Should Like A Version covers be allowed in triple j’s Hottest 100?
As we leave one of the strongest years for Australian music, a US rapper covering an American song is primed to take out the top spot.
In a new interview with The Herald Sun, Ollie Wards - triple j's content director - offered a bit of clarification on the Like A Version debate. Asked whether or not Like A Versions should be able to place within the Hottest 100, he replied: "I can see why people would potentially think it’s a bit inside baseball having a performance on triple j voted into Triple J’s Hottest 100. But I would say the thing with voting is if it’s popular then it will get up to that top spot. It is a poll for triple j's audience to decide on their favourite songs of the year.
“Usually Like a Versions are quite a significant reworking of a song, and reworkings of songs are eligible in the Hottest 100, that includes remixes as well, and in a way it’d be unfair to exclude Like a Versions because the artists put a lot of effort into them, they have a massive impact with our audience and beyond each year. For a Like a Version to get in the countdown speaks to its own popularity.”
Read the full interview here.
Every single year, triple j’s Hottest 100 comes with its own set of controversies. From KFC baiting people into voting for Taylor Swift - which eventually led to her disqualification from the countdown - to shitposting groups orchestrating strategic votes to lock out certain musicians (Amy Shark and FISHER) from the top spot, it turns out a mass general public vote over popular music is a messy, chaotic thing to organise and pull off without a hitch (believe it or not).
This year feels no different. Like last year, Facebook groups are becoming a hotspot for vote swaying and countdown strategy, with groups like Sultanaposting - whose 15,000-strong members played a part in Ocean Alley’s success last year - having to enforce rules for the Hottest 100 period: “DON'T make non-meme posts about voting” and “DON'T ask other people to vote for songs” two of them. Elsewhere, there’s been a lot of conversation about Tones And I, who before voting opened seemed like a shoo-in for number one thanks to the runaway success of Dance Monkey, but is now the subject of relentless bullying and throwaway hate comments on every single Hottest 100-related thread online.
However, while everyone has been battling it out over whether they’d prefer Billie Eilish or Tones And I to take it out (let an Australian have it, I say), something remarkable has been happening at the chart’s top-end, if the numerous prediction sites are anything to go by. The Hottest 100 Warm Tunas site - a place that has become a go-to for accurate chart predictions based on their past history - is now betting Denzel Curry’s cover of Bulls On Parade to take out the top vote, with 16% of the votes they’ve counted (a predicted sample size of 1.72%) including Denzel’s infamous, internet-exploding cover within their ten.
It’ll be great to see Denzel Curry win. He’s one of the loveliest, most down-to-earth rappers in the world and he’s also one of the most talented; his 2019 record ZUU an album brimming with highlights from the second it explosively opens with its title track. It’ll also be great to see Rage Against The Machine be up there too - timely, considering their impending reformation at this year’s Coachella Festival, and the looming 2020 US elections that had everyone calling them back.
However, in a year where music felt so brilliant, should a cover of a song dating back to 1996 take out?
This isn’t a conversation about Rage Against The Machine or Denzel Curry - if there’s a cover we’d love to see take out the Hottest 100 it’d be that one, or Alex Lahey covering My Chemical Romance’s Welcome To The Black Parade and Dear Seattle’s The Special Two re-do - but more-so about the fact of a cover taking out the countdown for the first time, and the justification of whether that’s something that should be prevented in future years with the Hottest 100 built as a reflection of the year just gone and its musical shift.
Like A Version is essential to the triple j brand and is one of the most successful exercises they do, particularly helping the station’s international reach when an artist like Denzel Curry comes in and obliterates it. As Junkee’s Joseph Earp very accurately points out, a Like A Version taking out the Hottest 100 would be a ‘snake eating its own tail’ moment, and one that’ll strengthen their monopoly over Australian music and what exactly becomes ‘big’ at their ruling and exposure. “We don’t want an industry where one radio station, run by a relatively small number of people, get to decide how Aussie music works,” Earp sums up perfectly.
It’s also an interesting point to note that unless the cover is officially released - like Natalie Imbruglia infamous “I didn’t know this was a cover!” cover of Torn - the only other way a cover has made it into the Hottest 100 is via Like A Version, despite it being one of the many places artists cover other artists’ songs. That is most likely the result of that aforementioned branding and the devotion of triple j’s fanbase across everything encompassing the station, but when you enter the triple j Hottest 100 shortlist, covers from artists on other platforms aren’t automatically listed - only Like A Versions.
The other major argument against Like A Versions making its way into the countdown is what we touched on before, being the fact that the Hottest 100 is essentially a celebration of the music released in the year prior. If an artist was to cover a song released in 2019 it might blur the lines a little here, but if Denzel Curry’s take on Bulls On Parade wins, it essentially means that a song from 1996 would’ve been crowned the best song of 2019. It’d be a massive deal if Bulls On Parade was to win the countdown, but not just because it’d be the first Like A Version to take it out - it’d also basically flip the script, and give artists a loophole to get into the countdown by covering songs they know are Hottest 100-friendly and perfect within the audience (assuming they are big enough to cause a commotion with their cover and do a good job of it, mind you).
In a time where Australian music felt unstoppable in 2019 - just look at many of the other songs predicted to chart within the top ten, from Mallrat’s Charlie and Thelma Plum’s Better In Blak to Flume’s Rushing Back and The Jungle Giants’ Heavy Hearted - should a song (albeit a great one) released in 1996 be crowned the best song of a year? Should we claim a cover - with an extra, added verse from Denzel Curry - as the song that summarises 2019’s music output above musicians who put a tonne of effort into the songwriting and production of their work? Should name recognition be enough to win the Hottest 100?
We’re not saying that Denzel’s Bulls On Parade cover or any other Like A Version should be barred from taking out the Hottest 100, it’s just something to think about come January 25th when it has a very, very real chance at taking it out (and look forward to the eventual post that’ll be triple j applauding triple j for winning the countdown, much like when Disney celebrated Disney when a Disney film (Avengers Endgame) beat another Disney film (Avatar) to become the most successful film of all time).
The winner of triple j's Hottest 100 will be crowned this Saturday, January 25th. Find more information on the countdown here.