The song you’ve heard above is currently atop of the Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs, and is not like Billboard randomly classifies the genre of a song. This is what the so called rock —and alternative— radio stations and their streaming counterparts are playing in their catalogs. If you’re over 25 and you went through post-grunge, alternative rock, post-punk, pop-punk/emo you’re probably asking “is this rock?”, but if you’re a teenager you probably believe this is what rock music sounds like. Now, genres change over time but is it a song like twenty one pilots’ “Ride” the new rock of the 2010s
In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, legendary rock artist Gene Simmons (Kiss) declared “rock is dead” to which Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl denied by tweeting a session of his Sonic Highway recordings. Both artists are right in a way. Simmons claims there are no more arena-filling rock acts like that of Pink Floyd or Kiss whereas Grohl shows that grunge-era band are still relevant. However, neither of them pointed out any newer bands that are still making rock music.
But… what is rock music?
According to Wikipedia, rock music originated as “rock n roll” in the United States in the 1950s and has since developed into different styles. Bands that originated in the 1960s are regarded as “classic rock”, later on “psychedelic rock” emerged as part of the counterculture of the era. Punk rock and heavy metal emerged in the late 1970s. The term “alternative rock” was first coined in the 1980s alongside other sub-genres such as new wave and post-punk. In the 1990s, grunge became part of mainstream radio. Fusions with rap and electronic music appeared later in that decade, but the popularity of rock music in the mainstream radio started to decline in the mid 2000s.
Despite all these different sub-genres, rock music is centered on an electric guitar, electric bass guitar and drums. Songs lacking this instruments, or at least their synthesized equivalents, are hard to identify as “rock”.
The current Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs does not only include the predominantly reggae “Ride” on top but also dance-pop songs such as Coldplay’s “Adventure of a Lifetime” and “Hymn for the Weekend”. Though Coldplay started as an alternative rock band in the early 2000s, their last three albums had been considered more dance-pop than alternative whatsoever. Yet, they are still being played by rock stations though their fanbase might have also changed. Other pseudo-rock songs on the list are that the Lumineer’s “Ophelia” or “Spirits” by The Strumbellas, songs that have already reach “Top 40” status and their sound is more related to folk or country.
If you ask me, the current number one for both the Hot Rock Songs and Alternative Songs should be “Take It from Me” by KONGOS it is a cathcy rock tune that draws element of psychedelic music, electronic and even hip-hop. The song is currently peaking at No. 16
To find out about real new rock, you either have to go through predominately pop songs in what both radio stations and streaming services are calling “alternative”. The term alternative, as I mentioned before, began in the 1980s as a form of underground independent music. In that time, it was clearly an alternative to the rock and pop songs on the radio. Nirvana brought alternative rock into mainstream radio in the early 1990s and the sub-genre changed ever since. Nowadays, it is intended for artists whose music do not fit into any genre, but they are not necessarily “indie” or “underground”. Artists like Björk or Radiohead are still considered “alternative” but crowning Billboard’s Alternative Songs is “Ophelia” by The Lumineers.
Where are the new rock bands?
In this world of individual customization through streaming, it is up to you to discover new music. And if you trust their algorithms, you’d probably end up with some cool examples. The other option is reading music magazines that review new bands without mixing up with genres. The band Car Seat Headrest, fronted by 24 year-old Will Toledo, is a critics’ darling. Their most recent album Teens of Denial draws similarities to Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation but with only one male vocalist. Yet the album only seems to be popular among critics.
Another of this year’s beloved releases in the real rock music scene is Paradise by the Vancouver punk rockers White Lung, whose frontwoman Mish Way reminds you of Courtney Love’s enraged vocals. Once again this is band that you won’t hear outside of the music critics’ circle. Not even Canadian rock radios are playing their music.
Another female fronted band, The Kills, offers what is now known as “electronic rock”. Their genre is still debatable but it is certainly more rock than whatever Coldplay is doing right now. The Kills are rulling streaming services but they don’t get much popularity in rock radio.
Setting aside piracy, streaming and the decline of the music industry in general is another reason fro the decline of the rock music scene. On this topic, Billy Corgan said that local music scenes should disappear. Corgan, 49, understands that in the new generation heavily influenced by social media there are no borders. He believes the next greatest rock act could come from South Africa or India.
From his premise, I’ll take the example of my home country Venezuela. The golden age of rock in the South American country was the 1980s with progressive rock bands like Aditus or Sentimiento Muerto dominating the scene. The 1990s saw the emerge of some fusion rock bands but it wasn’t until the late 2000s when a series of new Latin GRAMMY-nominated alternative rock bands start dominating the rock scene not only of Venezuela but of Latin America. Expats Viniloversus are now venturing into the North American market with the release of their first English single “Only Hungry For You”.
None of these newer bands may have the opportunity to become the next Guns N Roses. Their little exposure in the mainstream radio is to blame more than streaming or the general decline of the music industry, but that is another topic that I won’t be discussing. Clearly the golden era of rock n roll is long gone.
Are rock fans also fading away?
Rock music is also associated to those misfits who refuse to listen to conventional music. At school, while all the “cool kids” are jamming to their Top 40 tunes, rockers are tuning their guitars to learn the chords of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. As long as there are nonconformist individuals that are not attracted to what’s trending, rock music will be kept alive.
Rock is not dead. It is its definition that is being mislead. Radio stations and streaming websites should get rid off bands that formerly played rock music and “alternative” artists that do not even fit into the “arty rock” sub-genre, and leave the door open to those bands with guitar, bass, and drums. And if that means that Top 40 music fans won’t be listening to any “rock” tunes let them, a music genre should never be re-defined just so it fits the requirements for mainstream radio.
Because of this article, I’ve decided to create my own “Top Rock Songs” chart which includes only real rock songs.