Not your average poll: Inside scoop on our hottest countdown

By Tess Williams

The sun is shining, the inflatable pool is being filled, the BBQ is in full swing, and your mate Billy is announcing his final predictions for the top 10, including one incredibly niche song that no one’s heard of. These are just some of the sounds, smells and feelings that Australians have come to associate with triple j’s Hottest 100 countdown.

The Hottest 100 originally launched in 1989 as a poll for listeners to vote for their favourite songs of all time. This format saw 50,000 people vote in its first year, Joy Division’s iconic ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ taking out the top spot. Realising that they may be on to something, the triple j team decided to run the poll for an additional two years, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ triumphing a second time and Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ winning the following year.

After a brief hiatus the countdown returned in 1993 with the format we now know and love: each year Australians vote on their favourite songs from the previous year and sit around listening to who will take out the top spot.

So, why is The Hottest 100 so iconic? And what exactly goes into maintaining its success?

While the popularity of the station and poll has largely grown organically, there is no denying that there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make The Hottest 100, well … The Hottest 100.

Celline Narinli is the Special Projects Producer at triple j and has been project managing the various Hottest 100 campaigns, including liaising with the numerous teams to make sure content is created, voting websites are built and announcements are made on air. The campaign typically lasts four months and includes a tonne of prep work in the lead-up to voting closing, after which there is a five-day window before the countdown begins, where it is all systems go.

“Within that five days, we create all the content necessary, so that includes the countdown stories and packages, interviews with artists, all the social media assets, all the programming involved,” said Narinli. “Pretty much all aspects of the countdown done within five days.”

Using social media as a tool to foster a sense of community and encourage engagement has been one of triple j’s strongest strategies in the growth of The Hottest 100.

Each time they share a video of your favourite musician’s picks for the top 10, or share a sneak peak of the stats behind the countdown, or announce where that one song placed, they are creating a moment that the community can talk about.

Click on any of their Instagram posts surrounding the Hottest 100 and you will see that the comment section reflects that. Because if there is one thing music lovers feel strongly about, it’s that their music opinions are “the best” music opinions, and they’ll be damned if they don’t share them (trust me, I’m speaking from experience).

“People are bonding over a countdown,” said Narinli. “It is this beautiful democratic thing where everyone contributes.”

In creating social media tiles that allow the public to post who they voted for on their private channels, they have again created a moment for people to connect over music and as a result the countdown.

Narinli thinks of these tiles as “a nice summary of the year. Of who you are, your identity, who you’re into. And to see who people have bonded with, which artists, and if there are crossovers with friends”.

The Hottest 100 has also created the opportunity to support local acts and champion Australian artists, in a way that no top 40 countdown on a commercial radio station could ever properly replicate.

“There are a lot of music fans that really champion those local acts. ‘If they win, we all win’, it’s that community mentality,” Narinli said.

Triple j is a unique organisation in the sense that it is “just that kind of middle guy who is not commercial but not community. Who is championing slightly alternative, local options”.

This is what makes triple j different. This is what makes the Hottest 100 different.

This patriotism and desire to see Aussie acts succeed is very evident in the listening habits of the triple j community and can be seen in the number of Unearthed acts that are voted for each year … or the number of Australian acts that make up the top 10 each year.

There is one final element that contributes to the success of The Hottest 100, and it may seem minor, but it is actually crucial.

It is the summer vibes that come with it. It’s the perfect time of year where the days are long and the year feels hopeful. Where you’re all too willing to sit in the sun all day with friends, drinking, chatting and listening to music.

The listening habits and sheer scale of The Hottest 100 have changed a lot throughout the years. But the things that have remained are the sense of community it creates, the heated yet friendly arguments that break out, the local acts that are celebrated … and of course, the fact that that one song “should’ve been higher!”.

Featured image: Australians celebrating their love of music. Photo: Eva Rinaldi/CC/Flickr

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