Why Did Rock Music Decline and Can It Make a Comeback?
There was a time when rock was the dominant form of popular music. The decline of rock began as early as the mid 1960s. By the 1970s, disco had taken over. However, rock still remained a force until the late 1990s. By the 2000s, pop rock was for the most part the only form of the rock that was charting high on the Billboard Hot 100. Pop rock even struggled between about 2009 to 2011 when dance and electro music largely took over pop radio.
Pop radio radically changed again in 2013 and pop rock made a comeback. Electro-rock band Imagine Dragons and pop punk band Fallout Boy enjoyed success on both alternative and pop radio. Indie, folk, and country inspired music achieved pop success as did R&B and funk.
With pop radio embracing more diverse forms of music including pop rock and electro-rock, is there a chance for the guitar driven rock similar to what was popular in the 60's and 70's to make a comeback as well?
Simplistic Arguments for the Decline of Rock
These are samples of responses from a forum that asked the question of why rock music is in decline.
"Music for youth is now about the packaging and the presentation-not the music."
"Today's 'stars' are nothing more than video created characters that rely too much on flashing lights, back up dancers, video editing to make them look like they're actually singing and much much more."
"its all about making lots of money now"
Except image has always been important in music. Rock legends like The Beatles and Elvis Presley were very well packaged. Bands from decades ago like The Osmonds and The Monkees were as much video characters as musicians. The music industry has always been about making money and finding the next big star. Some people like to blame MTV and the rise of the music video. But rock survived well into the late nineties, more than a decade after MTV's arrival.
These are reasons I think rock music may be in trouble.
Demographic Problems for Rock Music
One of rock's problems seems to be demographic. Modern rock music is mainly being purchased by young, white males. Girls and women 40 and under mainly purchase pop music. Despite the success of some later female rockers like 10,000 Maniacs and Alanis Morissette, rock still seems to have a problem attracting female buyers. In 2006, the website smartgirl.com surveyed girls around the world on their music taste. While the survey didn't provide percentages, rock only appeared in the other category and that was just a tiny slice of the overall pie chart. Now, it's possible that some rock fans chose alternative (which covers several genres) but this was still less than half the size of the pop category.
In one 2002 survey, 52% of whites versus 29% of nonwhites said they like rock music. Half of all American children under the age of five are a minority. Rap and hip hop have given urban and minority youth the kind of irreverent outlet that rock gave to white youths in the past. The potential buyers for rock music are in decline.
Unfortunately rock, which had it's origins in blues as well as country music, produced few well known African American stars. Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry and Little Richard (and BB King if you include blues rock) are just a few who are still widely known today. The most well known black artists from the past mostly sang soul, R&B and disco. Representation matters. Black, Latino and Asian youth may be less attracted to a genre with artists that rarely or never look like them.
The early fan bases of rock stars like Elvis Presley and The Beatles were heavily female. However, rock stars themselves were largely male. Female rocker Janis Joplin felt that she had to become one of the boys to succeed in rock. Joan Jett also had a very masculine image. Like rap music today, rock was often criticized for having misogynistic lyrics and was considered an aggressive expression of male sexuality. Despite this, women made up a large portion of the fan bases of rock bands.
Groupies were a prominent part of the 1960s and 1970s rock music scene. Groupies were girls, sometimes underage, who would seek sexual contact with members of their favorite bands. Some would actually travel with the band for a time.
So, why have women and girls become much less interested in rock music? I don't know but perhaps the feminist movement is one reason. The overt sexism and masculine nature of rock may have been a turn off to girls raised with ideas of female empowerment. The rise of strong women in pop music, like Madonna, may have made it more appealing to girls and women as both listeners and artists. Perhaps young women could identify more with independent women in pop than oversexed male rockstars.
The modern rock I hear on alternative radio is still heavily male and seemingly mostly white. Rock music probably became too white and too male to remain hugely popular.
Rock Has Become Too Serious?
I listen to both pop and alternative radio. Alt radio, of course, plays a lot of modern rock. These songs are often very serious and somber. Rock music wasn't always so serious. Some of it was fun.
Is rock music your favorite genre?
Do you think rock music lacks diversity?
Queen's We Will Rock You, Joan Jett's I Love Rock n' Roll, and The Beatles Yellow Submarine and Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds (which was about a picture preschooler Julian Lennon drew), were upbeat and fun songs. So, was Third Stone from the Sun by Jimi Hendrix even though the alien involved decided to destroy the Earth. The Pixies have a song about sea monkeys called Palace of the Brine. Both Van Halen, and David Bowie with Mick Jagger covered Martha and the Vandellas Dancing in the Streets.
Perhaps fun rock music is still being made but it isn't being played on my local alternative station, so I'm not aware of it. It looks like pretentiousness has taken over rock music. If a song doesn't have a serious meaning, it has no right to exist. Rock fans decry the death of "real music." This is a turn off to many people who want music to serve different purposes. Sometimes, it should be fun. Sometimes, it should be serious. Sometimes it should be about things we can relate to whether that's falling in love or a painful breakup. Sometimes it can deal with social issues.
Can Rock Comeback?
With radio diversifying, the moment is ripe for guitar driven rock to come back. Just like Avicii popularized folktronica (folk/country/bluegrass mixed with electronic music) on pop radio and Imagine Dragons popularized electro-rock, someone may come along who makes guitar driven rock that can appeal to pop audiences, as well as women and minorities.
Imagine Dragons are having a lot of success with electro-rock
An unreleased blues rock track by Kesha and Patrick Carney
Maybe some already successful artists will bring rock back. Perhaps a group like Imagine Dragons, who are having so much success with electro-rock might be inclined to release some traditional guitar rock to pop radio. Or perhaps Fallout Boy will at some point reduce the pop in their punk and sell a rockier sound to pop radio.
The always ambitious Kesha hoped she would be the one to bring rock and electric guitars back to pop radio. After all, she was partly responsible for the electro takeover on the radio. Unfortunately, her label wouldn't allow. However some rock and country tracks still made it onto her second album Warrior. Hopefully, Kesha, who recorded rock, country and blues music as a teenager, will win her bitter struggle to gain creative control over her work. Kesha is a genius when it comes to writing catchy hooks. Mixing her catchy lyrics with rock, blues rock or country rock could work on the radio.
Foster the People are given some of the credit for bringing indie music to pop radio. Adele is given a lot of the credit for bringing back the ballad. I can definitely see pop radio embracing rock. All that's really needed is for someone to break through and popularize it. If other artists can capitalize on their success rock may become a force in popular music again like it was in the 1990s with Nirvana and Alanis Morissette.
Maybe the rock purists won't like the form it takes because it doesn't sound exactly like 60s and 70s rock. These are the purists who consider a group like Linkin Park inauthentic because they mix rock and metal with rap and hip hop. But that shouldn't matter. Music has always evolved and changed and it always will. Great music has always incorporated influences from other genres. I would prefer to see rock change and remain popular rather than become a niche genre like jazz.