In the world of rock ‘n’ roll, subgenres have come and gone in a blink of an eye. These subgenres—like punk, metal, or grunge—follow a bell curve to popularity. They begin as well-knit musical movements of angst and are gradually driven towards popularity by the chicken-egg relationship of corporate record labels and next-generation music consumers looking for the same thing—the next big thing.
On the flipside, life doesn’t wait for any gradual decline or falling action to end a rock ‘n’ roll movement. The “death” of a rock subgenre is swift, unmerciful and unyielding. It’s a cliffhanger, seemingly triggered by one lone event. History is full of these examples. In the early 1980s, punk rock was struck down by its own success, just as quickly as it had become popular. Britpop was unceremoniously abandoned after Oasis’ 1997 album, “Be Here Now.” In the early 1990s, ‘80s holdover genres hair metal and new wave both got the ax from Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene.
Still, even though it has changed and evolved, rock ‘n’ roll—like birds and small mammals—has always persevered through extinction. That is, until now.
Last week, on October 6, 2011, contactmusic.com reported that guitarist Brian May wants pop diva Lady Gaga to front the seminal rock band Queen. This is the meteorite that collided into the Yucatan Peninsula and killed the Dinosaurs. Mark it your calendars, when dust settles, we will all look back at this one singular event as the killer of rock ‘n’ roll.
While tragic and devastating, perhaps the Lady Gaga fronted Queen isn’t the sole reason behind the forthcoming death of the rock ‘n’ roll species. Perhaps it is gradual climate change, as theorized by German paleontologist Michael Prauss, that is killing rock ‘n’ roll, rather than the sudden impact of Gaga. Indeed, evidence exists to support this.
In the realm of pop music, a distant cousin to rock, pop culture icons and Grammy Awards have been popping up everywhere. Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Adele and many others have hit the music scene over the past few years with a force of record sales and critical acclaim. Indeed, the music climate has changed, but has pop really out-competed rock — or has rock just gotten old?
With recent retreads like Alice in Chains, Sublime with Rome and Queen with Paul Rodgers—or Lady Gaga—it’s hard not to think rock is stuck in the past. And when the likes of the aforementioned Brian May, Alice Cooper, Noel Gallagher, Tommy Lee, KISS, and Ozzy Osbourne has to bring up Lady Gaga in interviews just to stay relevant, it’s hard not to think that rock’s extinction is not far off. And as much as I love rock, I’m finding it hard to remember the last rock band to really matter. Was it Muse or The Killers? Was it Coldplay or the now defunct White Stripes, both whom formed around 1997? Or was it Radiohead, who debuted their first album in 1994? Was it Jet?
Someday, when rock is long gone and everyone likes disco again, hipsters and music nerds alike will argue academic theories behind the demise of the once great and dominant musical beast known as rock ‘n’ roll.
And I’ll remember October 6, 2011 and think to myself, Freddie Mercury never wore a meat suit.