The day after The Rubens won the triple j Hottest 100, beating out more established artists like Tame Impala, Courtney Barnett, and Kendrick Lamar, triple j shared a clip of the band members reacting to the news of their win.
Sitting around a table at the triple j studios, the members of the Menangle-bred indie rock outfit are visibly nervous as they await the countdown’s number two song. When the funky bass of Lamar’s ‘King Kunta’ sounds, the boys are stunned.
It’s easy to understand their surprise. Tame Impala are arguably the biggest band in the country, Courtney Barnett was one of the most highly publicised success stories of 2015, Major Lazer’s ‘Lean On’ was the favourite to win, and Lamar was hot on the heels of 2015’s most critically acclaimed album.
And yet, sitting at number one was The Rubens’ ‘Hoops’. The song was something of a hit on the charts, though by no means a smash, peaking at number 25 on the ARIA Charts, and The Rubens had experienced Hottest 100 success before when ‘My Gun’ hit Number 10 on the 2012 poll.
“The Rubens are a big band for Triple J listeners,” triple j content director Ollie Wards recently told SPIN. “They’ve had a huge year since releasing [the Hoops LP], so I’m not surprised the title track got voted for so much.”
“They’ve toured the country this year and got a great reputation for playing live, including an epic set at Splendour in the Grass.” However, if you ask the band members themselves, they’ll give you a refreshingly objective explanation of why they think they won.
“I think I’ve only sort of really come to terms with it now, a few days [later],” The Rubens frontman Sam Margin told SPIN. “We weren’t obviously expecting to win. Originally I think we were hoping for a top ten.”
“We ended up closer in some predictions, and we seemed to be up in the top five… but I definitely wasn’t thinking about number one.” The reason ‘Hoops’ did end up at number one wasn’t, Margin argues, because they simply wrote a superior song.
Instead, Margin reckons ‘vote-splitting’ played a central role. Whilst Courtney Barnett and Tame Impala’s respective 2015 albums each nabbed four places on the countdown, including two in the top five for Tame, The Rubens are now the second act since 1996 to top the countdown with their only entry.
“I’m a massive fan of Tame Impala,” admits Margin. “If I’m honest, I think if Tame Impala just had one song people could choose from, they would have won. I think everyone liked a different song of theirs.”
Indeed, if you look at the entirety of this year’s poll, all the way down to number 200, the next entry from The Rubens is ‘Hallelujah’, which was voted into number 121, just above Tame Impala’s ‘The Moment’.
The Rubens’ surprise victory hasn’t come without its fair share of detractors, either. As Tone Deaf reported last week, in addition to being called a “safe” choice by Fairfax Media, The Church’s Steve Kilbey savaged the band and their song in a Guardian op-ed.
“I don’t know, it just sounds like old men not really getting something and being frustrated,” Margin told SPIN of Kilbey’s criticism. “I understand that [mentality], I understand that music’s changed.”