Let’s take a stroll, shall we? I’m in the mood for one. Make a right onto iTunes Chart Lane, and tell me what you see.
In the popular songs chart, you’ll find booty-enthusiast Meghan Trainor, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez’s ode to fever of the Bieber variety and more Taylor Swift. In one direction, you’ll find five freshly-tatted Brits, and in the other, Maroon 5 and Carrie Underwood. At the end of the street, in the dilapidated houses, you’ll hear Hozier singing “Take Me to Church” and Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters banging on about something deliciously angsty. That’s it. That’s all she wrote. Those are the 10 songs and artists the country is currently vibing to. What I see in this crummy bunch can be summed up in one word: pop.
A quick disclaimer — this is not a hipster column promoting an indie agenda. I have no desire to use this forum to bash the music industry and the factory pop that dominates it and our lives; I actually like quite a bit of it. (Anyone who hasn’t shimmied a shoulder to “Shake it Off” is in denial. Let it happen.)
Instead of railing on what we’re living with, I’d like to address an absence in our lives, a void that many may not realize exists. As Robert Plant famously said (and no, that is not an esteemed British professor of environmental studies): “It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled.” It’s been a long time. Pretty lonely, too. Where are the clanging guitars, the riffs, the brooding lead singers? Heck, where on the top charts are the bands?
In virtually every decade since the genre’s birth in the ̓50s, we’ve had rock on the charts, on the radio, in our lives. The ̓60s speak for themselves (hello, shaggy-haired men). The ̓70s brought us the likes of Foreigner, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, oh my. The Ramones, The Clash and The Cars enhanced the ̓80s, and what would the ̓90s be without Nirvana or The Smashing Pumpkins? Not only did they (and many continue to) break barriers — they were popular, by the truest sense of the word. The kids were singing along to “Cherub Rock” and “Hot Blooded,” dancing to “I Wanna Be Sedated” and rocking the casbah all at once.
Even the first decade of the 21st century saw the emergence of mainstream darlings Sum 41, Jet and The Killers. But now — 2010 and onward — you don’t hear any of it. The popular radio stations don’t spin tunes from Jack White’s Lazaretto. It seems like England is some kind of parallel universe where rock bands, like the fabulous Arctic Monkeys, exist and flourish. But apparently they can’t seem to leap across the pond and make a splash outside of indieworld.
If you look at the top 10 on iTunes again, some may argue Foo Fighters are rock ‘n’ roll. And yes, they’re a band, along with Maroon 5. Maroon 5 is poppy pop, though — Adam Levine’s skinny jeans and all that jazz. And my prediction is that once the hype around Foo Fighters’ latest release, Sonic Highways, dies down, the iTunes chart will snap back to its original, formulaic shape.
We live in a world where autotune outperforms a killer guitar solo, where a sample from Sir Mix-a-Lot trumps a sexy rock riff any day of the week. Jim Morrison and his leather pants have been swapped for Ariana Grande’s go-go boots. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, though many of you purists out there may be cringing at that last bit. The real issue is that it’s not exciting, not diverse enough. We need a little bit of Dr. Dre and Kurt Cobain, and we need people to gladly sing along to both in the shower.
It’s been a long, lonely time. The charts are a little bit too safe. Smells like a revolution to me.