I have been thinking about this question for some time. Sometimes I feel that Rock music has run its course and should be put on a shelf, and we should respect the genre like we respect our elders.
Other times, it feels like Rock music is alive, well, and thriving. In this think piece, we’re going to ruffle a few feathers… We’ll look at both sides of the argument today and leave the decision to you: is Rock music dead?
Reasons Why Rock Music Is Dead
Let’s start with the opposing side and get it out of the way, shall we?
1. It Is Very White and Very Male
Representation is a massive problem for Rock music. Apart from female stars like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Alanis Morisette, and 10 000 Maniacs, there aren’t many women in Rock. Riot Grrrl tried to balance the industry by giving women a platform in the punk scene.
All punk is rock, but not all rock music is punk. The movement succeeded to a certain degree. Still, Rock remained an Only Boys Club at its core. Here’s a great Riot Grrrl playlist showcasing excellent female talent.
Then, when we consider a survey conducted in 2002, only 29% of nonwhite respondents said they liked Rock music compared to 52% of whites.
Hip-hop and rap music, rising to popularity in the late 1990s, has given urban nonwhites a voice to have a say and an outlet for their frustrations, fears, and dreams. Rock was the de facto outlet for disgruntled white youth in the 1970s and 1980s.
So, Rock has a representation problem—women and, to a certain degree, nonwhite persons are discouraged from rock. Rock borrowed influences from African and European music but has not produced many African American rock stars.
Today, a handful of artists are still known, think Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, and Blues Rock, BB King. Usually, African American artists stuck to Soul, R&B, and Disco—it was almost expected by the gatekeepers of Rock music.
2. Technology Is Killing Rock Music
Rock became known for its raw and gritty sound, and analog recording captured magical moments. But, unfortunately, today, audio recording is digital, and with that comes the dreaded auto-tune.
So instead of getting an ‘honest’ recording with quirks and vocal nuances, modern recordings are polished and not conducive to Rock’s raw and gritty ethos.
Forming a band and keeping all the members together is a feat. But, with technology taking the lead, you can fire your drummer and program a drum machine or beat generator to take over that role.
You can even create a whole band on your smartphone or computer without needing a live band. Still, the energy of musicians working together is missing.
AI isn’t helping much, either… Most people won’t hear the difference, but die-hard fans and trained musicians can pick up on the difference. This might lead to bands becoming extinct someday in the future.
3. Rock Became Too Serious
Many alternative music stations play modern rock songs that are just so sad and serious! Yes, listeners want something they can relate to, like a bad breakup, falling in love, or addressing social issues. On the other hand, people also want some escape from their daily lives. Many rock fans believe that if the music doesn’t have a serious message, it cannot be considered rock music.
Rock shouldn’t be so serious, though! Many serious bands also had fun. Let’s list some fun examples:
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Third Stone from the Sun
- Joan Jett – I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll
- The Beatles – Yellow Submarine
- Van Halen’s cover of Dancing in the Street by Martha and the Vandellas
Reasons Why Rock Music Is Alive and Well
The flip side of our think piece is that Rock music is alive and doing well, thank you very much.
1. Vinyl is Back
In 2021 vinyl record sales reached five million, according to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). Sixty percent of the sales fell in the rock genre.
Before the cynics scoff and say it is a nostalgia-driven phenomenon, bands like The Lanthums, The Snuts, and Mogwai had record sales figures. They reached the number-one spot on the Official Album Charts. Rock music is timeless and not dead.
2. New Bands Keep On Emerging
One way to tell if a genre is dead is to check if there are still new artists and releases. Rock is far from finished because new bands keep on breaking out.
If you are willing to spend the time and effort, you’ll discover new rock bands. They may not be household names or receive mainstream exposure, but they are out there.
Although some consider rock bands underground and not so much in your face, the flame is burning as brightly as ever.
Perhaps the problem is that the genre is splintering into various subgenres, and die-hard fans disregard subgenres as not being ‘true to the ethos of Rock.’ However, if there is no progress, how can a genre survive?
3. Genres Evolve
Tying in with the point above, genres like Rock come and go. They evolve. Somewhere, someone is creating an exciting guitar riff; a youngster is learning iconic rock songs and improvising on those songs.
The demand for Rock music has always been there—maybe not the classic Rocks songs from the 1980s, but the need is there. Each generation brings its ideas to the world of Rock and adapts them to its tastes.
This tongue-in-the-cheek infographic lists why classical music has been dying since the Middle Ages, yet it is still alive. The same is true for Rock music
Rock has always been about expression. As the genre evolves, younger generations have found ways to express themselves by absorbing the influences around them. Those narrow constraints that once defined Rock music are broken down and dissolved.
Rock isn’t about formulas or confines; it is alive and well and constantly evolving as younger generations discover the classics, become inspired by them, and carry the torch forward.
Rock music is like Schrödinger’s cat—it is simultaneously alive and dead. Those in the Rock-is-Dead camp argue that technology, Rock’s exclusivity, and its seriousness led to its death.
On the other hand, the Rock-is-Alive camp argues that Rock is thriving and can never die. It just evolved due to vinyl making a comeback, new bands keep emerging, and genres falling in and out of favor, but also constantly changes and adapts to contemporary tastes.