Every Australia Day, also known as Invasion Day or Survival Day, radio station Triple J plays the Hottest 100 songs of the previous year. The list is completely audience-generated (community participation and ownership), and has cemented its place in modern Australian culture.
This year, the Campaign for Australian Aid teamed up with host Tom Ballard to celebrate #Proudest100; a brazen attempt to link every song of the Hottest 100 to “the great work done in our name by Australian Aid”. However, I think Google won the day and overshadowed the campaign with a strong political statement.
To celebrate the Campaign’s attempt, I complied a short list of the most tenuous links made between Australian aid and song.
#100 Hell Boy by Seth Sentry
The first one sure wasn’t easy, a rap in which Seth spits lyrics such as, “These dudes’ll prolly spread rumors bout me / Fuck Illuminati, I’ll ruin their party / What ya looking at me for, that ain’t my posse, get off of that reefer”. Apparently the aid message here was about urban development, in which “Australian aid helped fund infrastructure and sanitation projects” in Vanuatu. Roads. Where this list is going, we clearly don’t need roads.
*Alternative linkage: Do you know the greatest trick foreign aid ever pulled? Convincing the world that national interest should be the vision for strategy, allocation and overall policy direction.
#80 Everyday by A$AP Rocky
Another hip hop song, which are sure to be the trickiest. This song is linked to Australian aid’s success in making sure “an extra 17,000 children survive compared to 1990”. Semantically and syntactically, that sentence ain’t well composed. A$AP’s lyrics are fairly clear, “I look so fucking good most dykes’ll fuck me buddy / Yeah I’m a piece of shit /I know I plead the fifth / I tell her holla if ya need some dick”.
*Alternative linkage: Sampling Rod Stewart and Miguel, this song is a mix of confessional and boast. These are the same two predications aid and development flip between; boasting of success and impact, then occasionally confessing sins under the guise of “aid effectiveness” and Lessons Learned.
#75 Elevator Operator by Courtney Barnett
Apparently, elevator operators are being phased out of employment and the workforce. I’m pretty sure they only exist in swanky hotels and Upper Eastside New York apartment buildings. This is also exactly why Australian aid is being used to create jobs for 3 million women worldwide. Right.
*Alternative linkage: My reading of this song is that it’s about mental health (and has nothing to do with employment). Mental health is one of the most over-looked areas of public health both in developing and developed countries. It is also a highly prevalent issue amongst aid workers.
#2 King Kunta by Kendrick Lamar
When it came to the business end of the countdown, the campaign seemed to give up. Most of the top 10 feature Ballard doing his best to salvage the project. King Kunta by Kendrick Lamar just cannot be linked. Ballard appears on an 18-second video clip saying, “Kendrick Lamar’s King Kunta has a lot of swear words in it, doesn’t it? Hey, did you know the Australian government…”. Smooth.
#14 Hotline Bling by Drake
Drake’s Hotline Bling, the song I was most looking forward to, also got the Ballard YouTube treatment. A song about booty calls is connected to the vaccination of children under the benevolence of Australian aid. A song where Drake wonders “if you bendin’ over backwards for someone else” is linked to the vaccination of children.
The #Proudest100 was an ambitious undertaking and an innovative attempt at communicating foreign aid to a wide audience. Many of the links are thin, either connected to the dates the songs were released or arbitrary numbers that are reflected in Australian aid’s impact. It’s very unproblematic, of course. Aid is featured as a one-way superhighway delivering effective services and products to millions of poor people. Australian aid has provided this, enabled that, helped [insert country or peoples here].
Alternatively, some of the songs would make very good linkages to highlighting challenges, ethics, and discourses around foreign aid. For example, Shutdown by Skepta, What Kind of Man by Florence + The Machine (the + is silent), Wolves by The Cat Empire, The Less I Know The Better by Tame Impala and finally, Foolish by Alpine.
Judging by the “Love This” feature, not many people are proud of these efforts. Well, one guy is, and he appears on just about every single song/aid linkage as proud.
Whether people are not proud (ashamed?) of Australian Aid, the Hottest 100 or the linkage between aid and the songs is unclear, and figuring it out will take some rigorous evaluation. I look forward to reading the Lessons Learned. Kudos to Tom Ballard and the Campaign for Australian Aid for the valiant effort. They tried something new, and that doesn’t happen every day in this sector. But, it’s going to take more than figures and statistics loosely connected to pop music to mobilise and engage Australian support for foreign aid. Engagement is not solely conotated with positive feelings or support for something or someone. It can be critical, and that’s a good thing.
I’ll leave you with Lamar’s King Kunta from the amazing album To Pimp A Butterfly. The song has a number of references, from Michael Jackson to James Brown. The main one is in the title, a reference to Kunta Kinte, a Gambian slave brought to America in the 18th century and memorialised in the novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The novel was also written into a television miniseries, Roots, watched by 170 million viewers and “credited by some as invoking a change in American attitudes to slavery–a turning point in the post-civil rights struggle.”
Featured image shows Kendrick Lamar performing in Norway. Photo by Kim Erlandsen.
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