entertainment

The Triple J Hottest 100 has a gender problem, but what do we actually do about it?

There weren’t a lot of women in Triple J’s Hottest 100.

This is a statement that we hear every year. The countdown happens, and as we get closer to number one, the rumbling gets louder.

“Where are the women?” people ask (well, women mostly).

They direct their anger at the artists who are there, and the station itself, and usually there is at least one person who bites back, saying it’s hard work that put them in the top ten.

This year, with no women making it into the top ten at all (sure, a couple of tracks featured women but the artists were men) the conversation was inevitable.

Overall, 24 songs in this year’s hottest 100 were by women (and four of them were by the same woman, Courtney Barnett).

That’s pretty sad.

But it’s also bang on. Over the life of the Hottest 100, on average there have been just 23 songs by women a year. In 2002, just 12 songs were by women.

And no solo female act has ever taken the top spot. Three bands with female members have, but none were all-woman acts.

Here’s the thing. The gender disparity in the Hottest 100 is a reflection of the far bigger problem of gender inequity in the music business generally.

It’s a structural disadvantage, much like the one causing all the #OscarsSoWhite debate that has led to a shake up of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science.

That was the point of a tweet yesterday that highlighted more students from elite school St Kevin’s had taken the top spot than solo women.

One of those men, Chet Faker, missed the point a bit and tweeted about how hard he’d worked to get there.

He later deleted those tweets and posted this instead.

Women artists are not inherently better or worse than male artists, but right now they are not being given the same airtime, support and opportunities that men are.

They are not given the same opportunities to fail, they are often treated as products of “genius men”, if they collaborate the credit for the work is often given to the men they collaborate with. (Something that is not unique to the music industry. Read this excellent report about a study that found collaborating did not benefit female economists.)

So how does this relate to the Hottest 100? That poll is one more way the uphill battle women in music face manifests itself. It is a poll of “alternative” music, which is at first glance far more male dominated than pop music, a genre that is ruled by women like Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Katy Perry.

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We all remember last year’s Taylor Swift Hottest 100 controversy, when people were lining up to say Swift just wasn’t a JJJ’s artist.

I’m not going to wade into a 12-month-old debate now but I would just point out there’s not a lot of consistency around what a “Triple J” artist is.

Drake is. Sia is. Macklemore is. Kanye West is. These are popular artists. They aren’t “alternative”. Aside from Sia (who has always been poppy as hell) they aren’t even Australian.

So why do the big-name male acts riding high in pop charts get airplay when the women can’t? I’d suggest its not because their stuff is better, but it’s because society  is more willing to value their work highly.

It’s more easily accepted as artistic and original and cool. It has currency, it’s not “for the girls”.

It’s up to radio stations like Triple J to change that.

How great that Australian artists made up 54 per cent of the list.

We make great music in this country. We should support it and be proud of it. That’s something Triple J is really conscious of, and actively works to promote on air.

They force their audience to listen to new Australian music, they seek it out, they play it alongside those massive international stars and the announcers rave about how great it is.

Now imagine that same lens applied to women artists.

That the station took the lead, played 50/50 men and women, highlighted new music from female artists and promoted the hell out of it.

That when you entered your votes for the Hottest 100 and you didn’t include any women a little screen popped up that said “hey, thanks so much for taking the time to vote, but we noticed you haven’t included any women – are you sure this is your final decision?”.

The way to fix this problem is not to single out bands, or artists who do win.

It’s to tackle the structural problem and start actively asking the question “why?”.

It’s remembering that visibility is one of the real problems here.

It’s talking about women as artists, respecting what they do, and recognising the worth of their output.

This is not a problem unique to Triple J. It is not a problem unique to the music industry. It is one of the many ways that women’s work is devalued and deprioritised every single day in every field.

Visibility is key to diversity. If we want a different outcome next year, that is where it starts.