Is this the Gayest Countdown of All Time?

A queer music review of this year’s ‘Hottest 100’

Zoey Milford
Mar 28, 2020 · 8 min read
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash.

Every year, on the weekend closest to January 27th, Australia’s public broadcaster (Triple J) puts on the taxpayer-funded-and-voted ‘Hottest 100’ countdown, which ranks the public’s top 100 songs of the last year.

It’s an event much of the country tunes in to, and Hottest 100 parties always abound for the long weekend. (Of course, this year those parties took place before COVID-19 hit Australia.)

This year a record number of votes were cast, and the top 10 songs included 5 female solo artists — a perfect fifty-fifty — a number that jumps to 8 if you include female-featured artists.

Alongside the countdown, Triple J publishes data breakdowns of the voting, including statistics such as how many songs involved food as a theme (7!) and the percentage of female artists/groups in the countdown (29%). Thanks to this published information, The Hottest 100 offers a fairly healthy, unsponsored, unbiased pulse on Australia’s music industry and its listeners.

One statistic this year’s countdown didn’t cover, which I believe should be covered every year, is how many songs were created by artists who identified as LGBT+. After all, Queer presence in music is large and continually growing, and it deserves to be acknowledged along with all the other published statistics.

This is my Queer Review of this year’s Hottest 100 countdown. I’ve only included artists who are openly “out” in an effort to elevate them and to avoid contributing to rumours and speculation — this proactively protects other artists from being forced to come out (as has become an unfortunate trend online). Alright, here’s the breakdown.

Alex Lahey’s cover of ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’ by My Chemical Romance was a showstopper in 2019. Performed at Triple J’s studio in September, the cover took us all back to a time when things seemed a lot simpler. Lahey and Co. added a modern, complex depth to the track with more composed vocals, guitar brought to the front, and clashing cymbals that evoke sombre celebration.

The cover is the longest song in this years Hottest 100, and at no point does it overstay its welcome. It’s reflective of the big year 2019 was for Alex Lahey, her second studio album, The Best of Luck Club, came out in May and it was filled with memorable lyrics, alt-rock tunes, and wlw vibes.

Even Gerard Way praised Lahey’s album and this cover on Instagram, saying “…they really went for it, and with all of the additional instruments (those cymbals!) and everyone singing and just smiling and having a good time. Really amazing performance.”

This song is a hard-hitting anthem, and G Flip has talked about how it was inspired by the post-breakup realisation that one can stand on their own and not be afraid of being alone. However, the song’s lyrics don’t pin it to being a breakup song, rather it’s song about overcoming and empowerment – two moments everyone wants to shout to the world about, and G Flip gave us a bloody great way to do it.

Last year was also a big year for G Flip, her debut LP About Us dropped in August with the final, polished versions of all the songs she’d been singing live on tour for the last 18 months. Thank goodness she had a second to stop and record them all for us in 2019!

In January 2019 Cub Sport released their self-titled, third studio album. On it, ‘Party Pill’ was track 10 – a dreamlike single they had released earlier in the month, which was glowing warmly on Australian radios, filled with band member Tim Nelson’s musings about love and freedom.

Nelson describes ‘Party Pill’ as an exploration of the love he’d felt for fellow band member Sam Netterfield as a teenager, but felt he had to contain and disguise as friendship to those around him for fear of what it meant to be gay. These themes of relationship exploration are woven throughout the whole album in dreamy, synth-pop colours.

Delightfully, Nelson and Netterfield were married in 2018, surrounded by their friends, family, and dogs, and they’re probably Australia’s favourite gay couple who are also in a band together.

G Flip, coming in again at 66, knows just how to compose the highs and lows of a relationship in a neat, danceable bop that still drums out a perfect rhythm on the heart. Why are we always acting stupid with each other? On first listen, we don’t want to think about it — we just want to keep having fun.

That was until the music video for ‘Stupid’ was released, where deepfake technology was employed to create the uneasy spectacle of G Flip’s face on many people’s bodies. The music video shifted the song from an introspective place to an existential one, and asks why humanity is always acting stupid, why we keep doing this to ourselves. We created deepfakes, we created the problems in society we face. ‘Stupid’ is a welcome reminder on the multiple meanings music can bring.

‘Nightmare’ was Halsey’s first release of 2019, which she dedicated to young women, the lives they live, and their nightmares. The song’s poetic, hard-hitting-but-catchy lyrics resonated with many, many people last year.

In interviews, Halsey has stated that while writing the song she spent a lot of time reflecting on the struggles her young fans faced, like being told to smile (with an often implied “or else”), and how she herself was tired of the way women are made to perform in life. Halsey achieves in creating a deep well within this track – one where the listener can soak in their own rage and power all at once.

What’s not to love about ‘Lover’? This song is genuine, uncomplicated, and totally gender neutral – everyone can sway to its low swing. G Flip focused on the instrumental build for this track, with lone vocals and keys in the beginning, and instruments coming in later to build up a hymn-like tale of asking.

While ‘Lover’ is G Flip’s third song in the Hottest 100, it’s the first track on her 2019 album. Seated up front, ‘Lover’ shifts listeners into gear for an album that road trips through intense love, devastating-but-needed breakup, and the love of one’s self through it all.

The gay, black, white, all-inclusive boy band BROCKHAMPTON has had a following in Australia since they were called AliveSinceForever back in 2010. They’ve been BROCKHAMPTON since 2014 and have released 5 albums under that name. In 2019 they put out their latest, Ginger, which included ‘SUGAR’ as the second track.

‘SUGAR’ touches on the themes of drug use and relationships, and features four of the group’s six vocalists. The track and its vocals have a sprinkle of crusted sugar to their sound, making the song light, not weighed down by its heavier thoughts.

Member Kevin Abstract describes the tone of ‘SUGAR’ – and the whole album Ginger – as being overall uplifting to really “help people get through”.

Even if you love someone deeply, there are some places you just can’t follow them. This is Halsey’s sentiment in her track ‘Graveyard’. It’s a song about understanding the need to take care of oneself while in a relationship with someone who’s walking down a destructive path – about not following them “all the way to the graveyard”.

While this single came out in 2019, solidifying its place in this year’s Hottest 100, it’s also featured as track 3 on Halsey’s 2020 album, Manic. Her new album is genre-defying and framed by her bisexuality — her album letter to her true self.

Tyler experienced an actual earthquake while writing this song about dependant love. He changed ‘th’ to ‘f’ and gave us ‘EARFQUAKE’ – an addictive track that uses high keys, electric lasers, and wavy drums to shake some groove into the listener. Tyler has posted about how proud he is of the “beautiful harmonies” in this song, and he has every right to be.

In Australia, ‘EARFQUAKE’ was well received and made it to number 9 on the ARIA charts in 2019. For a song that was pitched to both Justin Bieber and Rihanna, it seems this track was destined to be brought to the world through Tyler, The Creator’s dream-like delivery.

Ah, maybe what it’s like to live in this world, might be to cope in the wrong way, like drinking too much. And, maybe, we could all get cheeky and fun with that, just for a moment, just to relax and appreciate life, like G Flip does in this song. Crushes on Steph Claire Smith, wanting to go out to lunch, and drinking too much – the lyrics are all there to turn up any night or day, along with the apologies that might follow.

The duality in this song – celebration, escapism, remorse – and its thumping, bouncing beats are the reasons why it spoke to the nation and landed at number 6 on the Hottest 100, above all of G Flip’s other tracks.

G Flip was is the hugely talented, croc-wearing, lesbian-who-could in this year’s countdown. She had 4 songs in the Hottest 100 – nearly half the tracks on her album – and won AIR’s 2019 Breakthrough Independent Artist Award. She brought the queer stats of the countdown all the way up, and there’s no doubt G Flip will continue to drum-solo her way to even more success.

By song count, 10% of this year’s Hottest 100 content was created by queer artists. Considering LGBT+ individuals make up between 3.4–4.6% of Australia’s population according to census and polling data, it seems the music industry and its listeners are charging forward with LGBT+ recognition.

Last year really was a great year in music. Many, many queer artists and bands released new albums across 2019 – I still have a large backlist of them to purchase! There’s a lot of queer-made music I’ll be buying this year, in further bid to help keep LGBT+ voices afloat, and keep those Hottest 100 statistics growing.

Hopefully, queer artists and their music will be able to survive the hardships of 2020, caused by cancelled events and lockdowns trying to protect everyone’s safety.

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