Monday, January 25, 2010

The Death of Rock N' Roll?


I just came across this list of the top 10 most downloaded songs worldwide of 2009. I was interested to see the type of songs that inspired a somewhat apathetic music-buying public to click and spend a virtual 99 cents.

Here is the list:
1. "Poker Face" - Lady Gaga - 9.8 million
2.
"Boom Boom Pow" - Black Eyed Peas - 8.5 million
3.
"I'm Yours" - Jason Mraz - 8.1 million
4.
"Just Dance" - Lady Gaga - 7.7 million
5.
"I Gotta Feeling" - Black Eyed Peas - 7.1 million
6.
"Love Story" - Taylor Swift - 6.5 million
7.
"Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" - Beyoncé - 6.1 million
8.
"Kiss Me Thru The Phone" - Soulja Boy Tell'Em - 5.7 million
9.
"Heartless" - Kanye West - 5.5 million
10.
"Circus" - Britney Spears - 5.5 million

My personal opinion? Three of these songs I would put on the list of worst songs I have ever heard in my life ("I'm Yours", "Single Ladies", and "Boom Boom Pow"). I love anything Britney ever recorded - don't judge me - so I only wish she ranked higher on this list. Taylor Swift is a phenomenon for the new decade who will only continue to sell millions of copies. She is an artist I can both listen to and respect. "Kiss Me Thru The Phone" is the kind of pop-rap song that I can't even pretend not to listen to over and over. "Heartless" was actually unique and one of the best songs Kanye has ever done. And Lady Gaga was absolutely everywhere. There is no denying her.

Here is what OneRepublic singer and producer Ryan Tedder had to say on the subject: "On top of that, America’s consumed with Lady GaGa and dance music right now, so it’s not the best time for ballads anyway. "

Is he right? Maybe.

But - what stood out to me - INSTANTLY about the top 10 list was that not one of these groups or singers could even come close to being called rock 'n roll music. It made me think - has rock 'n roll gone underground? Are rock fans being marginalized in this era of digital downloads and club remixes? What rock bands were popular this year?

Names that stand out to me in rock music over the past year or so would be Kings of Leon, Green Day, U2, Nickleback (unfortunately, they don't seem to be going away anytime soon), Bruce Springsteen (more for his touring than his new music), Bon Jovi (might be a little biased), Daughtry, etc. These bands are all selling albums and touring to sold-out crowds.

Maybe it is that rock bands sell albums and pop groups sell singles. Are rock n roll fans more complete-ist than pop fans? Do they believe in the power of the album, rather than the hit single? That's what I'd bet my money on.

A great pop single is a great pop single. It can stick in your subconscious, it can take you back to the moment you first heard it ten years later.

But...there is a reason why Dark Side of the Moon spent a consecutive 741 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold 45 million copies worldwide. There is a reason why Appetite for Destruction still sells about a hundred thousand copies a year. Albums like these transcend the time period in which they were released; they still speak to thousands of people who bleed rock 'n roll across the world each year. Will we be saying that about "I'm Yours" or "Boom Boom Pow" in 20 years?

It is easy to dismiss current music in favor of that released in the past. It is easy to start sentences with phrases like "back in my day" or "when we listened to real music." But it is much harder to search for the new bands that are striving, finding their wings, and hoping to catch lightening in a bottle - the ability to write an album we will be talking about in 10, 20, or 30 years. They are out there. And real rock never dies.