By Ernest Baker
What the hell happened to rock music? The most successful band out right now is either Fun. or Mumford & Sons, and that is fucking depressing. I’m not even close to being an anti-mainstream rockist. Like, in an ideal way, I want to hate Fun. and Mumford & Sons for pussifying the genre, but I know that “Some Nights” and “I Will Wait” are jamming, and I’m forced to respect them for racking up those Grammys. I’m not even mad at what those bands are doing. There’s just a fear and looming sadness when you acknowledge that Fun. is not Nirvana and Mumford & Sons is not Guns N’ Roses. Those days are gone.
Lamenting the passing of a period of music, insisting that it was better, and wishing it would return is one of the most cliché, typical, and honest behaviors of any music fan, especially when it comes to rock. Watch any YouTube video of Cobain or Bowie or Hendrix or Zeppelin and scan the comments—90% of them will be cynical and nostalgic. This happens on R&B videos, but people today still have Frank Ocean and Beyoncé. This happens on pop videos, but people today still have Rihanna and Katy Perry. This happens on rap videos, but people today still have Kendrick Lamar and Drake. But rock fans are hurting. They’re feeling the void, and it’s understandable. What’s interesting is exactly how the Rock Music Economy has collapsed over the years.
It’s all been a very visible decline. It’s culminated in a 2013 when rock is just not the popular music anymore. No rock band is opening or closing the VMAs. The award for Best Rock Video was even relegated to a throwaway pre-show presentation during this week’s broadcast of the VMAs. No rock band is at No. 1 on the Hot 100. The people who sell a million albums first week these days are Taylor Swift and Lil Wayne. But 10 or so years ago, Limp Bizkit was doing that, and Creed was pretty damn close to doing that. People hate those bands, but it just goes to show what kind of grasp rock once had on pop culture.
Maybe that’s how rock got itself into this mess: always moving on from one phase to the next, but not in the evolutionary way that the music moved from punk to post to hair to grunge. Even though those evolutions were based on the rejection of something, it always seemed like there was a respect for previous incarnations of the music. By the late 1990s, as grunge gave way to complete mainstreamification of rock and led to the birth of bands like Matchbox 20 and Vertical Horizon, rock started moving from one phase to the next with embarrassment, and if its own participants didn’t believe in the genre, who else would?
Cynics and contrarians got Blink 182 and pop punk the fuck out of here. They got rap-rock the fuck out of here. They got emo the fuck out of here. They got post-punk revival the fuck out of here. And they got that indie hipster shit that was happening in 2008/2009, when MGMT was the biggest band in the world and Jay Z was going to Grizzly Bear concerts, and Vampire Weekend was on the cover of SPIN before they even had an album out, the fuck out of here. Now we’ve arrived at an existence where the only rock stars left are people who don’t make rock music and Mac Demarco, who maybe 12 people know about.
Gone are the days of Sid Vicious cutting himself on stage. Gone are the days of Ian Curtis kicking that chair, David Byrne having spasms on stage, Morrissey making depression chic, Axl Rose assaulting fans, or even Kid Rock attacking Tommy Lee over Pamela Anderson.
You can point to Rihanna’s manufactured insanity, Frank Ocean’s beef with Chris Brown, and EDM’s rise as a sign of other genres having life injected into them. We just lived through a summer with records from Kanye West, Jay Z, J. Cole, and Drake in one 90-day radius. That’s life. It feels like rock hasn’t had much life since The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, and Modest Mouse all dropped in the same year. It feels like rock hasn’t had much life since The Vines, The Hives, and The White Stripes all had those green Buzzworthy tags on MTV at roughly the same time. James Murphy just quit LCD Soundsystem and the game has been fucked up since. Now all rock has is Maroon 5 and Imagine Dragons.
There was a time when rock had a complete, undisputed, suffocating stranglehold on the entire realm of popular culture, and that time is no more. Macklemore and a fucking teenage terrorist are more relevant subjects for the Rolling Stone cover than any rock band.
It’s not that I don’t know about or listen to the awesome, great, independent, underground rock music that’s still being made and released every day. But the fact that it’s underground and not mainstream therein lies the problem. There was a time when rock had a complete, undisputed, suffocating stranglehold on the entire realm of popular culture, and that time is no more. Macklemore and a fucking teenage terrorist are more relevant subjects for the Rolling Stone cover than any rock band. Why do you think they have like 12 Springsteen covers every year? There’s just nothing new in the genre that matters on the massive scale that it once did.
I don’t have an answer as to why rock is so boring right now, but there’s no question that it most certainly is. Kids would rather be Twitter Famous than be in a rock band these days. The genre has lost but all its influence with the masses, and at best you have a Lollapalooza as the last bastion of the genre’s former glory. Rock music will always be around and there are ebbs and flows to music—who knows, by the end of the year maybe something amazing will happen in rock and hopefully it does because rock music needs it.
“Moves Like Jagger” goes down in history whether we like it or not, but I’d rather have a new Jagger. “Ho Hey” is fucking fire but I still need something that makes people feel the way “When I Come Around” made people feel in 1994. I don’t doubt it’ll happen again, but until it does, these are the dark days. When the most successful rock album of the year is called Save Rock and Roll, you know that the epidemic is no myth.
Rock music: Get it the fuck together.