A woman? On top of the triple j Hottest 100? That sound you can hear is a huge sigh of relief followed by a whelp of pleasure. And I don’t mean from the winner herself.
Billie Eilish, as happy as she would be to win a national poll for Bad Guy, was not exactly sweating over this result back home in LA. Bad Guy had already made it to #1 in the Australian charts in 2019 after all, as it did in 10 other countries, including most importantly and most lucratively her home market.
More pressing would have been wondering whether Sunday her time would see the 18-year-old American collect one of three Grammy Awards for which the song was in contention, or another three for her and her multi-platinum debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
The ones popping corks (off the top of a domestic bubbly, bought from staff funds, not the station budget - relax Eric Abetz) were the programmers and announcers of triple j. At last, a great big, sexist monkey was off the backs of the ABC’s youth network, which in stark contrast to its commercial rivals practically contorts itself to make sure its music is gender-equal, racism-free and skewing young.
Since the listener poll went from all-time favourite songs to favourite song of the year in 1993 – that is, a full generational 26 years for the hard-of-counting – there had been male singers, male producer/DJs, all-male bands, mostly male-with-a-female-member bands, male hip hop crews, and lead male-with-backing/co-vocalist female acts, atop the poll.
But no woman on her own could crack the boys-boys-boys mentality of a listenership whose inherent conservatism - as reflected in the multitude of straight-line rock bands, soft-singing sad boys, virtually no freaks or noise merchants, and a horror at the thought of Beyonce, or, heaven forbid, Taylor Swift getting a spot - saw them stubbornly refuse entreaties and enticements that virtually became begging from triple j staff.
The network’s spokespeople were reduced each year to pointing to its high female-content playlists, highlight the many women through the full 100 and glorying in the nearly-there such as Amy Shark at number 2 in 2017. It was a little embarrassing. And when one of the best songs of last year, Final Form, from Sampa The Great – originally from Zambia, Botswana and Sydney, and now in Melbourne – couldn’t get higher than 89 during Saturday’s countdown, it was looking like another grim result.
(Incidentally both Billie Eilish and Sampa The Great can be found on this playlist of my best songs of 2019.)
But look now. Not just a woman at the top – with a moody, groove-rich and excellent bit of pop to boot - but another four in the top 10: Mallrat (Brisbane’s Grace Shaw); the international hit of 2019, Tones And I (Toni Watson, from the Mornington Peninsula); G Flip (Melbourne’s Georgia Flipo), and Thelma Plum (from Brisbane).
Not just women, but local; not just triple j-popular, but nation-wide sellers. Pop a few more fizzy bottles, Tasmanian, for Eric.
A version of this story originally ran in the Sydney Morning Herald.