triple j and the tweet heard around Australia

How the youth broadcaster’s jokey take on a meme raised serious questions about ageism and sexism in music

During the last days of August 2021 an innocuous meme was floating around Twitter, in which people toyed with the clichéd pickup line “Did it hurt? When you fell from heaven?”

There it was, quietly gaining traction in increasingly silly and surreal ways, when yesterday (August 31) someone from the triple j social media team decided to do exactly what their job demanded and piggyback on a trendy meme for some easy traffic. And so they typed:

“did it hurt? when you aged out of the youth radio station”

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…and hit send.

The response has been swift and brutal. For people not quite as professionally online as a social media manager – like, say, folks who have genuinely aged out of the youth radio station – the tweet came with no context and seemed needlessly provocative: a music-based “OK boomer” lobbed at everyone who didn’t know what a merci, mercy is.

And that would probably not have been too controversial a thing, because music is tribal and fanbases can delineate along demographic lines. But the tweet caught fire so rapidly because it touched on something very real: Any Australian who loves music and music culture at some point experiences a moment when they finally accept that triple j doesn’t cater to them any longer.

The pain has been lessened somewhat by the existence of the digital station Double J, where codgers like myself can hear new tracks by Screamfeeder and Custard and thus tell ourselves that we’re still hip and cool and not packing a child’s lunch before trying to beat the school drop-off traffic.

But the relationship between triple j and its youthful audience is an impossibly intimate one, and so it can end not with the mature, level-headed understanding that one’s relationship with music is strongly influenced by one’s own youth, but in a sense of deep and personal betrayal.

You see it writ large every Hottest 100, when social media becomes awash with people declaring with weird, angry pride that they don’t even know who these artists are, before inaccurately insisting the problem is that triple j used to be good, man, but has now gotten shit. It’s a sentiment which a vast swathe of Australian music fans hold, although the exact moment that switch occurs does seem to depend heavily on when that person turned 25.

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None of this grousing about the youth broadcaster is particularly new. Plus, a bunch of people who already don’t listen to triple j now will continue to not listen to triple j? Um, rightio then.

But when artists started sharing accounts of treatment at the hands of triple j that were at best head-scratching and at worst ageist, that was a different story.

On Twitter, Jack Colwell claimed he couldn’t get his material heard on the station because he was already deemed Double J-ready at 25, while Ainslie Wills wrote, “As a female artist who stopped getting played on rotation when I hit my 30s, I finally feel seen.”

Emma Swift, the NSW-born country performer who enjoyed international success with last year’s ‘Blonde On The Tracks’, was similarly critical in her assessment of the Js in the wake of the tweet.

“I did an audit of the last 20 tweets of a certain station and – no surprise – hardly any Australians mentioned – and even fewer women,” she seethed on Twitter, slamming the station for “…just roasting artists for having the audacity to age,” before concluding “I’m very out of touch with most trends in music. But I’m pretty connected with the very real struggles of Australian musicians. We need our public broadcaster to do better.” (It’s worth noting that Swift was a DJ on Double J before moving overseas and therefore presumably has some insights into how those internal ABC systems operate.)

Other critics of the triple j tweet have sharply noted the way it blithely ignores how the music industry ‘ages out’ women far earlier than it does men. As Melbourne artist Ruby Jones wrote on Instagram, “I can not TELL you how many conversations I have had with independent female and NB artists in their 30s and 40s who are WILDLY talented, driven and mostly independent self managed/funded who are terrified about being aged out of the music business, all while watching cis men just keep on working forever.”

Aside from provoking a large percentage of the Australian music industry, triple j’s seeming ageism also brought one name into sharp focus: that of the station’s music director, Richard Kingsmill, and the fact that the presumed gatekeeper of the youth broadcaster is himself 57 years old.

So, to recap: with a single attempt to piggyback on a trending meme, the national youth broadcaster managed to alienate Australia’s music fans and artistic base, and could yet end with heads rolling – or, at the very least, some hard and apparently overdue questions being asked about how the station chooses the artists that it supports with airtime.

Or, to quote a Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly song that Double J are probably playing right this minute, “from little things, big things grow”.

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