Is it true that rock is dead?

Led Zeppelin IV rock albumDan Ozzi writes in a June 14 article in “Noisey” that rock is dead. A provocative declaration. Eclipsed in popularity by EDM, rap, and pop, the genre hangs on for nostalgic elders and young aficionados who follow niche styles like heavy metal. At least so claims Ozzi. I have no doubt this contains some truth. Well-known rockers may still be able to sell out shows, but who is the audience? The charts and tastes of younger audiences favor anything but rock, which has fallen away much as has R&B/soul.

As a teenager, I never imagined that rock would become irrelevant. It was such a huge, all-embracing label capable of encompassing Linda Ronstadt as well as Metallica, The B-52s and later Meshell Ndegeocello. Artists as far apart as one could get, or so it seemed. The label never served as effectively as anyone wanted. Record stores stuffed most artists in the “pop/rock” shelves. Otherwise, it signaled that an artist existed in a specialty area, which usually meant not as important.

Well, no genre lasts forever. Jazz dominated popular music and influenced contemporary styles for a few decades during the wars. Rock and roll had its heyday before morphing into rock. Rap emerged out of a niche market to eventually dominate the charts. But it, too, will fade into the background. That is the nature of style. When you’re young, you just never imagine being around to watch the metamorphosis.

Rock’s Swan Song

The insurgency of grunge in the early 90s excited me. Its rawness felt fresh after the increasingly polished rock sound after 1985, and reminded me of my adolescence in the 70s. Was that rock’s swan song? Perhaps so. Nothing that culturally significant has happened in rock during the past two decades. Ozzi’s claim may be exaggerated for effect. One of Prince’s last musical forays was as leader of the rock group 3rdEyeGirl. Fans packed the concerts, but album sales lagged. Just as jazz and blues continue on the sidelines, so will rock. Some incarnation of EDM has existed now for 40 years, either underground or on the charts, and people still seem to want to dance. Rap, accessible to non-musicians with a talent only for rhythm and rhymes, will likely continue to have some place alongside these other styles. The most interesting question, though: what dominant style lurks on the horizon?

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