Is Rock Dead ? (part 3)
Music has a special place in my heart. Being born in 2003, I was just under three years of age when I first remembered hearing my favorite artist. My parents had just bought a copy of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Stadium Arcadium, an album which went number one in many countries. Despite being the only piece of music I had ever heard, it was the best piece of music I had ever heard. And on this very day, 15 years later, it's still up there. The record has aged wonderfully. For these reasons--the most prominent one being my parents musical taste-- it seems like rock is very much alive. In a literal sense, it is-- rock is known to be a kaleidoscope of energy and passion, an experience, a gift from God. Some wish all music was like that these days. But, the genre’s outlook largely depends on the perspective of the person, their upbringing, their taste. Rock music has developed a popular connotation with the old, the tasteless, the vulgar. And for these other reasons, it seems like rock is very much dead. Or, at least dying a slow death into permanent irrelevance. Hear that sound? It’s the sound of controversy. Music changes, no matter who’s talking. How it has changed though is an entirely different matter. With such conflicting perspectives and outlooks, a question is raised that isn’t terribly new, but remains important when defining our culture: Is Rock dead?
Integrated and developed initially as one of the many arguments on the internet, the status of one of the most well-known and well-heard genres in music has become a subject of controversy and debate. Both rock fans and rock musicians alike have come to wonder if their beloved sounds of guitar, drums in a 4/4 time signature, and screaming, profound vocals, has lost its luster. The idea of a band, a group of talented musicians blessing the public ear with their sound has fallen out of favor, at least in comparison to the hip-hop and pop solo artists that break the top of the charts. The many music fans who have observed this trend see rock losing its roll, and concluding the genre is dead. The music industry has forever had a strong grasp on what the majority hears, the majority of what is advertised-- the decline in rock’s popularity reflects that. The stereotypical themes of rock music, such as guitar-driven melodies and bass-driven rhythm and bands do not sell anymore-- the individual now sells. Patrick Schober points to this argument within his article “Is Rock Dead? A discussion on the Genre’s Dwindling Commercial Sales and Thriving Underground,” where he evaluates the life of the genre and sheds light as to why many interpret the genre to be at a dead end. He gives the more typical reasons that drive this argument, in which rock simpy “doesn’t chart anymore,” and stating that “young people are regularly choosing other genres.” Although his article is largely a rebuttal, the reasons listed necessarily acknowledge the change that the music industry has overseen, or perhaps even controlled. Schober also points out that classic older rock acts, such as AC-DC and Red Hot Chili Peppers largely carry the genre commercially-- new rock acts simply can’t gain popularity, reflecting the industry’s change. Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco has essentially become Panic!, as he is the only original member remaining-- every other musician joins him on tour under the strict nomenclature of a touring member. It is likely that Brendon would have preferred to keep his original band together, but he understood the increasing changes happening within the record industry. He relegated his bassist, and a primary songwriter in Dallon Weekes to a touring member in 2016 in response to the increasing changes.
Although the points made have considerable merit, deeper research must be completed in order to truly see if Rock is miserable commercially, and if there is really no immediate sense of life. Schober largely attributes the genre’s supposed death to dwindling commercial sales, and argues against the actual demise of rock music by paying close, in-depth attention to the underground scene. Because this article is largely argumentative, the article becomes increasingly over-the-top biased by the writer. The author is arguing for one side, the underground life, and fails to take an even look at both sides and provide an objective argument with an emphasis on neutrality. Also, within this article he states his rebuttals not only are of his own, but are rebuttals of the entire website itself, meaning that the website is largely biased right from the very beginning. A source that is biased will likely ignore the other side of the argument in an explicit manner, resulting in the article by Schober being less than ideal for critical analysis on the true state of the genre. It can also be asked if what is defined as life-- is it just immediately present or is there more to a life? The rock acts that still chart today may have their own significance beyond the genre, and may have relevance regardless of their sound. But, it cannot be ignored that the majority of long running acts that still chart do so because they have evolved and changed. If Red Hot Chili Peppers were to make the same album that they did thirty years ago every single time they put out a new record, they would surely fall into the pit and toil away in obscurity. Rock music is more than what it was many years ago, and the new acts of today likely remind the youth of what their parents listened to, proving the music to be a turnoff. The new acts may try to recapture a sound lost in time, turning away many fans looking for something new.
What are audiences looking for in the modern age? Funny enough, it's the looks of the artist that are now just as important, if not more important, than the music itself. With the increasing development of technology, especially among the visual aspects, music has become as much of a visual art as an audial one. With this realization, the industry would exploit this trend, and they did so with high expectations. The industry was correct in their decision to exploit and take advantage of the visual arts-- it was a brand new platform where arts could take on the television screen, and attract a whole new younger audience to their sounds. Unfortunately, the rise of the music video, especially as influenced by MTV, would put many staple acts at a major disadvantage, especially among those who are now deemed “classic rock.” Society has its general ideas of who is attractive, who has swagger, whose face can represent a brand or an industry. With this notion comes the rising of Michael Jackson, Rick Astley, Prince, and more. Each of these names had a gravitational pull on their fanbases, and it was not just because of their music. Although entirely subjective, it was realized that many artists only had sound, and weren’t a good fit for the music video, resulting in less popularity for most bands. Some bands would adapt, and dress in abstract, bright clothing, darken their hair, wear eyeliner, or wear nothing at all in order to create a visual gag to land them a spot on the big screen. This trend of “video killing the radio star” has only become more apparent, as the looks of artists are now the biggest selling point-- something that has supposedly killed Rock. Artists such Megan Thee Stallion and Rhianna take the idea of women as a sex symbol and utilize it to thier own avantage-- their bodies are the selling point, and not the music they (don’t) make. Videos of dances are now essentially the main attraction when it comes to music, and this is something that Rock never had, and continues to somewhat lack to this very day. The “Water Under The Bridge” dance of Megan Thee Stallion and Adele promotes the visual, and essentially forgets the audial aspect.
This argument was likely much more relevant ten to twenty years ago than it is now, despite many artists having the visual aspect of their art being more apparent and important than the music. The look of the artist no longer matters as much as it used to, at least in theory. Musicians from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and places can now embrace their culture, embrace their physical traits, and put them on proud display for the rest of the Earth to view. The music video has actually decreased in popularity among the industry, in favor of shorter, more digestible pieces of content, such as YouTube Shorts and TikTok. The visual aspect that music now has to blend in with can now be seen as helpful, and not prove to put other, more supposedly talented artists at a disadvantage. But, there is still something very legitimate about the looks of the arts and the labels society puts onto people; looks do matter in the music industry.
As one of ther many results of the visual emphasis that music now has, the youth has begun to realize the negative, sexual, racist connotations a lot of lyrics in Rock music have had, or perhaps still have. The individual artists of today in pop music consist of a wide variety of flavors, subgenres, and people. But, one type of artist stands out among the rest, and this type has only grown in popularity and demand by the music industry and fans alike. The emergence of the solo female artist has taken the music world by storm, and the presence of these artists only continues to grow and diversify, at least in ethnicity, and type. Adele, Beyonce, Ariana Grande are just a few of the many that have skyrocketed to the top of the charts. None of these popular
artists play rock music-- they play some categories of pop, and sometimes lean into hip hop. Only recently have they touched into Rock again-- see Sour by Olivia Rodrigo. The popularity of these solo female artists have exponentially grown, as the industry understands supposed female empowerment now sells, on top of the individual artist. It is a foolproof pan to cash in on, and it has left most male-dominated rock bands in the dust, even if the sounds they create are “better” than those female artists. Mary Ann Clawson’s “When Women Play the Bass: Instrument Specialization and Gender Interpretation in Alternative Rock Music” overviews a study conducted, analyzing the male dominated music industry of the 1990’s, and how women are typically relegated to playing the bass among staple rock acts. Clawson applies the life of the musician and band, and applies it to a general level. She states that shortages of, the typical reason why women are asked to play bass, are not caused by an “expansion of demand,” but rather by “changes in the work process.” She continues her stance on the subject by adding “women gain access to jobs” when men begin to abandon them, acknowledging a changing music industry. Not only does this article further point to how theindustry has become dominated by the solo artist, but it also highlights the extreme levels of sexual bias and male-dominated tendencies of the genre of rock, and the idea of a band. This idea has become far less socially acceptable within the 21st century, resulting in the dominance of the rock band and the male rock musician becoming a shadow of its former self, and being relegated to the discount rack, and to the older man who refuses to live in the present moment. The evolution of societal acceptance and expectation has begun to kill Rock-- at least, the core ideas and themes of rock lyrics.
With the addition of the sexual limitatons of the genre, along with the emphasis on the individual, the argument of rock’s death becomes more compelling, and more close to convincing even the biggest fans of Motorhead that their genre has carosueled into its grave. Music, whether socially or lyrically, is largely a reflection of society during a specific period of time-- it can be heard in the lyrics and what instruments are used. It can be seen that using “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan (or the Chili Peppers cover) would not be a great sounding, or a lyrically accurate representation of 2021. The same can be applied on a general level to the entire genre of Rock-- it just does not fit the bill of today’s trends, tendencies, and society’s habituations and beliefs anymore. Among the arguments considered to convince someone the death of the genre, the influx of the sexual lyricsm and the subsequent condemmation of such, along with the renaissance of the female solo artist would be by far the best argument.
It is asked why the music industry no longer necessarily supports the idea of a rock artist or the idea of a band, and the fallout due to the overtaking of other genres merely scratches the surface of the argument. Rock music is largely a reiteration of what has already been done, according to many music critics and fans alike. It has been pressed by the press, among other forms of media, that Rock music has been basically the same, recycled, tired sound that it was since the 1970's, resulting in a shrinking fanbase. Music and art changes and evolves, built off of a past iteration. Art comes in many shapes and forms, but what is popular, what is at the forefront of the representation of a form of media changes relatively quickly and rapidly. This applies to music-- what was popular thirty years ago, such as rock, is no longer popular because the sounds would grow tired and the industry would lose money. It is why new sounds are constantly being pushed and plugged, and it is why rock has seen the dying of the light. Within “How Rock Ruled in 1991-- and Why it’s dead 30 Years Later,” Chuck Arnold takes the vantage point of Parker and puts it on full display, thus enhancing his own argument. Arnold integrates Parker's thoughts of the genre being “too derivative” of previously popular sounds. The focal point of his argument is that Rock’s sound hasn’t evolved, so therefore, the fanbase it fed has either shriveled, died, or left.
A gigantic stipulation within the argument that rock is the same as it was fifty years ago is that this vantage point is largely created by the mass amount of media the majority of us consume. To generalize a genre into a singular, generic sound, to confine its appendages into a box will indeed let those consuming the material to think it is dead, or dying. Accompanying rock to a general term, and not acknowledging all of its extremes and dichotomies and variations is an example of a hasty generalization. Arnold points to an example of the genre sounding the same in the band Gretta Van Fleet, as the band has a strikingly similar sound to Led Zeppelin, and has amassed a following because of it. Although there is solid evidence to the genre’s death as the group will never be as popular or culturally changing as Zeppelin, the entire life of the genre cannot be associated around this one specific example, as many other acts that would fall under the category or Rock are progressive in nature. Arnold’s paper is well sourced and cited; it consists of opinions from those who know how the music industry works, such as Ronen Givony, an author, as well as Lyndsey Parker, a host of Sirius XM radio. But, these sources are unfortunately biased, in which they both advocate for the opinion Arnold attempts to convey. This creates a less neutral approach on the topic and will likely shun advice that plays into the life of the genre. In contrast, many groups are taking advantage of an underground scene and utilizing it as means to experiment, thus breathing life into the genre, unbeknownst to the media.
Perhaps, then, maybe rock isn’t as dead as some make it out to be. Not every slight and exuberant detail can be pointed to just a name, and this applies for all genres of music. Whether it be pop, rock, or alternative, every genre and its sub genre has changed in sound to some degree. Rock’s own subcategories have changed and evolved, and have also fluctuated in popularity-- disco has only started to recently regain popularity, while alternative was the dominant subgenre for three decades. Through the midst of all the change and upheave, perhaps people’s interpretation of a genre is simply rooted in the name. Rock has its own stereotypes and tendencies-- the setlist lyrics, the exclusion of the industry, the exploitation of the races. But, perhaps Rock isn’t all bad anymore, and it has simply taken on a new sound, and probably a new name as well. Within Elizabeth Dewit’s “Rock Music Isn’t Dead-- It Just Sounds Different Now,” Dewit explains that rock has evolved to a point where it is no longer the same kind of sound, the same kind of sonic engineering that it once was back in the 1970s. The music that is popular today formed from a “natural progression from what rock used to be,” Dewit argues. The article presents itself as a bit more thorough than the average article on the subject providing quotes from rock artists but not facing the entirety of the article on a strict singular opinion. The article also has strengths in its complexity and historical context provided by Dewit. The most popular iterations of the genre have come and gone, but all have been rooted in the rhythm, blues, and rock of yesterday. There has been disco, new wave, grunge, emo, and indie-- all share the same “basic” principles of rock music that rose out of the 60’s and the counterculture movement. The sounds that we hear today, the sounds of Royal Blood, the sounds of Twenty One Pilots-- they take rock to a fresh level.
There is sustainable logic that drives this argument, and it is a trait that Dewit, among other writers and bloggers, attempt to emulate. The idea behind music taking on a new incarnation and refreshing itself, whether it be Rock or a different genre, is an argument that isn’t nearly brought up enough within the provincially-minded internet debates that spark up from time to time. Although logic isn’t brought up terribly frequently, it may just be the best argument for the side that supports the life of the genre. Surely pop doesn't sound the same as it did in 1955, and why would it? Music evolves and art takes on new shapes, and the same can be said for rock. But, for those in the back that play air guitar, or for those in the back that shun every single sound coming from a guitar, the argument serves no purpose rather than an excuse for a dying breed. A logos appeal towards art seems contradictory, at least on paper. With this notion in mind, it can be seen why the majority of those arguing for the life of rock sees arguments emotionally driven, emotionally backed up. Perhaps an emotional argument would best drive the art form, as the oldest rock fans would say the industry has essentially killed the passion that once went into crafting a song.
Yes, the argument cannot be based on a single appeal, much like how the supposed death of rock cannot be based on a single place. The status of rock cannot be based on a single contingency-- the greater picture must be observed for the most accurate interpretation. Upon looking at the greater picture for Rock, it can be seen that the genre is flourishing elsewhere outside America. Whether it be music or politics, Europe shares a different story than America. America is a country predicated on emotional appeal. We hear the loudest voices first, and we see the confidence in the political leaders with the most passion, the most fire and the most care for their ideas (not so much people). It makes sense why a logos argument would do a disservice
to the typical American audience, especially on something somewhat irrelevant as Rock music. It may just be a matter of exposure-- while hip hop and pop flourish within the lower 48 (and probably the other two), Rock and Metal are doing the same thing in the entirety of Europe. In terms of music, Rock music is indeed flourishing among all genres across the entire continent. It's an argument preaching for the life of the genre with substantial statistical evidence to back it up. You never truly know someone’s answer, but if you were to ask an average, middle aged american about Deep Purple, they would start humming Smoke on the Water and move on. They probably know the classics, but they probably don’t know that Deep Purple’s Whoosh! of 2020 charted number 4 in the United Kingdom, as well as number one in six other countries. Speaking of charts, the same album placed at a modest 161 on the US Billboard 200. It’s really no wonder why people think rock is dead, at least in the United States. But, our personal biases tend to inflict our own thoughts upon the rest of the world. What is mine is now yours. Deep Purple, along with artists such as Nothing But Thieves and Yes, would like to challenge your ignorance.
A chart is a decent indicator of popularity, sales, and digital downloads for a respective artist. But, this statistic can only give so much evidence pointing to Rock’s life. Yes, charting at number four is a great accomplishment, especially for a group at 53 years running. But, which artists were ahead at the time? Which 160 were in front of Deep Purple in America? It is safe to say the list largely consists of hip hop and pop acts. Although the argument points to taking in the greater picture of the Rock’s performance in the charts, a lot of this picture is red, white and blue, and we are not talking about the UK. America is a gigantic country and a gigantic market for mass media consumption-- how artists fare in the west is a good indicator of how they are doing overall, but the best indicator still remains the entire picture. Part of this picture that is being painted includes the countries we live on, but also the ground below our feet. There is a large, bubbling underground music scene gearing up to explode, potentially. The underground rock scene doesn’t particularly care for a guarantee-- it is thriving and new artists and even new bands are on the come up. Rock may just be more alive than any other genre six feet underground, proving life can come in all forms, even if not immediately evident. Within “Is Rock Dead? A Discussion On The Genre’s Dwindling Commercial Sales and Thriving Underground,” we say hello to Patrick Schober once again. He presents readers with the question of the topic itself. Schober does argue both sides-- he largely attributes the genre’s supposed death to dwindling commercial sales, as stated earlier, but then argues against the actual demise of rock music by paying close, in-depth attention to the underground scene. Here, Schober offers a direct rebuttal to a different article, “KISS’ Gene Simmons Explains Why He Keeps Saying ‘Rock Is Dead’,” by Spencer Kaufman. Within Kaufman’s article, he brings up the authority of Gene Simmons, who claims the death of the genre is rooted in the “download and file share,” claiming new bands “don’t stand a chance” in comparison to other pop acts. In response to a somewhat legitimate argument, Schober brings to light the underground nature of new rock, and how there are plenty of “radio-friendly rock songs” that do not “appear on the radio.” In contradiction, a large majority of the small acts and bands making up this underground scene largely get their initial starts on downloading platforms such as Bandcamp and Soundcloud-- it’s an incredibly easy way to put your name onto a widely used platform, especially if said artist doesn’t have the money or resources to have an agent do it for them. It is also largely unlikely a band will get a major label in this day and age, further highlighting the life that these streaming platforms actually give to rock. Rock does indeed have a thriving underground scene, and as Simmons said in Kaufman’s article, “the robots” can’t take everything away from the genre. Rock likely just does not receive the media attention it deserves, as indicated by the earlier media love for the solo artist.
If life is indeed present within the underground music scene, it must be indicated as to what underground consists of. Usually, underground in nomenclature means to be right below the surface, and not immediately evident in merit or success, at least to a wider crowd. Yes, it is apparent that rock is thriving right below us, but how many people are exactly down there in the gallows? Is the popularity of a genre really indicated by how many people are listening to it in secret? The term “underground,” although a name not new to the music industry, is a term that remains loose in its ambiguity. The underground can morph in an instant--- it can get deeper or shallower, and can shrink or grow depending on the viewer, more so the listener. Is something really underground if you listen to it all of the time? The argument that rock is thriving underground does not serve the life of the genre terribly well. If there was some sort of excuse for rock’s demise, it would be people’s ignorance of real music, real taste. Therefore, the oldies and the goodies are banished to the below.
But, the majority of avid music fans are not ignorant about what they hear. Concerts are more popular than ever-- even the Omicron variant of the ongoing pandemic will not push further and further postponed tours for staple acts back once again. Rock bands and artists remain extremely popular for multiple generations, which further reflect the popularity of many rock acts that stretch across multiple generations. Bands such as the Chili Peppers AC-DC, The Rolling Stones, and even acts that are no longer active, such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd continue to influence the younger generations are still tour headliners at plenty of festivals. Within a YouTube video listed by the Chili Peppers’ official channel, Flea, the bassist for the band, speaks about the continuation of fans that stream into their shows. He states on the relationship with his fans that bands like his own have a “certain thing that connects with people,” acknowledging that the longevity of a rock act does not come guaranteed. He goes on to explain what he sees at his latest shows, stating that the first fifty people are “teenage kids going crazy,” while in the back their parents are also enjoying the music. The connection they have made, along with a plethora of other acts, demonstrates immediate life of the genre, whether it be in concert or at home. Rock has a certain longevity that has outlasted numerous subgenres, and even the most popular of genres that were at the top during the 20th century. Flea seeing how he keeps his fans among multiple generations demonstrates a key component to rock’s life, one that other genres don’t necessarily possess: It is an art form, and not a trend. While it may be trending to sing about timely topics and make them your own, these pieces of media, typically found in pop music, fall out of favor over time. An example is The Spice Girls-- a once extremely popular fad for the industry to create a girl group out of nothing but angst towards boy bands, has not fallen out of favor. Once again, this reflects the current popularity of the solo artist, but this appears to not be a trend, and nor does hip hop. But, though it all, one can sufficiently argue, by pointing to staple rock acts and concert act lists, prove that rock is still here among today’s titans.
Among the most challenging aspects that all art forms must face, the largest one, and the most obscure one at that, is the test of time. One wonders what sounds will still be relevant or what videos will be on replay 50 years, 100 years into the future. Among all the sounds that exist, a primary example would be anything by The Beatles, who, fifty years later, are receiving a documentary on Disney Plus, entitled Get Back. After all the years and all the fluctuation and metamorphism that has occurred in music, the sounds the Beatles made are still in constant circulation, proving their timeless appreciation. A large amount of rock music made in the seventies and eighties still sounds like it could have been made today--the same cannot be said for pop music of then. Although one could say that rock just simply hasn’t evolved, they would likely turn the corner and be hit in the face with a copy of Razzmatazz by IDKhow-- a record of Rock’s quintessential passion and talent, charting in numerous countries, and sounding quite fresh as well. Rock’s sound has definitely evolved and become more polished, taking on new iterations as time goes by. This is exactly why Rock has somewhat of a timeless essence to it that other genres can only hope to recreate. With nostalgia making a comeback recently, people are starving for a sense of the past, and a glimpse of yesterday, opening the door for rock to back rising out of the underground with a full head of steam. The Chili Peppers are ready for that, as they have a global stadium tour planned for 2022. That is highly impressive for any act, let alone a band. Among arguments made, rock’s transient nature within the spectacle of time is impressive in its own regard, and speaks volumes about the life many say it still has.
It is quite easy to call Rock a dead genre among all the other genres that exist in this world of constant fluctuation. If you were to pick a random college student tucked away inside the sounds of his or her airpods, the music they are listening to is more likely to consist of modern pop or hip hop than an old rock staple. Yes, Rock is not as popular as it once was-- what was once at the forefront of the industry has now changed and been replaced with something new, something that better reflects the current climate of our planet and our culture. Despite all these tendencies and trends, the presence of Rock has not evaporated entirely, and the presence of Rock music still continues to enlighten many people and many numerous generations to come.
Rock staples continue to headline concerts, and many acts are just getting started in the underground, ready to explode like the tallest stratovolcano of sound. The genre has a revitalized, exciting future that looks to expand its longevity and inject life into the music industry. Either that, or at least looking to make the majority aware of the genre’s existence once again.
In the words of Eddie Vedder: “I’m still alive!” Damn right you are, Rock music.
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