I've been brought up with a tendency to not want to cast strong judgement without sufficient information. This can be trivial things, like if someone asks me what my favourite era in music is, I feel uncomfortable providing a concrete answer because even if I was to quantify my opinions in a measurable way (which is not outside of my wheelhouse), doing so reveals circumstantial trends - if my experience in different eras is unbalanced, is my judgement even impartial? Another aspect that tends to get me into arguments is casting judgement on the character of other people. Not necessarily in a sense of myself having a warped perspective of what constitutes a good person, but the fact that you really can't get a full view of how that person arrived where they are. What decisions, be they moral or personality defining, that person made in their past, their driving motivations. I always wince a little whenever I see reality TV or commercials for it. Not for the people in it, but the fact that they're being presented at the whims of editors & producers. Whenever I see an ad for "Love Island", I feel like it's all a roundabout way of inspiring a reaction through showing seemingly vapid people who are content with their lifestyle. It's a silly cycle of superiority where I'm supposed to think that these people think they're better than me for superficial reasons, but in reality I'm wise enough to realise this and thus I'm the better person here. I just can't do it because the whole experience is dehumanising for everyone involved, including me, a person reduced to malleable reactions.
I mention all of this for one primary reason. To make an assumption of whoever is reading this, I assume you're familiar with the adage of the music fan who 'liked it more before it was popular'. To make another assumption, I assume you don't think highly of said strawman. Whether it's general resentment at someone who prides themselves as being a 'better' music fan, or sheer schadenfreude at seeing that person's foundations crumble because they've been caught in a stalemate of either having to admit to liking something that's really popular, or re-package their opinion in a flimsy attempt to retain their superiority, where they've chosen the latter. But then again maybe you've been in their shoes before, and thus like we all do, you may have convinced yourself that your own actions are without fault. Maybe it's as simple as overexposure makes one grow weary of it, or there's a cosy feeling about listening to something plucked from general obscurity, maybe there are just flaws in the song you didn't see until it became the centre of discourse and now you can't ignore them. I think we'll always leap further to justify our own actions rather than those of someone we have a bad opinion of. Umineko no Naku Koro Ni taught me a lot more life lessons than I'd expect from what I thought going in was a murder mystery novel played straight. One in particular that sticks with me is the notion that the truth cannot be seen without love. In the pursuit of reinforcing our own decisions, what we inevitably end up doing is casting judgement based on pre-conceptions. If you like and respect someone, you're likely to spin their actions henceforth in such a way that will retain your initial opinion. More concerning, if you don't like a person, you'll find them utterly incapable of good. Philanthropy is merely PR to deceive foolish people into liking a person who is clearly bad, and even then they could always do more. You may be so wrapped up in this pre-conception that you become angry at the very notion that the action could challenge your pre-conception, making it an inconvenience in your life, and therefore bad for that reason. It's really easy to keep track of people if you never have to refresh their standings, and it's really difficult to admit to yourself you made a mistake, and hence we have a fountain of vitriol. I write this knowing that I'm not about to change anyone's mind about anything, especially if it's an opinion about me. If you've already put me in your sights for the earlier strawman, then this whole piece is just a Machiavellian attempt to try and make my opinion undeservingly the bottom line, exemplified by the word count or me using anything even slightly obtuse to make me sound smarter. But if that's not what does it, then it'll be that everything I write after sentence this is all just manipulative social engineering. I'm not writing this because I feel a need to bolster my superiority or stroke my ego, ascending me beyond normality, but rather because I want to return *to* normality. I've been feeling fairly down lately.
I love music. It's been an especially important part of my life ever since my early teens. Music was something I could obsess about, learning about a back catalogue of so much that existed under my nose prior, as well as the obvious aural delight it brings. Most importantly it gave me something to care for in a time when my foundations were crumbling.
I'm not about to say I had a rough upbringing. I've often thought about the fact that with the right selective information, you could present me as either a wholly tortured and unfortunate soul, or an insensitive brat. It's partly why I learned not to be judgemental of others, because how can I be sure how representative my knowledge of them is of the reality. I kind of wonder if I had someone controlling spin for me behind the scenes because the sorts of teasing I got growing up for being me is fairly minimal compared to what it really could have been. As a remarkably unfit person in a somewhat regional town where fishing & football outweigh everything on the hierarchy of needs, I should have been a social pariah, but I guess I got a pass because I was impressively good at arithmetic.
The worst things that happened to me really are that I was very lonely, bored and/or feeling anxiety at my inability to meet academic expectations. All of this compiled together in morning double English lessons. I was isolated because I just couldn't wrap my head around the work required of me, but it seemed like everyone around me, whether they liked it or not, could at least sift through it in a perfunctory way. I lost count of how many times I drudgingly looked at the clock, excited that it was nearly recess, only to realise that I wasn't looking at the hour hand - in reality I was only about 25 minutes through a 90 minute ordeal and already feeling defeated.
When we were about to enter high school, we had a bunch of orientation things to get used to the way that things proceed differently than high school, honestly refreshing compared to how many times I was made to look stupid for not understanding something I was just *supposed* to know somehow. Along with this orientation, I recall a sort of pep talk from a teacher. I don't remember much of it except for a remark about how maturing into this new stage of education/life, you may find that though you're popular with your classmates now, they may well drift away from you to prioritise their studies. I think this was supposed to be a reality check for the class clowns who will no longer be able to breeze through their education, I was certainly not the target of it given I spent half of my middle schooling away from everyone else on the class computer. This bit of pessimistic motivation stuck with me because I found that it ended up applying to me way more than it really should have.
I was basically an outcast growing up. If being the shortest, wimpiest kid wasn't enough, being on the autism spectrum meant that I had a lot of trouble comfortably opening up. Adding onto that, oddly specific circumstances meant that I grew up around classmates who were anywhere from 6 to 18 months older than me. I think I'm glad that it ended up being the case, but in general it meant that I was just not maturing on time with everyone. Classmates would discuss who the hottest girl is, and I was more fixated on the progress I was making with my Pokémon team. Because of stuff like that, I never really felt like I fit in much. The friends I thought I had were in some ways, just snowballed from circumstance (when I moved schools early in Year 1, I was basically given two friends by the teacher, and through such connections, slowly started to hang out with more people by proxy. But still I never really felt like I was wanted around much. I sent far more birthday invitations than I got back, I'd invite friends over on weekends, but I'd never get invited despite clearly being the more shy person. It became clear that even people who from my perspective were close, had so many further connections that I was irrelevant to them. It's like parasocial relationships but in real life.
It's why the end of my second year of high school is so pivotal to me, because in addition to me having turned a new leaf with music a few months prior, it was when I found out that my two closest friends were both moving to different schools and for that matter, different, far away parts of the state. The last time I got to hang out with one of them was a particularly memorable day for me because it was also the day I was introduced to the work of David Firth, and the art of Abridged fan-dubs, which if nothing else has made significant influence on my comedic interests ever since. Though it wasn't something I could explore significantly because of extremely limited internet access at the time, so listening to the radio instead helped get me through things.
Like many a teenager before me, I worshipped triple j. It was like uncovering something so completely catered to me that seemed totally off my radar before. No ads, no annoying pop music, a playlist that actually moved on from songs once you were sick of them, healthy representation of local & very obscure content, and constant reciprocation of these positive feelings from presenters themselves. Not to mention all the countdowns around the place, that tapped into a primal desire of mine to see things ranked and unveiled as such.
I needed this because I was predictably lonely going forward in high school. Those scarce outside-of-school interactions became non-existent, I would spend every morning pacing back & forth in front of the class because I arrived 20 minutes before anyone else (sometimes before the groundsman!) and I had nothing to do, except think about music. Watching, taping & re-watching the JTV Saturday top 20 countdown became a ritual, and I extended it through to the next week by trying to remember the entire thing in order and think through it to pass the time. If you spend 10 seconds each on 20 songs, that 3+ minutes of time killed.
But I could not share this interest with anyone. To my knowledge, no one else seemed to ever listen to triple j, or at least I never spotted any trends to suggest it. No one knew "The Others" until TV Rock remixed it, no one knew who Kings Of Leon were prior to "Sex On Fire", no one made any jokes when we had to do Ping Pong for P.E., and learn about Electric Fields for Physics, because I seemed to be the only person across either relevant song at those respective points. But either way, the real reason I couldn't share it is because of my own insecurities. My fear of rejection has always made it hard to fully open up, and with music, I was so devotedly attached to that which I liked, that I didn't want my enjoyment to be stained by hearing something negative about it. Listening to obscure music empowered me not because I thought I was above everyone, but instead I was below in a social standing, unable to command my opinion above another's. But if the thing I liked never got to any level of attention, I could freely enjoy it without fear of it becoming the centrepiece of discussion. Music became my number one passion in life, and I almost never spoke a word of it to anyone.
If you've read this far, it might surprise you to know that much of this is still true. Well, I don't actively listen to the radio much anymore, nor do I have any excess disdain of popular music. I've also gotten a little better at communicating my musical interests online, but in person it's still a fair bit of a struggle. I've unfortunately adapted with a more acute sense of detecting reactions, and so it becomes even harder to talk about things I like because I'm aware of the extremely minute odds that someone has similar interests to me, as well as being able to work out when someone is actively working to hide their real thoughts. That they're doing this should be enough to set me on the right path, but I would think, I would think too much about what's behind the facade, and either cast self-doubt on whether I like something, or doubt on whether I can respect the person in question. It's terrible behaviour no doubt but when it's something I'm extremely passionate about, it's hard to avoid.
Ironically, it's probably the online portion of this that's souring on me the most. The adage of anonymity bringing out inner assholes is well known, although I wonder if that should be updated to being more about personal distance. It's impressive how willingly people will perpetuate this behaviour even on Facebook with their name and favourite car/fish/child on full display for everyone to retaliate to. It's less about the things you won't say if you can't hide from them, and more about the way we de-humanise people if they're not standing right in front of you, and that's important regarding this song.
Nonetheless, the problem was that the more I went online, the more I still ended up seeing absolute venom spewed out towards so much I treasured. I worshipped the Hottest 100 (and still do) as an encapsulation of what had been my year in music. It's a recognition of stuff that didn't really get global limelight but was now being heard by a million or so people all at the same time, while also being a warm hug to show that 'hey, there are people just like you who really connected to that Architecture In Helsinki song'. But while I go out of it thinking over the positives, in a generally great mood no matter what happens, it always feels like the collective vitriol is what comes to the forefront, and not the kind that comes with a catchy organ riff. It feels like everyone gets so invested in their own ideal picture that they forget the beauty of a collective poll. The war becomes endless because everyone wants to make sure their own personal favourite trends are still in the picture, while frowning upon anything that might suggest a troubling paradigm shift even as they age well out of the intended demographic. Part of it is also the peculiar level of elitism that comes out. If something's popular, it's an affront to that which is not, as it gains an unfair advantage over the lesser known gems that Nova listeners haven't heard of. That's how it's presented at least, but it's more often painted in a more troubling light that reveals worse intent. G Flip is more likely to be derided for making commercial music than Gang Of Youths, but it's the latter whose commercial success is far greater. Kanye West can go an entire decade without getting substantial airplay with his new music on top 40 radio, but he'll still be derided as pop crap by people who think The Rubens (who, opinions side, do get top 40 airplay) put out the best album of the year.
This is not to say that these people can't enjoy the music they do, more power to them in that regard. But there's so much vehement diatribe that it often feels like an illogical attempt to maintain a perceived status quo, because though few will admit it (maybe it's not even implicitly realised on a conscious level), there is nothing more frightening to a music fan than the floodgates being opened for a paradigm shift towards something they don't like. Or is it not something, but someone?
I have a keen fascination for whenever someone says something along the lines of 'I hate people who ___'. I'm not about to debate the merits of 'hate' as a word, but rather the context that can surround these statements. Because when these strawmen are introduced, are they really strawmen? You can almost be certain they are real people, and then you have to wonder how these people's disliked actions became known. Depending on the scenario, it could be a stranger on a bus, which, sure, I get it, but a lot of the time, it feels like people are describing scenarios that could only be witnessed if the person in question was a genuine acquaintance, maybe even a family member. That flips the whole phrase around to me because I can't read it as anything other than 'I secretly hate this particular person for irrational reasons but I can't say it to their face'. The 'irrational' portion of this is important because I don't think you can deny the reality of such situations. Maybe there's a base reason initially, but it's easy to become so entrenched in the idea of disliking someone that you warp your perceptions around their actions. Rather than 'this action/opinion is good/bad and thus the person doing it is good/bad respectively', it becomes 'this person is good/bad, and thus this action/opinion is good/bad respectively'.
This happens with music elitism too. For instance those contradictory examples before show that hatred can be based on flimsy, often inaccurate foundations. No one is going to change their opinion even if they're proven wrong because a) their hatred was evidently not based around their initial complaint, and b) the person who told them they're wrong is now the enemy who must not be submitted to. That first point is what I'm getting at. We hold irrational views and try to validate them with rational proofs. If these proofs prove faulty, then a new one is built up in its place, or the correction is just forgotten and the same proof is carried on anyway.
The ultimate paradox comes about of triple j's audience. Though there definitely felt like a musical turf war between fans of pop and otherwise (well, there still kind of is, but it's not manifested in Australian radio stations anymore I think), now it seems that nobody hates triple j more than the fans of triple j. Much of this is rooted in its history. Though relatively progressive with its programming, I feel as though it was offset by the counter-culture mantle it was held up on. Whether or not the focus, I often get the feeling looking over historic recounts that people most fondly saw the station in its times when it was lampooning the mainstream. As well as that, much of the diversity on the playlists wasn't really what the audiences were really rallying for. Sure, there will be smaller pockets, but when you look at the community as a whole, we have annual top 100 lists that show just how much diversity should be a runner up to making sure every group of white dudes with guitars gets their time in the sun. I'm exaggerating of course, but we'd eventually come to a situation that far outsized triple j.
Enter 2009 and the station does another all-time Hottest 100. Each song observed individually, there's evidently a lot of highly cherished material which is hard to deny has earned its individual place. There's just the small problem of the near complete absence of women, any that were in the list were still playing behind more prominent men, and the only voices heard were those of Elizabeth Fraser and Shara Nelson, whose significant contribution to Massive Attack's most famous singles are often uncredited anyhow. I can't say for sure whether triple j is entirely to blame for this situation, given that much of the countdown can be described as songs whose popular culture standing has extended beyond the radio station. Tie-ins to movies and encapsulating an artist's storied career/life will gravitate far more strongly than just some song you liked on the radio for a couple of months. The personal, esoteric interests are part of the voting collective, but they become meaningless statistical noise washed away by shared, specific interests. But still with this in mind, it's hard to really pin down the system in place that made it happen. Are these popular culture sync ups just predominantly male? Is the rock & roll canon just predominantly male? Or are the diversities in these situations just ironed away by triple j's programming direction? Though the station certainly did play female artists, I remember at the time finding it hard to think of an example of a song by a woman that could've squeezed into this list. Like, no song by Tori Amos or PJ Harvey was anywhere close to being as popular as "Take Me Out" for instance.
triple j got a lot of bad publicity because of this. While they usually love to reveal the 100 next biggest songs on their list for levity, this brilliant moment of curiosity towards public voting results was never unveiled, assumably because it would only make things look worse. Whether or not it's true (which honestly doesn't matter given irrational judgement), it's easy to see that the station has in response, made more of a concerted effort to remedy this. The immediate next J Award later that year was given to Sarah Blasko having previously only been won by fully male comprised bands. Only since 2015 has there been an annual tradition to play only music by women on International 'What About International Men's Day?' Day. With the rise of social media, it's hard to avoid blatantly noticing when a band has been removed from the airwaves due to external incidents, which I can't imagine being a noticed thing in the '90s.
No one likes being told they're wrong about something. Society as a whole probably casts too much judgement on past mistakes even if someone's learnt from something. It's hard to live these things down. From my perspective, it feels as though when people see triple j shifting their programming to be more abundantly progressive, it's an attack of its past self, which if you're a listener from then, is an attack on your past self. If everything was perfectly fine and dandy for you, you're going to feel quite a bit of resistance when someone tells you that there's something wrong under the surface. I'm pretty sure I did just that even with the aforementioned example. The all-time list was a wonderful list of excellent music, and I felt slighted when the underlying problems were pointed out. I fortunately grew out of it, but I can see how people feel the need to defend against anyone who dares challenge the sanctity of their radio station, even if that anyone is their radio station itself.
Now we reach the present situation. This discourse has been and happened so many times before that most are pretty entrenched in their views. Gone is nuance, replaced by inserting an agenda into everything even if there isn't something there. 'Here's this new artist who just uploaded their first song to Unearthed! She-' and somebody has already started typing up their complaint about a leftish agenda. triple j's social media can be described as an endless series of attempts by people to prove that they're better than this radio station, pointing out its inconsistencies, pointing out its biases, pointing out when the decisions the station makes regarding awards is not reciprocated by the popular opinion. But it's important because this radio station obviously thinks it's better than you because you still listen to that band, and thus you must prove you're actually better than them, in a fabricated cycle of superiority which sounds oddly familiar.
This all stings me because I feel like it clouds in front of what could and should be a platform for wholesome engagement. More than ever before I become frightened to express innocuous views, because the internal turf war has gotten so deep that the act of ignoring it makes you an enemy to many. Though I want to believe that there still are many people like me, it's just hard to see it clearly. It makes me feel like I'd be better off if I stayed offline and instead stayed by the positive feedback loop that the radio on its own gives out.
Basically I've come to the revelation that I think I really don't like most music fans. Or maybe that's too strong, but I just can't vibe with the hateful rhetoric which seems to be commonplace. Like, I feel like if you say that you don't like music fans, plenty of people might agree, except for dumb, reductive reasons like 'the general public like Ed Sheeran too much' or something like that. The fact that it's normal to spend more time harping on about the stuff that you don't like than the stuff you do like, is a frustrating reality. Maybe it reveals that people are more like me since they don't want to expose their vulnerabilities, but I hope to never find myself only coming out of my shell to hate on the media that brings people joy. But then they're not really just hating that media, but the people who support it, so it's even more despicable.
This brings me to Tones And I. At the time of writing this, her song is currently the most listened to song on Spotify across the entire world. To my knowledge, no Australian artist has ever done this before. Whether or not you believe that Spotify is predominantly swayed by internal playlist meddling, once you reach this point, it's hard to deny that the general public has gravitated with interest to the song. So the whole internet loves Tones And I, the quirky singer who sings quirky songs. Except not really because I regret to inform you the internet is sexist.
I don't mean to make it sound so loaded but honestly from my perspective I find the whole situation so puzzling that I've had to go on extended mind crawls to work out the root of the issue. Regrettably I do understand it on a local basis. With everything written before in mind, it's pretty easy to see why people would see triple j's social media hyping up a new artist with excess hyperbole and immediately want to retaliate. Tones' situation is exaggerated because of all the extra factors: her eccentric voice, her clunky sounding stage name, her 'ironic hipster' image, the fact that her first single was about a gay person having trouble coming to terms with their sexuality. It makes her a prior target for outrage.
The goalposts are always shifting though. I mentioned before about supposedly rational reasoning being made up to support irrational beliefs. So when triple j started posting about how great her song was, it was met with backlash akin to 'nah it sucks, no one likes it'. Once the song got popular, there came the conspiracy chants that 'triple j rammed it down everyone's throats tricking them into believing they like it'. Some people still use this one, but it becomes a bit uninformed when you have a global audience of over 30 million listeners on Spotify, most of which aren't even from Australia, let alone have heard of the one radio station that has supposedly duped the entire world. For all of 2019, Tones has just kept kicking higher scoring goals while internet trolls slowly shrink and transform into corn cobs.
But here's the peculiar thing about this. If most people outside of Australia haven't heard about triple j or any of this extremely localised discourse, why are people across the world so ceaselessly angry about Tones And I? The whole thing baffles me because the reasoning always feels so flimsy, as if it's hiding truer intentions that I can't decipher. The only thing I ever hear is that people can't stand her voice, that's it. That in itself is a peculiar by-product of musical elitism. If it's something that people actively seek out, it becomes trendy to boast your limited tolerance. If you can be called a wimp because you can't grip a metal pole that's been in the hot sun for very long compared to other people, then I don't see why you can't be called a wimp because your ears hurt when you hear Tones And I sing the word 'shine'.
To be clear, I'm not saying that everyone has to like the song, I just find that the undercurrents of how people express it goes way beyond healthy discourse. It feels like there's an insidious pack mentality where the most vocal detractors feel the need to recruit everyone to their side as urgently as possible, lest this get out of hand. Not since the rise of Justin Bieber have I seen this sort of anger, where anyone who has as much as a neutral position is vilified. You know how reddit users are supposed to upvote relevant comments and downvote anything that doesn't add to the conversation? I've seen people rationally elaborate on Tones And I's popularity (more succinctly than me) faced with downvotes, while someone can hate on her apropos of nothing and be showered in upvotes from people so baffled by the popular consensus that they have to cherish their allies like an endangered species. Ask yourself when you browse reviews, do you prefer to see impassioned elaborations on why someone likes a song that you don't like, or for the same song would you rather someone just spew out hate with no rationalisation, but at least on a Boolean level they agree with you.
On one level, I do get it. When a new artist enters the fray, it's the prime time to shape perception of them. Often you can look back on chart records of old and see monstrous sales of artists that it feels like everyone has decided was uncool, because in reality this seed takes a while to sew. Nickelback had the #1 song of 2002 on the Billboard Hot 100 because it was their first hit. People were buying into "How You Remind Me", not Nickelback. It's only when you look back that 'Nickelback had the #1 song of the year' starts to be seen in a different light. And so I can only assume this is the same thing with Tones And I. She stands out quite a bit on pop radio, and I imagine many listeners are gravitating to her song because of it. Like, so much of the chart feels perfunctory in comparison. But if she is successful, then maybe that will lead to more of her kin getting a push as well, as tends to be the case. I mentioned before about how negative paradigm shifts are the biggest fear of a music fan, and thus all the Regina George's of the world are insistent to stop everyone from making this a thing.
Here's where it troubles me further. Though I've been conditioned against it to the point I can't even admit it to my psychologist (even though they like her and will bring her up out of context), I really do enjoy this song. The first time I heard it, I thought it sounded like it could be popular in a niche not quite top 50 way, as it had the catchy appeal but not the same obvious lyrical hook of her previous single. It has a fun bounce to it with the piano, and the chorus continues to build in intensity to a satisfying conclusion at the end. I think the lyrics in this song do work to its favour though. Though few would admit it, it treads similar ground to Spiderbait's "Buy Me A Pony", which is also a song where a recording artist is reduced to a non-human product that is expected to just do that one thing the people like from them until it stops being profitable. I hope Tones And I can have another international hit because I get uncomfortable thinking about the implications of this song from a one hit wonder, and how many will probably realise it, but just go along with it anyway. I'm more conditioned to liking this song than most because a much higher proportion of my music listening than most is very much this sort of quirky Australian indie pop. Often the kind that doesn't really gain traction because it's not really in vogue, but essentially, nothing about this song is especially unique. I don't even have a problem with her voice because I've heard it all before. No 'indie girl' voice can ever be more annoying than the endless discourse around it, where there is no way for a woman to sing without drawing some kind of criticism, it's so exhausting.
Nonetheless, as I said before, I draw comfort from the fact that these artists I do listen to are obscure. I still buy their music so it's not like I'm trying to keep them from a pay check, but my point in essence is that it's so much easier to enjoy something if you aren't crowded by voices that tell you it's awful. Thinking about this song gets me upset because I just think about all the people who hate not just the song, not just the artist, but the people like me who streamed it, bought it, pushed it into prominence. I worry about the fact that a lot of this lesser known music I like would probably be subject to the same fury if given the opportunity (because this really would have just been another one of them if it hadn't taken off). I worry, that if I told them that I get anxious and depressed at the hurtful language they use, that rather than feeling empathy, they'll secretly be thinking 'mission accomplished'. I worry that, much like how anti-vax groups and general internet trolls wish I, an autistic person didn't exist, that these people who supposedly just don't like an Australian woman's voice, also wished that I didn't exist. Honestly a lot of the manipulative behaviour of the latter is not dissimilar to the way people talk about this song.
But if I can end this on a less sour note, I just want to say that it's okay to not like things. What I mean is that if there's something popular you don't like, don't treat it like an outrageous shock, because it's a very normal thing. Treating it as an abnormality is a fast track to unscrupulous behaviour as you bend over backwards to rationalise it. If you do feel the need to be critical, do so with respect to the other point of view. It's difficult to take an argument seriously when it's so petulant as to try and silence the opposition, as it reveals just how vulnerable your argument really is. Never forget that this opposition is real people, with real, complicated motives. Treat them as such, and you might just make the world a better place.