Bieber, Drake and Triple J: What Makes Some Pop Music Okay – But Not All?

History has a way of repeating itself and apparently, it’s repeating itself all over the Triple J Hottest 100 poll. Following on from last year’s Taylor Swift / Shake It Off / Hottest 100 controversy started by the mega trolls over at Buzzfeed (yeah, thanks guys), a campaign to get Justin Bieber to take out the top spot in the Hottest 100 is allegedly well underway.

Aside from ruining one of the most sacred Australian pasttimes, the Taylor Swift campaign last year raised a lot of questions: should pop music be allowed into the countdown? What makes some pop music better than other pop music? Are we only ever going to hear a Taylor Swift song played on Triple J it’s covered by a dude? One thing is certain: there’s something incredibly inauthentic about centering an entire campaign (aimed at people who probably don’t otherwise listen to -let alone know- Triple J) around getting a particular song to the Number One spot. It starts to smell even worse when you learn that this time, it was started by a betting company as this year’s #Bieber4Hottest100 is.

That’s right. While betting on what song will take out Number One isn’t unheard of and part of the fun of the countdown itself is arguing with friends about who it’s going to be, this entire thing is leaving a really bad taste in the mouths of Triple J fans. Perhaps one of the worst parts of the entire thing, however, is that technically Justin Bieber is actually eligible for the poll if you go by the (unwritten) rule that any song aired is fair game.

It’s not the worst because he’s Justin Bieber, I love Justin Bieber. It’s the worst that because of this campaign, anyone who actually cast a serious vote for the Jack Ü track he lent vocals to, Where Are Ü Now – which was played on Triple J and is a certified banger – will probably have their vote discounted.

Songs can either be selected from the voting list, or you can add in ones that don’t appear on the list, just make sure they meet the Hottest 100 eligibility check list (below). If they’re not eligible, votes will not be counted.

Then there are the massive Bieber tracks themselves. What Do You Mean and Sorry have topped Best of 2015 lists the internet over – much in the way that Swifts 1989 did last year, despite not being reviewed prior by many of the critics who cited it as their favourite release. It brings up once again the questions about what makes some pop music worthy of Triple J air time over other pop music.

Case in point: Hotline Bling. That song will no doubt creep into the poll as it’s been on high rotation on Triple J. Hotline Bling has enjoyed very similar commercial success to Sorry and WDYM. Drake is not even a former-Idol contestant who took a turn down Indie Road. He is in fact a former child-star from Canada – much like Justin Bieber.

Drake makes music that falls into a bracket of pop music but is somehow accepted into the Triple J fold where Taylor Swift (and Justin Bieber) is not – and that’s before we even get to talking about the Hottest 100 at all. I’m not saying that Triple J should just add every huge, commercially successful artists to their playlists and then them reign supreme over the Hottest 100. I know that’s not what they’re about. What might be an idea is to make the criteria for selection a little more transparent.

Hotline Bling: the backstory

The initial tweet from the betting company that began #Bieber4Hottest100 has been retweeted by Bieber and at the time of writing has over 15,000 retweets. This year, Triple J have added a “don’t troll the poll” clause to the voting guidelines. What follows is a fair call, stating that “We want genuine votes, from genuine listeners.” Adding that “If we feel something’s preventing that from happening, we’ll look into it for you and take appropriate action.”

Speaking to Tone Deaf yesterday, acting manager at Triple J Meagan Loader added that “We want genuine votes from genuine listeners…It isn’t fair to triple j listeners or artists whose songs could be undermined when campaigns try to incentivise votes or troll the poll….We’ll keep an eye on it,” she continued. “If we feel the outcome of the Hottest 100 has been manipulated votes may be disqualified or ignored. You can check out our voting guidelines…”