female-only acts make up less than one-quarter (23%) of all acts in the Hottest 100. Male-only acts make up 70%, and mixed acts make up 7%. If we then weight each act by the number of tracks they had voted into the list (for example, Flume had four songs in the countdown), the percentage of female-only acts drops to 16%, with male-only acts making up 78%, and mixed acts at 6%.

Results of Triple J's Hottest 100 list, disaggregated by gender. 

Results of Triple J's Hottest 100 list, disaggregated by gender. 

To take a different approach, if we tally the number of individual members of each act by gender (for example, Camp Cope has three female members, The xx has one female and two male members), the bias towards male artists is even more striking, with a gender ratio of 15:85 women to men. We then weighted those individual members by the number of tracks their act had voted into the countdown. For example, Violent Soho with, four male members and five tracks, would have a score of 20, making up 8% of the total countdown. In contrast, women make up only 10%. This reflects the fact that of all artists in the countdown, there were 14 individual female acts, mostly with only one track voted in, while male artists were significantly more likely to appear multiple times in the list.

No matter which way we cut it, the countdown is undeniably dominated by male artists.

So why does this matter? Triple J’s Hottest 100 countdown reflects an unconscious bias in listeners and radio programmers towards male performers. This bias both reflects and reinforces attitudes that benefit male artists at every level, and at every stage of their musical career. Attitudes that don’t take female artists as seriously as male artists, as noted by Mia Mala McDonald in our Equality Conversation last year. Sexist attitudes that discriminate against women industry professionals and perpetuate harassment and predatory behaviour, as described by Canadian artist Grimes.

The Hottest 100 cannot be taken as truly representative of the popularity and talent of non-male artists, but can be taken as reticent of a broader issue relating to how men are given more support at every level of production, to performance of music, to listeners’ choices.

The Hottest 100 is one of the world’s largest online music polls, touted by Triple J as “the world’s biggest musical democracy”. Representation matters, and in a poll in which women make up less than one-quarter of all artists appearing in the final countdown, this democracy could certainly benefit from greater diversity.

We need to reflect on the music and media that we engage with. There are a number of incredible platforms supporting non-male musicians and performers, including the LISTEN Project and Sad Grrls Club, both based here in Australia. Addressing the gender bias in the music industry means taking action to support female artists and producers and women-led record labels, and creating more spaces to engage with non-male artists through television, radio, online and on stage.

Listen to female artists. Support their music online and in stores. Buy a ticket to their gigs, and next year, vote for them in the Triple J’s Hottest 100.