MAKE it offbeat and catchy, popular yet alternative and you might guess the Triple J's Hottest 100 winner this year.

The annual countdown of Australia's best tracks of the year before begins again tomorrow morning, as much of the country cools off with inflatable pools or in trendy bars.

The Australia Day tradition unites those rural, regional and city dwellers who helped form the 100,000 people casting 1.4 million votes.

Each year the countdown courts controversy as critics question how much Triple J's own playlists and personalities influence the final result.

University of Melbourne Associate Professor Mark Pollard said while these may be influences, the sheer cross-section voting meant there were always surprises.

In 2004, he said, Irish stadium giants U2 made the list with its Vertigo track, a song never played on Triple J.

Assoc. Prof Pollard said there was a powerful ownership of the countdown whether listeners were in a country outpost or a city centre, because they felt it was their result.

"I think one of the things about alternative music and bands and radio stations, you need to have a sense of ownership," he said.

"A lot of us have that feeling with bands.

"Triple J makes a point of Unearthed through focusing on regional talent and it turns into ownership.

"It's my band from my town."

As the head of the university's School of Contemporary Music said there was a rough formula to picking the winner.

It must be popular without being "pop" music, alternative but successful on the mainstream charts and slightly offbeat.

His pick? Riptide by Australian Vance Joy.

"It has those ingredients: really catchy and capturing the turn of the singer or solo-singer with a bit of that Angus and Julia Stone feel," he said.

"That's my wild guess."

The countdown begins at 11am Queensland time or at noon New South Wales time.



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