I’ve finished transcribing Triple J’s Hack programme on the “Hottest 100 of All Time”. For the background on this, see these previous posts:
[Please note that this is a quick 'n' dirty transcript, and excuse my errors. Kate O'Toole is the host, and her words are in italics.]
Over 61000 people voted, and the average age of voters was 21. If you were anything like me, you had a great time listening to the results over the last week or so. But now with the results all finally in hand, was there something that stuck out for you? People have been blogging and tweeting about this since the countdown finished: the complete absence of female artists.
There were just two tracks with a female lead vocal – both were guest vocalists for Massive Attack – and there were just five bands with a female members. So the obvious question for you today is this: Is your taste in music sexist? Is there something about male artists that just resonates with you more? I’m keen to hear why female artists didn’t make the top ten for you, or if they did, why do you think female artists didn’t make the final 100? Give us a call.
[Voiceover with phone number/text number]
Now in a moment you’ll hear from Zan Rowe, who co-hosted the countdown last night. But first, here are some of the people who led the twitter discussion and wrote blog posts in the late hours of last night.
[series of male-voiced clips from the Hottest 100]
“Hi, I’m Melissa McEwen, listening to the Hottest 100, because it’s something I love. And two things occurred to me over the weekend as I was listening to it: Where were the female voices? Why is it that we as listeners don’t see women musicians as an authoritative voice? I mean, I’m as guilty as anyone else – when I looked back at my top ten list, I realised I hadn’t named a female artist. I think it’s a pity because there’s some brilliant music out there by women, and the fact that female voices were so hard to hear and so hard to penetrate – I mean, what encouragement does that give to women within the industry who are already outnumbered anyway?”
“Hi, My name’s Steve. I was on twitter last night, and I was watching sorta the events of the hottest 100 unfold. Honestly, I think you kind of – it shows a little bit about Australia, really. I think Australia’s quite white, Anglo, and as much as we try and portray Australia as quite multicultural, I think it’s um pretty white and Anglo.”
“I’m Stephen Downs, I’m a market researcher in Melbourne, and I took great interest yesterday and over preceding days in seeing people tweeting on Twitter about the Hottest 100 and tuned in; and I suppose became a bit concerned about what I saw as a lack of diversity. I’m not suggesting that Triple J itself has had a hand in this; I’m saying it’s a problem for Triple J’s brand and image, if you like. The Hottest 100 is a major Triple J brand, and I guess I’m coming at this from a branding and marketing perspective. It’s a major plank of the station – of the network’s promotion, and to hold it up and say ‘Here’s what our listeners think are the greatest 100 songs of all time’ when there’s no women, I think is a major problem for the station, in terms of its representation of diversity and the diversity of views among youth in Australia. It suggests that Triple J is perhaps playing to, or certainly in the case of this poll, is attracting a very narrow sort of white male oriented audience. What it says about the audience, what it says about the station, what it says about the relationship between station and audience, I think is of concern for Triple J as the – let’s face it, the Government, the ABC’s youth broadcaster, and one that’s funded by all Australians.”
“Hey, I’m Anna, and listening to Triple J’s Hottest 100 was a big disappointment to me, because although there was so much amazing stuff there, and although everyone is going to know that there’s other amazing stuff that can’t make it to the list: what we saw was the way as soon as you say a word like “hottest”, “best”, “greatest”, “most important”, people just think about men.”
Is that what you think about? Did you vote for women in the Hottest 100 of All Time? Give us a call [numbers]. Zan Rowe is here with me. You were doing the countdown with the nation last night. Firstly, well done, thoroughly enjoyed it! Secondly, on the list, there were only two songs featuring one-off guest female vocalists, and otherwise not a single female artist or female-fronted band on the list. What do you make of that? Why do you think that is?
Zan: “Yeah, well I don’t know. I was really disappointed as well. There’s a lot of female artists in my lifetime who have been incredibly important to me. I was still waiting for PJ Harvey and Bjork to make a big appearance, both being artists that have been incredibly well supported by JJJ over the years, and loved by our audience. But as far as why they didn’t make the cut, it’s a tricky question, and a big question that a lot of people have been asking over the last few days, and indeed those texts were coming in through the week as we counted down the Hottest 100 all last week on JJJ, saying ‘Oh I’m still waiting for the women!’ It was disappointing for me as well to see that lack. I think there’s a few sort of ideas that you can think about in terms of why women may not have featured as heavily. All of the Top Ten songs are big, epic, sort of guitar-solo, massive songs. Do women make these kinds of songs? I don’t know, I’m not ready to say if there’s a vast generalisation whether they do or don’t. I think that there’s quite a few female artists who are career artists, who like PJ Harvey and Bjork have a huge back-catalogue of music, where in these cases there were so many people voting for a number of songs, and that on a purely technical mathematical, uh, reason, splits the vote. Whereas if people think Led Zeppelin they think Kashmir, Stairway to Heaven. You know, they’re the two big songs of Led Zeppelin in the past, it’s a very easy kind of, uh, song to vote for.
But I guess the other question that I ask, because I have had a lot of feedback from my own friends and family and listeners alike, is how many people – how many females were in your top ten list? And a lot of people come back to me and say ‘Oh. Yeah, actually…”
Which we just heard from …
Zan: ‘…Was there one? Or was there two?’ Yeah. I think there’s also a thing about – there were a couple of grabs in there where people were referring to the “hottest” being equated with the “best” and the “greatest” musicians. We never said that. The Hottest 100 has always been a “favourite” poll. It’s always been a poll totally democratically decided by JJJ listeners, and also a broader audience that come back to JJJ each year and don’t listen through the years.
Interesting, though. That just – that on its own – that it’s a poll of favourites, and that there aren’t female artists held to be the favourites of JJJ listeners. So this is, I think this is an interesting thing, that even though it’s not a curated list of greatest or most significant songs of all time, it’s a true kind of favourites list, I still think, um, that that’s really interesting in and of itself.
Sam, you’ve given us a call? You wanted to make a point about female voices? Sorry, Adam?
Adam: “Ah yeah sorry? Um, hi guys. Um – I was basically, um, listened to it, it was fantastic. And as you said the um, the top ten were a really powerful very emotion sort of dragging out songs, I just think that maybe ah a female voice doesn’t quite hit that same sort of emotion? And have that same power?”
I would disagree. But, you know -
Adam: “Oh yeah no look I I I I’m not I’m not saying that’s the case! I think there are some fantastic women voices out there, but I just think that maybe – the hottest 100 of all –
Did you – Let’s make it a little bit personal, Adam. Did you vote for any female artists?
Adam: “Uh, no, I didn’t. Um… because it was the hottest 100 of all time, and the ten top songs that I could come up with, they weren’t female. They, um, I don’t even think I had a female in the top fifteen.”
They certainly made the biggest impact on you. It certainly wasn’t female having the biggest impact on you.
Jasmine? How you going, Jasmine?
Now you had an actual voting strategy, but you didn’t vote for who you actually wanted.
Jasmine: “Yeah um, basically I’m a huge Beatles fan, and I know that the big Beatles songs would’ve, y’know, Day in a Life was in there, and Hey Jude and all that, but you know, my friends were in the same position. They – these bands they really love, but they don’t necessarily love the big songs from them? And so my friends didn’t vote for the songs they really wanted, they voted for the songs they, that would appear in the countdown.”
Yeah, strategically. Thanks very much Jasmine.
Matt – you were shocked, as a male listener? Why were you shocked?
“Oh, I was shocked. Because um I voted, and the majority of my votes were actually for female artists. I voted for like Bjork, and Janis Joplin, and a bunch of other people. And only realised that once [...] pointed out, that it was pretty much male dominated. So yeah, I did vote for women. I think eight out of my ten songs were women.”
Adam said that he didn’t think female voices necessarily hit, well certainly didn’t hit that emotional chord for him, and maybe didn’t, weren’t kind of big enough to get the votes. You disagree?
Matt: “Absolutely. I think female voices are the ones that – I think carry all that emotion in music. Um, yeah. I think I guess as a personal taste, I’m just generally more attracted to female voices. But um yeah, definitely for it not to appear was pretty shocking, I think.”
Thanks very much for speaking with us Matt. [phone numbers etc] Zan I wanted to ask you, tell us about the women who nearly made it. The females who were just outside the Hottest 100.
Zan: Yeah. Well there were six female artists, or you know heads of female bands, or heads of bands that were female – getting inside my own head now! – um, that were, that did appear in that list from 101 to 200. And that was Lamb, with Gorecki; Portishead with Glory Box, another artist that people were expecting to hear; Bjork with Hyperballad, Cranberries with Zombie, Sia with Breathe Me, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs with Maps. So there was plenty of votes going out for these artists. Half a million votes cast though, and as I said that vote split kind of causing the outcome that we saw. But yeah, those are the artists that you voted, that you put your hand up for that didn’t quite make the cut in that top 100.
Still, six female artists or female fronted bands in that 100 to 200 spot, six out of 200 places isn’t a great proportion of female artists.
Why didn’t you vote for females? Or maybe you did, and you were surprised that you didn’t make it? [numbers]
Just having a look through some of the texts. Andrew has a point on the text line about genre and representation: “I think there’s a trend for female artists who enter the pop world and with the general focus of JJJ music, women in pop – they don’t play pop as much, therefore women are not as common.” Andrew says “I love Tori Amos and she probably should have gotten in, but most big female names are pop names.” Alison says “I’m a 25 year old female and I can’t stand a female vocalist! I hate the female song voice. I sometimes wonder if I’m just jealous that I can’t sing though.” And Jess says “I think it’s the fact that men have created and performed more epic ballads, where women haven’t done that as much.” Which is something that Zan suggested a bit earlier. [numbers]
I wonder how female artists feel about this? Bertie Blackman spoke to me a little bit earlier today:
Bertie Blackman: “I’ve been actually in shock ever since I found out. Because I listened to bits of it yesterday, obviously, and through the week while driving round in my car. And it didn’t actually occur to me until I just today looked at the list. And look there’s so many female singers, like, that I would have voted for, but guiltily enough I only voted for one song which was by Bruce Springsteen, so I think I’m probably a contributor to the all-male lineup.”
There’s a few different questions it raises – is it that the music industry is just male-dominated so therefore the best songs are male-dominated? Is that an explanation for you, do you think?
Bertie: “Yeah, I think so… I think it’s, I mean, it’s always been like that with a lot of things, you know, so I don’t think it’s an excuse. I also had a little look at the guest Top Ten contributions on the JJJ website, and they were mostly male as well.”
Do you see this as being an issue for JJJ to address? Because JJJ does support lots of female artists.
Bertie: “Yeah they do, in, for example, you guys have been amazing with me, and like lots of amazing female artists, and there is a lot of female music that gets played on JJJ. So like for me it’s, JJJ I’ve never thought of it as a male-heavy station. So it probably would be something for JJJ to think about, but it’s probably just one of those big question mark areas that will be there forever. I’m not sure.
As a female artist, do you think that that’s a problem? That people tend to like male artists more?
Bertie: “Oh I don’t necessarily think it’s a problem. I think it just kinda sucks for the chicks, is all I can think of. But I yeah I don’t – I’ve never thought about this as a sort of grand issue, but maybe it is something that, um, everyone needs to think about a little bit.”
From withinside the music industry, does it feel like you’re vastly outnumbered by blokes?
Bertie: “I think it’s always felt a little bit like that. Like – you know with female musicians, there’s not only just the musical thing, I think women tend to be a little bit more self-conscious, um, with their appearance and stuff like that, so they tend to – and we get picked apart a little bit, so you tend to not last as long, maybe, as men? But then like then we get into a strong debate about male versus female which I don’t really want to get into.”
When you say you get picked apart a bit, do you think that the media treats female musicians differently? Or is it the general public treats them differently?
Bertie: “I think, um, they do? Like, my experience of being in the music industry for the last few years, because like I used to have blonde hair. I will say this now on air. I got more attention from male magazines and better reviews, you know like “blonde bombshell” and whatever, whereas like now I’ve dyed my hair black in retaliation to that. And now people just talk about my music rather than my appearance, and that’s kinda the artist that I’ve always wanted to be, you know. But then you know like with appearance it goes into like that heavy pop situation, with record labels and you know, “Sex sells”. But it’s always been like that.”
Thanks very much Bertie. Bertie Blackman there.
Sarah, you’ve called in. You’re a muso. How do you feel today?
Sarah: “Um, I feel a little bit disappointed, I have to say.”
We’re talking about the fact that there were no female artists in the Hottest 100 Of All Time. A couple of guest vocalists appearing, but that was about it. Do you think that that’s representative of how people feel? I mean, it was a democratic vote.
Sarah: “um, well, – like – well, like, I agree with what Bertie was saying before, in the sense that like JJJ supports a lot of female artists. But I mean the thing I suppose we have to remember is that a lot of the voters – like the median age was I think 21?”
Sarah: “A lot of the voters would have been a bit older, and I think that only, like, female artists have really only been showcased on JJJ really in the last sort of ten years. And prior to that, I mean even – in the industry like a lot of bands that got signed, like a lot of them you know in the eighties and the nineties, there weren’t very many females around as there are now?”
So a bit of a historical hangover, do you think?
Sarah: “Yeah, I think there’s probably a bit of that.”
Thanks very much for giving us a call Sarah. [numbers]
A couple of texts: “Basic truth is that women are not welcome in rock. It’s fine for us to be big in other styles of music but it’s still, rock is still seen as a boys’ club.” from one, and Katie says “Does it really matter? Music should really surpass any physical boundaries. It’s not the person, it’s the music.” That’s from Katie in Sydney. And “Guys and girls could vote, so it’s not a sexist thing. I don’t see how this is an issue. Only feminists get worked up over this.”
Now I’m going to have another chat with Zan Rowe in just a moment, who’s here as well. But first, grunge music featured pretty heavily in the Hottest 100 countdown of all time. Catherine Strong is a lecturer at Charles Sturt University, and last year she finished her PhD looking at the sociology of grunge.
Catherine Strong: “What happened with grunge – it’s very interesting, that in the early 1990s, grunge was seen as being a very female-friendly type of music. There were lots of women involved in the grunge. So you had bands like Hole, and L7, and Babes in Toyland. There was also the associated riot grrl movement that was happening at the same time, so bands like Bikini Kill and Heavens to Betsy. At the time, these bands were quite successful: commercially successful, and they were critically acclaimed, they were talked about as being fantastic. There was a lot of celebration in the press of “Women in Rock”, “Isn’t it fantastic to see women in rock?” But then if you look at the media coverage over time, when people talk about grunge over time, the women don’t get talked about anymore. So on the tenth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death for instance, there were lots of magazines that came out talking about “Let’s look back at grunge”, “what was important about grunge”, “why was grunge such a great thing?”, and the women are hardly mentioned at all. So again you can see the public record leaves the women out – they just disappear, they fall out over time, as people write about it, and think about it looking back.
And the thing in rock that I think is particularly interesting, is that periodically, women are rediscovered. So every five years or so you’ll find that there’s something that will turn up in the media saying “Hey, it’s great! Women are making inroads into rock for the first time!”, when it’s not the first time. So every time those stories come up, I think we as a society, or people who like rock, feel as though progress is being made; but what’s actually happened is we’re just going round and round in circles. Women are being discovered, then they’re being forgotten, then they’re being discovered again, and they’re being forgotten again, and it’s just going round and round like that.”
That’s Catherine Strong, who’s from Charles Sturt University, who finished a PhD last year looking at sociology of grunge music.
On JJJ this afternoon on Hack we’re talking about the Hottest 100 Of All Time and the absence of women in the tracks and the countdown. A few theories as to why that could be the case coming through on the text line. For example, Meg just thinks that everyone’s reading too much into it, she voted for all male songs but she voted for the songs, not for the singers, and the fact that Hallelujah for example was sung by a bloke didn’t make any difference to her.
Keep the texts coming in. Zan Rowe is here. Zan, is anybody’s take on this swaying you so far?
Zan: [laughs] Well I’m not swayed either way, I mean I’m joining people in saying that it’s disappointing that there are no women here, but ultimately a populist music poll, decided by the nation, this is the list we have, and I think that everyone around the station and everyone around Australia who are texting in, writing on the forum, calling has had a ball last week listening to 100 very anthemic songs, a lot of them, a really great list of songs.
It’s interesting to think about that idea of what has gone down in the history of rock ‘n’ roll writing. What is you know what rises to the surface and what stays in history. And also Sarah who was just um calling in, the muso just before, saying that she thought that maybe there were more female artists around these days. I don’t have those stats in front of me, but I don’t know if I agree. And also the other part of the Hottest 100 Of All Time that I really picked up on was there are very few songs that have come out in the last five years. The songs that were decided upon were songs that people really connected with on a sort of timeless basis. I don’t know what that says for the gender debate. I do kind of – I enjoy people saying “music is music”. But obviously this is something that really cuts to the core of gender politics. And of course you know the support of women in the music industry which has been well documented as being much worse than men.
In terms of what JJJ does, I mean, we’ve got – uh -uh – I mean today, in our current playlist, a A rotation which is the highest rotation you can get at JJJ, two to three times a day you’re played, 40% of our A rotation is made up of female artists. Now I don’t think that there’s 40% if you cut down those stats between women and men making music in the world today, it’s much less than 40%. Um, so –
So you’re saying right now female artists are over-represented at JJJ?
Zan: Well there’s plenty to choose from. I think that we do – we’re in the – we’re on the third feature album in a row by a female artist, we’re featuring Florence and the Machine, last week it was Sarah Blasko, the week before it was La Roux. Our current cover star on JMag is Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I mean, there is a lot of support at the station, and I think that we sort of have to in some ways step back and say, “Well, we’re giving you this poll, and this is your decision.” And there’s a much bigger picture involved in why people choose songs, and I guess this is some of the reasons we’re exploring today. And exactly why people chose those top ten songs in particular –
Well Bertie Blackman said it was a shame that there weren’t more women, but she also only voted for one song and it was a Bruce Springsteen song, so that’s, maybe it’s a case in point.
Zan: It’s not uncommon.
She did mention that um the – the guest voters – the top ten lists on the Hottest 100 mini-site were, the top tens people were listing were male-heavy, and that maybe the history section of that mini-site there were more male artists than women artists too, and in fact only 12 of the 70 albums that were mentioned were female artists. Do you think that example lists like that have an impact on who people vote for?
Zan: That list, I guess those lists were there to start a conversation, and that’s what it did. There was a lot of people who fed back, and we asked for people’s feedback on the website about the history that we had, and also those top ten lists were pretty much the same thing, us asking you know the Chaser guys, and musos male and female, and various ABC celebrities I guess to tell us what their favourite songs were. Again, a very democratic “What do you love?” You know? Never any thinking of “well, they can’t include that in it because it hasn’t got an Asian artist and a female artist and some hip-hop in there.” It’s very much a gut thing, and it’s totally democratic opening it up to what you love. You mentioned -
Although, before you move on though, it is – it can be something that triggers people to go, “Oh yeah, that song.” And if there is a high representation there, then people maybe could take that away, “Oh yeah I love that song, that’s right.”
Zan: If you look at that history? 35% of the history are artists who made it into the Hottest 100. And these are artists that were very obvious – Midnight Oil, Michael Jackson, Powderfinger (who have had huge support from Triple J over the years). Those are the artists that made it in.
So people weren’t taking wholesale cues from that.
Zan: I really don’t think that you can attribute responsibility for the choices of the Hottest 100 poll to that potted history, because it was a, uh, you know, quite a small percentage of the artists that actually made it in.
On Hack this afternoon, Zan Rowe is here. We’re talking about the Hottest 100 of All Time and the lack of female artists. [numbers]
Riggaz! You think this is all to do with the industry?
“Yeah, I reckon it’s indicative of like music in general. You know like there’s probably you know say 100 to 1 male performers to female, historically. You only have to look at you know when was the last time a female fronted band headlined the Big Day Out or major festival? And I think there’s another one thing that sort of um limiting yourself to sort of choosing ten songs? Like, there’s songs in my top ten, like Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t make it in my top ten, Stevie Wonder Superstitition – if it was a top twenty or thirty, perhaps a top 50 for people to choose, then you’d have heaps more chicks in there.”
I think that people have argued that we should do the Top 1000, but I think that would be a bit of a headspin for us!
Zan: Bags not counting the votes for that one.
How you going? You reckon there’s a historical reason for this list being the way it is?
Sam: “One point firstly is that a lot of the more iconic female songs that are coming through are sort of more recent, or older, I think – in the early nineties there was a big gap in terms of female songs, and I think – guessing – that a lot of the voting audience was about my age, sort of early to mid twenties. A lot of the stuff we would vote for in a Hottest 100 of All Time would be more stuff that we’ve grown up with. So, again, the Nirvanas, the Radioheads –
Zan: Yeah and I think Portishead was maybe just on the cusp of making it in there, so that’s -
Portishead were very close. What about PJ Harvey and Bjork? You don’t think that those artists factor in as making some of the great songs of the nineties and the early noughties?
Sam: “I absolutely do, and I voted for them myself. It’s a bit of a disappointment not to see them there, but I think just the majority of songs that sort of stuck around from that time…”
Zan: I think that it’s similar, like a lot of people where asking me “Where’s Tom Waits?” And it’s like, “where would I even begin?” I wouldn’t know what to vote for. There are so many songs to choose from, and I, you know, the fact that the vote was split so many ways, with not only female artists, but many of the artists in the Hottest 100, meant that the acts you’d expect to hear and see were squeezed out because of that vote split.
Ben – you have a point to make about the JJJ playlisting?
Ben: “Not so much about the playlisting, it was more about the history of music on the Hottest 100 website. I know Zan said just before that only 35% of the music from that actually made it in. But in JJJ’s own History of Music, you only included The Supremes, Meg White, and Janis Joplin as the only women in music in the last fifty years! I know it was changed after the vote was closed, but that to me is insane. Who can put together a list of like music of the last fifty years and not include women?”
Zan: Well, I think that if that was a definitive list of history of music then I’d be definitely asking for another editor. It was a pretty short history. It was pretty much designed as I said to open a conversation, of which we got a lot of feedback about that. We did rectify ah the lack of women ah in it ah afterwards. And you know, it was, it was pretty much designed to open up that idea of you know, “What do you think the history of music should include?” It wasn’t a definitive History of Music of the Last Hundred Years by any means.
You can give us a call – actually, perhaps don’t call us any more because we’re running out of time now. Zan, a few texts now coming through. “With female artists only recently, relatively speaking, seeing more representation in the industry, it may take time for their music to achieve that fame”; and another person says that “I found while studying music that the emphasis on women was far smaller and historically speaking women are featured less”. Another person is saying, “I recently spoke to one of the members of a famous Aussie band who blamed men for the lack of women in music”, who they say are “the real geniuses”. Apparently “they’re bullies to musicians. Don’t take them seriously, and push them away.” Have no evidence for that, but it was just in here in a text.
Thanks so much for joining us today Zan Rowe.