Dialogue Is Great, Action Is Better: The Case For Moving triple j’s Hottest 100

triple j is one of the biggest cultural phenomena Australia has. Know what’s still more important? The inclusion and respectful treatment of First Nation’s people.

I adore and respect triple j and the people who work there. At the same time, I don’t feel uncomfortable in gently saying: guys, it’s time to change the date of the Hottest 100. Not in 2018 or 2019 or 2020. It’s time now.

Let’s back up for a second and recount the situation. You’re reading this article, so you more than likely know that the discussion surrounding #ChangeTheDate continues to swirl, as it should, about moving our national day of celebration away from January 26, which has a horrific and bloody history. You probably also know that yesterday morning, it became apparent that some serious internal discussion was happening at triple j as to whether they should, for their role in this larger issue, move the date of their world-famous Hottest 100 countdown. That same afternoon, came a response in the form of a resounding “hmmm, nah”. The bulk of triple j’s statement can be read below:

Q: Are we changing the date of triple j’s Hottest 100?

Short answer: For now… No. In 2017, the Hottest 100 will be on January 26.

triple j’s Hottest 100 is a countdown of your favourite songs of the past year on a public holiday in January. It’s intended as a celebration of the year’s best music that everybody can enjoy.

We’ve been aware of, and have been a part of, the discussions around 26 January for some time. triple j is heavily involved in the growing dialogue around Indigenous recognition and perspectives on 26 January. This is really important to us.

We will continue to talk to Indigenous communities, artists and our audience about the date for the Hottest 100 in future years. In short: it’s under review.

We want the Hottest 100 to be an inclusive and respectful event for all Australians, including all the incredible Indigenous artists making great Australian music, and the listeners from all cultural backgrounds who love it.

As part of this commitment, we’re proud to announce that we’re once again teaming up with the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME)for the 2016 Hottest 100.

Every year, millions of Australians get involved in the Hottest 100 at home and overseas. By working with AIME, we want to use this wide-reaching platform to create a meaningful connection between all communities, including Indigenous Australians.

In 2015, triple j’s listeners raised over $100,000 for AIME, a mentoring program supporting Indigenous kids through high school and into university, training and employment with a completion rate the same as the average Australian child – aiming to close the gap in educational outcomes.

Lots to unpack there. For starters, AIME is an incredible organisation that is more than deserving of support and it’s fantastic that triple j are continuing to provide that. It’s also great that, broadly, triple j are vocally committed to making their Hottest 100 “an inclusive and respectful event for all Australians”. For some, though, this lip service (and the AIME partnering) is simply not enough. Clashing with triple j content director Ollie Ward yesterday on HackBlack Comedy actor and writer Nakkiah Lui argued that the decision not to move the Hottest 100 is inherently exclusionary and political.

For his part, Ward rebutted that moving the date would also be political, but also made the kind of bizarre claim that the Hottest 100 is nothing more than a countdown of “the biggest bangers of the year”, and that it was “weird” that it was being intrinsically linked to Australia Day in the national consciousness. It’s true that the Hottest 100 is a music countdown, but how likely is it that the decision to hold it on Australia Day was an accident? Lui labelled this response a “cop out”. I’m inclined to agree.

When it boils down to it, the exchange between Lui and Ward constituted of an Indigenous woman telling someone who has at least some kind of hand in the process of changing the date that he should do it now, and him telling her she’s wrong. Does that make anyone else uncomfortable? It should. Hack host Tom Tilley even straight-up asked Ward if the continued partnership with AIME was about “absolving” the perceived responsibility to move the date of the Hottest 1oo (of course the answer was no). More important than anyone else’s opinions on this issue (including mine) are the opinions of First Nation’s people. If they are, by and large, saying “change the date”, what is left to discuss?

Logistically, the Hottest 100 really needs to be on a day when most people aren’t at work, so that as many people as possible can enjoy it. This could be a weekend (which excludes anyone with a weekend job) or simply another public holiday like Boxing Day or even New Year’s Day. Personally I think the Hottest 100 is huge enough, and important enough to the cultural fabric of Australia, that it may even warrant its very own holiday, or at least an organised Hottest 100 party. Sure, there would need to be some shuffling and re-scheduling on triple j’s part to move the Hottest 100, but what would the REAL difficulty be for the average listener? Pilerats said it best:

Hey guys. Put up your hands if you genuinely, seriously, care about continuing to celebrate Australia Day on January 26. Even if you have never been to an Invasion Day rally, chances are you are well aware of that particular date’s history, and feel at least slightly uncomfortable about that.

Now let’s try this: put your hands up who genuinely, seriously cares about celebrating the Hottest 100 in general? Yep, that’s a lot more. This is sheerly anecdotal, but for the most part, when young people come together to sink tinnies and play backyard cricket on January 26, the highlight of the day – the most important, pivotal part – is the Hottest 100. When’s the last time you went to an Australia Day shindig that wasn’t playing the countdown? Music is important and we all love it – same with triple j. If, as Ward claims, the fact that the countdown is on Jan 26 by sheer coincidence, and it’s not inherently linked to Australia Day, what would the big deal in moving it be? I don’t want to lambast Ward or triple j – they’re doing their best, I truly believe that. Perhaps the wheels are in motion to change the date in 2018, and they’re just nutting it all out before announcing.

Enough speaking in generalisations, though. Here’s a true, real example of how having the Hottest 100 on January 26 affected someone this year. Perhaps, if you’re still on the fence, it will help give the #ChangeTheDate argument some clout for you.

My partner is Aboriginal, he’s also a musician (and by extension, of course, a music lover). This year, a friend of ours held his birthday party on January 26. The idea was that it was going to be extremely low-key on the Australia Day stuff, and that the day would primarily be about celebrating his birthday as well as the Hottest 100 countdown. We were keen. What a good way to subvert the day, we thought. Then, the morning of, reality hit. It became clear that my partner did not want to celebrate anything on this day. It goes without saying – this is completely understandable. I stood (and still stand) behind this decision firmly. He hadn’t even really known it (consciously) himself until the time came, I think.

Everyone was very understanding. We stayed home and caught snippets of the countdown, but the day was coloured by its ugly history. For my part, my white privilege had previously allowed me to enjoy parties on January 26 regardless of its history. I am grateful that this is no longer the case, and ashamed it took this long for my attitude to change. If the Hottest 100 date changed, this sort of situation (I am sure many others have similar experiences) would never have to happen again.

There’s been much talk of how we should be able to reconcile the horrors of the past and also celebrate what’s great about music/Australia at the same time. To an extent, I agree. To erase January 26 from our national calendar entirely (even if Australia Day itself moved) would also be a mistake. It should be a day of national mourning, recognition, support. It should be solely about our Indigenous people. We can (and should) still have a day in our calendar to celebrate what we love about music, and about being here – although they don’t need to be on the same day. But holding the Hottest 100 countdown on January 26 is wildly inappropriate. Would a countdown of the year’s #bangers in the USA on 9/11 be received well?

Back to the topic on hand, it’s encouraging to see that triple j have been deliberate about saying the date won’t move “for now”. That implies future progress – hopefully for 2018 if not sooner. It’s a shame the wheels aren’t turning quite fast enough for 2017 to be the first step, but it seems this is our lot for now. Here are some things triple j could do to make the Hottest 100, as it stands on January 26, as inclusive as possible:

  1. No mention of Australia Day during the countdown. If the Hottest 100 really does land on this date by coincidence then this should be no issue. Would be incredible to see them use the phrase “Invasion Day” as well.
  2. Focusing on Indigenous artists and issues in-between songs.
  3. Schedule a minute of silence during the countdown, in solidarity and acknowledgement for the bloody history of January 26.
  4. Pledge, on January 26 2017, to move the date of the Hottest 100 in 2018 and every year henceforth.

Before anyone jumps to the “that was hundreds of years ago, I had nothing to do with it” argument, let me stop you right there. Nobody is saying that the horrific history that this country was built on is your fault. Nobody is saying you even need to feel guilty – but you should feel empathy. This is about inclusivity and respect. If the Hottest 100 was not on Australia Day, you’d just attend an extra party every year. And Indigenous people would be free to celebrate the countdown without any of those ugly connotations.

Seems like a win-win situation to me. How could that possibly be a bad thing?

Image: The Herald