If you turn on the radio today and sift through the channels that play current hit songs, it seems like about 90% of them will be EDM, Pop, R&B, Hip Hop, or some combination of those. You might get one or two highly-polished Pop-rock tunes à la Hozier or something, but gone are the days when rock music dominated the airwaves. Same story with TV; I hear more dubstep wobble on Hulu commercials than I do guitar riffs.
But to be fair, this is not the first time rock and roll has taken a back seat to new trends. Here is a very simplified synopsis of how I understand the changes came about.
- 1950’s – Rock and roll emerges out of blues and boogie-woogie, and is quickly adopted by American Youth. Big Band and gospel music begins to fall from the mainstream. Parents warn their kids of the dangers of Devil’s music. Good times are had. See: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis.
- 1960’s – Rock continues its rise in popularity, and is no longer quite as demonized. The British Invasion happens, America is inundated with blues-inspired rock groups like the Rolling Stones and the Kinks. The Beatles become a worldwide phenomenon and pretty much own the Billboard Top 10 for years. It’s also important to note that this is the time that artists like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez revived folk music as a medium for political and social commentary. It should also be noted that Soul music is still incredibly popular during this time, thanks to artists like Sam Cooke and James Brown. Motown records ends up with 79 Top Ten records from 1960-1969. Finally, Woodstock bookends the decade by solidifying Rock as not only a musical genre, but also a lifestyle.
- 1970’s – If there was any question before, it’s been answered now — Rock music is now the mainstream. Bands like Led Zeppelin, Foreigner, and Queen are able to fill entire football stadiums with screaming fans, giving way to the term Arena Rock. In fact, it actually became so popular and mainstream that you even saw sub-genres begin to splinter off in protest. Prog Rock, which originated in the late 60’s, began gaining traction as a loftier and more experimental alternative to the somewhat formulaic approach to songwriting seen in most Top 40 songs. Punk music takes hold of the counterculture and rebels against the commercialization of rock music by bands like KISS. Disco emerges in the late 70’s out of Funk and R&B, and America’s relationship with dance music begins.
- 1980’s – Rock music continues its shift and creates even more subgenres. Heavy Metal declares that Punk Rock doesn’t have a monopoly on anger, gains widespread appeal thanks to bands like AC/DC, Metallica, and Megadeth. Disco is dead, but the use of synthesizers and drum machines is adopted by what can only be described as the emo kids of the 80’s — New Wave is born. By the late 80’s, Arena Rock has been transformed into “Hair Metal,” Bon Jovi and Motley Crue are playing on the radio at almost any given time. Thanks to artists like Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna, the 1980’s also saw the rise of the pop star, commercial juggernauts who dominate Top 40 radio by picking up the dance mantle that Disco left behind. Run DMC and the Beastie Boys come on the scene in the late 80s and suburban white kids first start hearing hip hop.
- Early 1990’s – History repeats itself. Much like the rise of Punk music in response to KISS and Elvis, Grunge emerges and effectively kills mainstream Hair Metal. Somehow, Alternative Rock is now the mainstream. Rap at this time also begins to grow in popularity, thanks to groups like Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, and NWA.
- Mid-Late 1990’s – Anyone who watched TRL as a kid knows how this story goes. For the first time since the 1960’s, Rock music is no longer the most popular music with the nation’s youth. That title goes to the corporately designed teeny-boppers and boy bands, as well as the flashiest and least lyrically substantive rappers (I’m looking at you P-Diddy). The only mainstream Rock music on the radio are Pop-Punk bands, Rap/Rock hybrid bands like Limp Bizkit, or shock rockers like Marilyn Manson or Korn (stupidly named Nu Metal). These were the dark times.
- Early 2000’s – Like Grunge, and Punk before that, “Indie” rock bursts on the scene in response to the sad state of affairs. The Strokes, The Hives and White Stripes enjoy widespread commercial success, and the airwaves are once again filled with guitar-centric tunes like Seven Nation Army. 9/11 seems to have taught us that life is short and precious, and that we shouldn’t waste it listening to Fred Durst or Jessica Simpson. Rap and Hip Hop have been gaining in popularity since the 80s, and are now just as popular with Americans as Rock and Roll. Pop-Punk bands like Yellowcard and Sum 41 have another short-lived revival, leading the way for America’s collective emo phase.