OPINION: In Defence of My Sister, triple j

27 June 2024 | 6:19 pm | Liz Giuffre

They forget that after you opened by playing You Just Like Me Cause I’m Good In Bed the next track you played was The Rolling Stones.

triple j

triple j (Source: Supplied)

To my darling sister Triple J,

It might seem strange that I think of you as a sibling of a specific gender even though you are a radio station,  but you really do feel like a beloved older sister to me.

Like younger siblings all over Australia, I can trace much of my love of music back to you.

You are now a lady of a certain age, and in an industry still dominated by the expectations and preferences of a very powerful few, you are out of place.

I get it, I am out of place too.

Being out of place often means a lot of different people expect a lot of different things from you. And no one radio station can be everything to everybody. It’s impossible.

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But once again, I see you are suffering another round of criticism. One commentator called it the “national pastime” of “critiquing Triple J”. Another says you’re just ‘not punk enough’ anymore. But were you ever, really? 

These say you play too much commercial pop and that this is new for you. They forget that after you opened by playing You Just Like Me Cause I’m Good In Bed the next track you played was Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones. Hardly shrinking violets who needed the help.

They say artists like Charli XCX belong somewhere else, the same way they said Taylor Swift didn’t belong in the Hottest 100 nearly 10 years ago. When we say women, girl and non binary artists aren’t welcome what are we saying to audiences who identify that way too?

They don’t seem to mind if Foo Fighters or Metallica appear in those charts though. What is the difference?

They say you should only play Australian and spending resources elsewhere is a cop out. But if a listener comes for Billie Eilish and finds Barkaa while they’re there, then isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t Australian artists be heard alongside internationals, directly demonstrated as worthy of equal attention?

Still, apparently, sister triple j, not only are you doing everything wrong, but everything is also all your fault.

Historically, and today, you do more for local artists, for women, for First Nations, for LGBTQIA+ people and for diversity in general than your commercial cousins. Your support of diverse and minority music makers and voices alone makes you an outsider, but surely in the best way possible.

In fact, over half of the most recent Hottest 100 songs were by Australian artists - at a time when people say music listeners don’t know or care about Australian music. You opened up the votes, and the Australian public resoundingly voted for their own.

Your very presence holds the others to account.

Because of you, dear sister, Australian listeners have access to a range of sounds and stories they may not otherwise hear. And yes, everything’s online now, but not everyone has the same access, the same knowledge, and the same ability to explore and find the good stuff. Being online offen narrows our range of exploration instead of expanding it.

Despite your continued work to change, grow, and be the best you can, your achievements are often down played, and even belittled.

Your status as a national leader is expected, but the work that goes into your leadership is not often acknowledged. Nor do people acknowledge how much harder it is to travel the road as a radio station in this current age and how relatively few resources you have now compared to ‘back in my day’.

But of course, dear sister Jay, everyone is always quick to point out that I, like the rest of your Australian family, do pay your rent. This is not so for your commercial cousins and I have no choice in the matter. So I, and many others, do feel there is a sense of obligation here.

However, there are lots of parts of the ABC I don’t actively use anymore that I still pay for. I’ve long-since grown out of Play School, but I don’t feel the need to monitor it to make sure it’s still teaching letters and numbers the way it did when I was a kid. I trust the people working on it now to know what they’re doing. I know they go through regular processes and I trust that. I trust your processes, too, sister Jay.

Sometimes I do need to remind myself that I’m not your first priority anymore. Your support for me, when I needed you most as a young Australian, set me up for life. I know you will never actively turn me away, but you shouldn’t keep things ‘how they were’ just to cater to who I am now I am older. That is space others need. I can adapt, they might not be flexible enough yet.

You have the permission, and the renewed energy, with each new presenter and genre and era - to explore new ground. And I can still learn many things from you about what’s  happening now and next, rather than what happened before.

My knees, and my ears, might not be up to your pace anymore. But this isn’t your problem. Your main concern shouldn’t be my knees and ears (you served them, at their best, years ago). Your job now is to serve the spring chickens of today.

We are not little girls anymore, you and I. You have a legacy and experience you can lean on in the best way. Careers have been made through your patronage and audiences found their artists, and each other, because of your bravery.

Yes, you’ve made mistakes, and you likely will again. As will I. But we learn from our age and experience and do our best to not let the baggage of expectations and comparisons to our younger selves shackle us. With experience also comes the wisdom of knowing to trust in the energy of the young.

Will the young people of today still find you in the same way I first did? Unlikely.

Will they immediately appreciate your rich legacy and place in Australian music history? Doubtful

But will they know that if they tune in they’ll be opening up a portal to the sounds of Australian life more representative of them and different to anything else on Australian radio?

Absolutely. And so do I.

Thank you for being here, sister Jay.