Beyonce, Tay and triple j’s uneasy relationship with pop

You can expect to hear plenty of Beyonce’s Lemonade on triple j next week alongside new songs by Camp Cope, Kaytranada, Car Seat Headrest, SLØTFACE, and Flume.

The critically acclaimed record isn’t the feature album – that honour goes to London producer Tourist and his debut U – but the station has revealed that Lemonade will be in high rotation as an “album packet”, essentially means you’ll be hearing a bunch of tracks from the record, instead of just one song. Other records that have recently been added to the triple j playlist as an album packet include Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered., Santigold’s 99c, Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo, and the new release from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Unruly Mess I’ve Made.

Lemonade was released over the long weekend but so far only a couple of tracks have made it onto triple j – ‘Freedom’ featuring Kendrick Lamar; the Led Zeppelin sampling, Jack White collaboration ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’; and the track featuring writing credits for Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Father John Misty and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‘Hold Up’. The latter was broadcast during Zan Rowe’s show yesterday morning without causing the apocalypse. In fact, many listeners embraced it.

Of course, not everyone was into the idea.

So is triple j a pop station like Nova now?

Before we answer that question it’s worth noting that this is also not the first time Bey has been heard on triple j. The Diplo-produced single ‘Girls Run The World’ has been spun during a Mix-Up set and her mega hit ‘Crazy In Love’ even managed to sneak on air just after 9am one morning. There was also a cut from Jay Z’s Magna Carta… Holy Grail, ‘BBC’, featuring Beyonce in high rotation on the triple j airwaves back in 2013; and there have been two Like a Version covers of Beyonce tracks: Jackie Onassis’ tackled ‘Drunk In Love’, while Chairlift took on ‘Party’ with a little help from Das Racist rapper Kool A.D.

But widespread airplay for a pop star of Beyonce’s calibre is an unprecedented move for triple j. After all, this is a station that disqualified Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ from the 2015 Hottest 100 for several reasons — including an unsolicited endorsement from KFC and, importantly, the fact it had never been played on triple j. Many speculated that an anti-pop stance was behind this decision, but the station’s rather inconsistent playlisting muddies the waters even further.

While triple j continues to play commercial rock acts they’ve championed from day one like Foo Fighters and Muse long after they’ve jumped the shark to Triple M, the trajectory isn’t so clear with pop acts. It took an ILoveMakonnen cameo for Drake to finally get a spin last year, while Justin Bieber continues to get the cold shoulder, despite an artistic rebirth via producers like Skrillex and Diplo.

Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ was flogged on commercial radio, never played on triple j and yet still eligible for the Hottest 100. Why? Because the station supported her since her early days fronting Adelaide band Crisp. But the reverse almost never happens for acts that found initial fame on the commercial dial, only to reinvent themselves as crossover acts. A mea culpa was never extended to Carly Rae Jepsen, whose 2015 album E•MO•TION was a commercial flop but critically acclaimed, while Rihanna’s best album Anti only snuck onto the playlist through a remix of ‘Work’. 

Perhaps playlisting Beyonce is a tacit acknowledgment that triple j are not being guided by past decisions anymore? Or maybe it’s just a reflection of their listeners’ changing tastes and the continual blurring of boundaries between “alternative” and “pop”? There’s also the argument that Lemonade – which tackles themes such as racism, feminism, infidelity, and black empowerment – is more important than a pure pop record like Taylor Swift’s 1989, but that’s another think-piece for another time.

Interestingly, the station declined to comment on their pop stance when FL reached out to them around the time Rihanna covered Tame Impala’s ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’, which has yet to be playlisted.

Some of the criticism around triple j playing Beyonce (or other commercially successful artists for that matter) has hinged on the fact it denies an opportunity to a more “deserving” grassroots act. While industry folk like Adam Lewis – who is part of the team behind Sydney’s Secret Garden festival – share those concerns, he also applauds triple j’s decision to support am album as groundbreaking as Lemonade.

“I would be less enthused if it was part of a pattern of embracing mainstream pop at the expense of the emerging underground,” he says. “But in this case I think it’s quite a bold move at their end to elevate what could easily be dismissed as a mainstream pop album to this kind of position. I think it’s actually quite adventurous. Beyoncé doesn’t need the help but I think it’s a strong position for the station to take, and sparks an important discussion within our music community. Few albums could do that and jjj are taking the moment.”

So #Beyonce4Hottest100?