I’ve moaned on and on about this in the past, but another round of nominees for the 2010 J Award has been announced, and yet again, I’m left exasperated by absence of artists who have released great albums this year but have been ignored by the broadcaster. Washington and Birds Of Toyko have joined Sia, Tame Impala and Cloud Control on the roster of ‘breakthrough artists’ in line for the national youth broadcaster’s 2010 award for best album.
Any person who has followed the awards over the past year should recognise that many of these ‘breakthrough artists’ also happen to be the ones consistently played on high rotation throughout the year on Triple J. I don’t begrudge an artist from receiving praise for work well done and reaping the rewards, but frankly, I’ve formed the view that the J Award is nothing more than a rubber stamp, justifying the promotion of certain artists, while ignoring those who are doing equally as good work with little recognition but who haven’t, for whatever reason, captured the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Triple J audience. In short, populism reigns supreme and critical assessment of the work submitted for the award may go by the weigh side. Sounds elitist, but hear me out.
The award ostensibly represents the talent Australia has to offer. To quote their website, it is an award that “recognises the very best musical talent that Australia has on offer, each year celebrating the outstanding musical output of our homegrown artists.” [Source: http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/jawards/10/about/].
So the question that always bugs me when these nominations come around, particularly when you consider the objective of the award, is the J Award truly representative of quality Australian music, or simply some means of self-justifying giving a lot of airtime to a relatively small group of bands. Where is the transparency?
This is not a criticism of any of the bands nominated in 2010 so far – truth be told, I’ve only listened to two in full – but historically, some of the records that have been nominated have been decidedly underwhelming. Occasionally, some artists seem to be nominated on the basis of their past work rather than the merits of the record that is currently up for judgement. Case in point, Bernard Fanning’s nomination for Tea & Sympathy some years back, a record that was pedestrian and lacked any real staying power (this Drowned in Sound review of that record pretty much sums up my own listening experience of this release).
Of course, the preceding view is coloured by my own subjective judgements, but it’s hard to deny that the artists who get nominated generally come from a group that gets consistently hammered into the listeners. There are question marks over whether the broadcaster is aware of other records of true value, that in many cases far exceed those nominated.
Lets have a look at a few examples. Last year, Sydney band Songs put out an absolutely brilliant self-titled debut record yet wasn’t picked up by the J Award. This year, Melbourne group Otouto have put out Pip, another piece of brilliance that has tragically gone ignored. The Boat People’s Dear Darkly is also great but can’t even rate a mention thus far. There are many other examples that I’m sure people could think of. Richard in Your Mind’s debut record is outstanding and hasn’t appeared on the nominees list.
While more esoteric, the 2010 Mess and Noise mid-year report is far more illuminating when it comes to seeing what artists are making waves in the craft. I suggest having a read of that. You’ll note Otouto’s name features prominently among the list. I wonder why that is?
Consequently, this post talks of my own personal loss of faith in the merits of having a J Award. If the award is to recognise the best musical talent, then I think it is failing, because it is not recognising the best musical talent, but rather reinforcing its own monolithic and completely subjective opinion on what is good and what is bad. I know it would be impossible to nominate every single record of merit for the award, but if the nomination process were more transparent – if the listeners could see exactly why the judging team selects certain records rather than others – perhaps some of my confidence could be restored. Because at the moment, the J Award seems nothing more than a fancy marketing tool for both Triple J and their favourites.
To finish off, let’s have a look at some zingers from the past….
In 2005, The Drones released an absolute masterpiece in Wait Long By the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By along side the aforementioned Bernard Fanning solo record. The Drones lose out to Wolfmother.
In 2006, Gotye and Sarah Blasko released great records and lost out to The Hilltops Hoods’ formulaic brand of Australian hip hop (pan pipe sample + beat + beer reference + shout out to DJ Peril = song).
In 2007, Eddy Current Suppression Ring released a great debut record and lose out to The Presets’ Apocalypso. I almost threw up in a hat on that one.
Occasionally it had looked like perhaps the national broadcaster had got it somewhere in the correct ballpark – in 2008 with The Panics, and last year with Sarah Blasko, but generally, I have been underwhelmed with each offering from the ‘winner’ of the award.
Any further thoughts?