Glass Animals’ Hottest 100 win: ‘Heat Waves’ and the power of online fandom – Music News – triple j

How an internet subculture got fixated on ‘Heat Waves’- the #1 Hottest song in the strangest year of our lives. 

2020 was… well, you know what it was. The entire world was upended by the virus that shall not be named, but that was just the top story in a year that often felt like the darkest timeline imaginable.  

That meant that celebrating the rare wins was more important than ever, and Glass Animals have just scored one of the biggest. 

While it was a close call at one point, with just 350 votes separating the #1 and #2 song in the polls, ‘Heat Waves’ came out on top by a very comfortable margin, becoming your #1 Hottest song of 2020 and making Glass Animals the first British band to top triple j’s Hottest 100 since Mumford & Sons (in 2009 with ‘Little Lion Man’).  

A woozy reflection on a doomed romance told through the lens of a steamy summer, ‘Heat Waves’ evokes a heartache we’ve all felt at least once in our lives. It’s a tale as old as pop, but Glass Animals wire that melancholy into colourful production and rhythms that encourage you to sway and swagger.  

The beats have the hip hop and RnB-shaped knock of Dr. Dre and Timbaland (two of frontman Dave Bayely’s biggest inspirations), but they service the song’s instantly catchy hooks and cycling plucks of guitar rather than overshadowing them.  

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The song’s simplicity is its strength, refining the genre-twisting psych-pop sound that’s been the Glass Animals trademark since 2014 debut album ZABA. At over 103 million streams (and counting), it’s also the band’s second biggest song on Spotify. 

While they may not be as culturally ubiquitous as recent Hottest 100 toppers like Billie Eilish and Kendrick Lamar, Glass Animals are hardly underdogs. In fact, they have an edge over their overseas competition – a bond with Australians that’s arguably as strong as any homegrown band.  

You’d be hard pressed to think of an international act who’d be more appreciative of topping triple j’s Hottest 100.  

Last week, they even pledged to get Australia tattooed on their collective butts should ‘Heat Waves’ hit #1. Well, it’s time to fire up the ink and bare your cheeks, boys!  

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“Our love for Australia runs deep. It is where we had our first sold-out shows. It is where triple j gave us some of our first airplay in the world,” the band wrote on Instagram last week just as the song re-entered the Global Spotify Daily Top 100

The feeling is mutual. ‘Heat Waves’ was also a Top 20 hit here on the ARIA Singles Chart, ranking higher than in their native UK. They’ve also had some Hottest shine before, with five entries over the years, beginning with ‘Gooey’ reaching #12 in 2004. They made their first visit Down Under that same year, playing ‘Gooey’ in “Ding Dong Lounge for 20 minutes straight because we didn’t have enough songs for a full set on our first tour.” 

They’ve been welcomed to our shores like heroes ever since, regularly playing to sold out venues and packed festival crowds Down Under. 

How many of y’all who voted for ‘Heat Waves’ play Minecraft? 

‘Heat Waves’ has certainly benefited from some additional signal-boosting – such as a remix from Diplo and a spot on the 2021 soundtrack for the blockbuster FIFA videogame series – but as with every blockbuster song of recent times, from ‘Hotline Bling’ to ‘bad guy’ and ‘Old Town Road’ – the track’s success is wrapped up with internet culture trends.  

More specifically, ‘Heat Waves’ inadvertently became the soundtrack to some horny Minecraft fanfic. 

Head to any comments section involving ‘Heat Waves’ – YouTube, Twitter, Genius.com – and you’ll find it spammed with references to ‘dnf’ and the quote: “I burn you?” “You melt me.”  

What’s going on? Let’s dive down the wormhole together.  

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Late last year, ‘Heat Waves’ inspired a piece of erotic fanfiction of the same name about two popular Minecraft YouTubers named Dream and Georgenotfound. Between them, the pair of streamers have over 21 million subscribers, and ‘dnf’ is short for Dreamnotfound – the ship name for the pair. (If you’re scratching your head, it’s the portmanteau generated by stans who want popular characters – like Draco and Harry Potter, aka Drarry – to end up together. Look, just Google it.)  

The ‘Heat Waves’ fanfic went viral among the MCYT (that’s Minecraft YouTuber community), which opened up the song to a whole new audience discovering Glass Animals for the first time. And what do fans do? They find ways to express their fandom, whether that’s making art, video analyses or in-jokes like “I burn you?” “You melt me”, which is a phrase from a pivotal moment in the fanfic where the unrequited YouTubers begin to express their true feelings.  

Don’t believe it? Searching #heatwaves on TikTok produces thousands of posts dedicated to the unrequited love of Dreamnotfound, scored by Glass Animals. And it’s the same deal on nearly other social platform.  

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The music scene has attempted tapping into the 126-million-monthly-players power of Minecraft before (from Disclosure to Woodes to Splendour In The Grass fans) because almost anything that gets wrapped up in that huge fandom is bound to grow bigger. And the ‘Heat Waves’ fanfic/song crossover is the perfect example, organically taking on a life of its own.  

First published in November and widely praised for being a cut above the thirsty pack, the ‘Heat Waves’ fanfic is now up to 12 chapters. Its surging popularity has surprised even its author, @tbhyourelame1 initially, they retweeted fanart and praise for their work, but now rely on a third party Twitter account to keep ravenous fans updated on its progress. 

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As well as producing an outpouring of art, memes, tribute videos – you name it – the fic has also stirred up controversy among the MYCT fandom, some suggesting the work is inappropriate towards its real-life subjects.

But it’s also spilled into the Glass Animals fandom, where redditors have debated the pros and cons of having opinionated 13-year-old boys discover their fave band. And then make wild claims that Glass Animals should be crediting all of the song’s success to the fanfic.

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It is fair to assume that to a certain subsection of fans – Hottest 100 voters or not – ‘Heat Waves’ will forever be linked to the fanfic. As one YouTube commenter put it: “came because of a fic. Stayed for the vibes.”  

It speaks to the meme-friendly space that Glass Animals occupy – their whole campaign around their latest album Dreamland tapped into of-the-moment marketing novelties like face-scanning, Instagram filters, livestreaming, and even an open source art archive

But for frontman Dave Bayley, ‘Heat Waves’ signifies something far more personal than all that. The 31-year-old has described the song as “about loss and longing, and ultimately realising you are unable to save something.” In ‘Heat Waves’, Dave loses his girlfriend, but in real life, he nearly lost his band and his best friend.  

Tragedy, memory, and Dreamland  

For Glass Animals, things were grim long before a viral pandemic showed up.  

In July 2018, drummer Joe Seaward collided with a truck while cycling in Dublin. He broke his leg and required two operations to treat the life-threatening damage to his skull that had impacted the area of his brain responsible for speech. He woke up with no short-term memory and had to learn to talk, walk, and read again before even considering jumping back on the drumkit.  

He eventually made a miraculous recovery, but at the time, the band couldn’t see any silver linings. 

“I was in the hospital (with him) and the future looked terribly bleak,” Dave Bayley told triple j last year. Before his musical career, he had studied neuroscience as part of his medical degree and understood just how severe Joe’s injuries were. “I didn’t know if he was going to make it.”  

He and Joe were friends from school, forming a band with pals Ed Irwin-Singer and Drew McFarlane in Oxford, and seeing one of his nearest and dearest suffer tore him apart. 

“The future was damn scary and completely unknown. During those weeks in the hospital, it was so difficult to look forwards that I found myself looking backwards.”  

He reflected on his upbringing: raised by his mother and scientist father in America for 13 years (between New York, Massachusetts and Texas) before moving to England. He thought about lost friends, old romances, phases of his life – and what he dug up began shaping the music that formed Dreamland, each track processing a different memory. 

He recounts seeing his friend’s mother being a victim of abuse (on ‘Domestic Bliss’). He reminisces on good times spent with his best friend, then finding out after he’d left for the UK that they’d been caught trying to bring a gun into school (as chronicled in ‘Space Ghost Coast To Coast’). There’s snippets of Dave’s mother woven into the album’s segues, lifted from home movies.  

When life as they knew it came to a halt in 2018, Glass Animals had to rethink everything to get back to a recognisable sense of normal.

‘Heat Waves’ is the most sonically accessible moment on Dreamland, but it’s no less autobiographical. Where most Glass Animals lyrics were typified by their oddball imagery and turns-of-phrase – all ‘peanut butter vibes’ and ‘pineapples in my head’ – ‘Heat Waves’ is strikingly direct.  

Released on 29 June 2020, just as the Northern Hemisphere kicked off one of the weirdest summers on record, ‘Heat Waves’ toys with that sunny imagery (the wiggling mirage coming off steamy asphalt like ‘fake water all across the road’) as Dave sings remorsefully over bassy rumbles and gossamer plucks of guitar:  

‘Sometimes all I think about is you/Late nights in the middle of June/Heat waves been faking me out/Can’t make you happier now.’ 

It’s the kind of chorus that has you hooked and singing along on the very first spin, but it’s infectious quality disguises its sadness. In solo versions of the song, stripped of its gloss and colourful sonic trickery, it becomes softer and sounds all the more tragic.  

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“It’s about realising you can’t make everyone happy,” Dave wrote around the song’s release.

“We are often expected to ‘be strong’ and to swallow our sadness. failing to do that is seen as weakness. So we try to cover up our feelings and hide inside of TV shows or video games or drink or drugs. but being vulnerable should be a positive thing.” 

That complex idea is funnelled into a woozy earworm, and it’s the immediacy and clarity to the melody and lyrics that makes ‘Heat Waves’ so forcefully memorable. 

The accompanying music video helped make an impression, too. Filmed at the peak of lockdown with help from East London neighbours brandishing smartphones, it features Dave wheeling his gear through the deserted streets of pandemic London. He arrives and performs at an empty venue – his bandmates disembodied heads on screens behind him. 

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“This video is a love letter to live music and the culture and togetherness surrounding it,” Dave said of the clip. “It’s meant to reference the sentiments in the song…about being defeated and unable to save something…but tweaked the context a little.” 

It’s also a key example of how Glass Animals were quick to lean into the whole #IsoLife thing for their creativity. Dave kept himself busy in lockdown performing Quarantine Covers of Lana Del Rey, Drake and Nirvana (before Post Malone did it).  

The video for title track ‘Dreamland’ makes a meta-spectacle of the frontman producing and assembling the one-shot video alone in his apartment. When live music essentially evaporated, he and guitarist Drew McFarlane performed ‘Heat Waves’ on a street corner in their local Hackney out front of a billboard for their album. “This is tour for me now,” Dave deadpans in a video of the event. “This is touring in the corona age.” 

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‘Heat Waves’, and Dreamland as a whole, resonated on many different levels for many people.

For some, it’s an unrequited love anthem. For Minecrafters, it’s the sound of semi-NSFW fiction. For many, it’s a hugely relatable, somewhat prophetic song that captured the collective mood of 2020 and the surreal lives we were all forced into living.  

It’s all the more impactful because of the challenging, unpredictable 2020 we’ve all had, not in spite of it. As we wrote when Dreamland was triple j feature album:  

“2020 has been unpredictable in its landing of some serious blows to life as we know it, however it’s going to be in how we recover and find a way forward that really matters.” 

‘Heat Waves’ is “about realising it’s ok to be defeated by something,” as Dave put it. For better or worse, he was able to reach that epiphany before the rest of us did in 2020 because he nearly lost his best friend and his band, but instead snatched victory from the jaws of near-defeat by producing the most popular Glass Animals track of their career, and the #1 Hottest song of 2020.