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The year that marked the twentieth anniversary of one of the most meaningful progressions in rock history and of some of the most influential masterpieces like Nirvana’s “Nevermind”, “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Achtung Baby” by U2, just ended. Twenty years after 1991, what is the state of rock music?
2011 was in itself a good year for rock: “Wasting Light” by Foo Fighters, “Endgame” by Rise Against, and “I’m With You” by Red Hot Chili Peppers are just few of the good releases that signified the past year and the presence of the beautiful diversity of rock. However, to make a comparison between the state of rock in the contemporary music scene and the one of 1991, seems unfair.
Twenty years ago, the rise of grunge not only brought to life a new musical style, expressing alternative sonorities and meaningful messages, it also changed the roles in the game of the music industry, making the counterculture mainstream. It is undeniable that almost all rock bands have been influenced ever since by what happened twenty years ago, so in some ways this revolution is still present.
“Never lose faith in real rock ‘n’ roll music … Never lose faith in that. You might have to look a little harder, but it is always going to be there” said Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters frontman and ex Nirvana drummer, when accepting the MTV Video Music Award for Best Rock Video for Foo Fighters’ “Walk.”
What surprises most people nowadays is exactly what Dave Grohl said: you have to look harder to find ‘real’ rock. After rising to power twenty years ago, the contemporary music industry seems to be ruled by a kind of pop music that does not really care about content or sonorities, but rather gossip, fashion and superficiality instead.
Many newer singers and bands seem to care more about impressing instead of touching people, even to the extend of not doing it through music. Lady Gaga, with her multiple costumes and creation of an alter ego, seems to be more concerned with what to wear rather than what to play; child stars like Justin Bieber, who relies on his looks rather than his voice, make provocative declarations like “I feel like the Kurt Cobain of my generation,” in order to make people talk about him, but the mere statement shows that he has no idea who Kurt Cobain was as a musician.
Rihanna has a sexy pose for every word in her songs but who can be sure it’s her real voice in the haze of voice effects and computerized distortions. Furthermore, a new type of music worker is forged through television today. Reality shows will throw any wannabe with any camera appeal to the audience, and the audience seems to blindly enjoy it.
Music charts of 2011 were often dominated by well-advertised groups created by TV standards. For example, since 2005, the UK Chart’s Christmas No. 1 has always been a song from the winner of some reality show, with the exception of 2009 when Rage Against The Machine won after a Facebook campaign against reality shows.
These few examples merit the proposition that what is really missing in the music industry is real music, real artists. Some of the most successful artists are so focused on building their imaginary characters that they forget to actually make music, relying on computerization rather than authenticity. The music industry supports this and the audience buys it all. Meanwhile, great rock bands who carry on their projects and make good music are almost lost in the scene.
“Music the great communicator,” sing Red Hot Chili Peppers in their song “Can’t Stop,” but thinking about the message that current mainstream music is communicating, nothing good comes to mind. In this scenario, there is no sign of a revolutionary and innovative rock movement about to explode. It is true that twenty years ago, nobody saw grunge coming.
On the other hand, the situation is different now. Music gets everywhere through the internet, everybody has the chance to be known somehow, and it should have gotten easier to distribute something with as much potential as grunge had in 1991 and punk in 1976.
“It’s sad to think what the state of rock ‘n’ roll will be in 20 years from now. It just seems when rock ‘n’ roll is dead the whole world is going to explode” said Kurt Cobain in an interview a few months before his death on 1994. Rock is not dead, at least not yet, but Cobain prophesied correctly: it is quite sad to think what Rock has come to today.