How to win the Hottest 100

No need for a spoiler alert – it was a foregone conclusion that Sex On Fire would top this year’s Hottest 100, with only MGMT challenging for the number one spot. In spite of MGMT’s appearances on numerous ads, Kings of Leon fulfilled all expectations, leaving Electric Feel languishing in their wake.

What was it that made Sex On Fire the obvious winner? Debating the relative merits of the top two tracks is a waste – the victory of Pretty Fly (For a White Guy) in 1998 proves beyond argument that the number one slot is not necessarily reserved for good songs. Quite simply, Sex On Fire won because it ticks more of the typical Hottest 100 boxes than Electric Feel. Here are a few basic rules to consider when shaping your contender for next year’s Hottest 100.


Since the rules to Hottest 100 were changed in 1993 to include only tracks released in the previous year, almost every winner has been connected to one of the four major record labels. Universal have six number one releases ( Dennis Leary, The Cranberries, Spiderbait, Powderfinger and Queens of the Stone Age), while Sony BMG’s list already features Augie March, Oasis and The Offspring. EMI only has two, but the royalties from Alex Lloyd’s Amazing and Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out will comfort them, while Warner can reap the spoils from Jet and Muse.

Both Kings of Leon and MGMT are signed to Sony BMG labels, so there’s still nothing much to separate them, although the party at Sony BMG HQ is probably still going strong.


The first Australian band to take out number one in the Hottest 100 was Spiderbait, who topped the 1996 poll with Buy Me a Pony. Australians have dominated ever since, taking out the number one slot seven times in twelve years.


Powderfinger took out the number one positions in 1999 and 2000 with These Days and My Happiness respectively, and are the only band to win the Hottest 100 twice. Bernard Fanning, frontman for the band, scored a solo number one in 2005 with Wish You Well.


The influence of media beyond the radio was highlighted in the 2007 poll, when Muse snuck in ahead of Silverchair’s Straight Lines. Though Muse’s album Black Holes and Revelations was released in July 2006, the song Knights of Cydonia appeared on the game Guitar Hero III in 2007, which boosted its profile and probably helped achieve victory.

MGMT might have hoped for a similar outcome, having featured their music in several commercials, but instead diluted the market as voters struggled differentiate the quality of Electric Feel from their other tracks Kids and Time to Pretend.


Songwriters love featuring the song title in the chorus hook, as it makes the song much easier to remember. Simply reading the title in print brings the song to mind, which translates to a stronger response from voters. The Cranberries’ Zombie features a chorus of nothing more than the song’s title being yelped by singer Dolores O’Riordan, Bernard Fanning’s Wish You Well is more polite, ending the chorus with the song title in a manner that almost insists that the listener sing along. In fact, no less than thirteen previous Hottest 100 winners sung the title in the chorus, ranging from the subtle (Powderfinger – My Happiness and Alex Lloyd – Amazing) to the sledgehammer (Dennis Leary – Asshole). Even the dark horses of 2006, Augie March, open the chorus of One Crowded Hour with the title lyric.

This is where Kings of Leon assured their victory. Lead singer and main songwriter, Caleb Followill bellows the title at the very heart of the chorus, ensuring it is sharply imprinted on the listener’s mind. If you’re not convinced, check out their track Use Somebody which uses the same device in a stadium-sized ballad to identical effect – it came in third.

MGMT, on the other hand, deliver the title lyric of Electric Feel in an arching falsetto, draped in reverb that obscures the words and makes the track less immediate. As such, the chorus takes more coaxing to recall, costing them crucial votes.

So, better luck next time to MGMT. As for the future, look forward to next year’s Number One, Sex Somebody Electric, or something along those lines.