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Rock is not dead, long live rock!

Whitney Houston and The Notorious BIG, whose music has nothing to do with rock, will be inducted into the rock’n’roll pantheon.

Posted Nov 7, 2020

Marissa Groguhe

Marissa Groguhe
The Press

This Saturday will be the annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails are on the list of featured artists, as are Whitney Houston and The Notorious BIG…whose music has nothing to do with rock. Is their introduction to the pantheon a sign of the death of rock’n’roll?

The short answer: no, rock is not dead, or even dying. Not really.

“Rock is not dead in itself, but it lives a lot in its rearview mirror,” sums up Danick Trottier, professor in the music department of the University of Quebec in Montreal. Once the dominant genre, it has not reigned since the 2000s, and rap has replaced it.

After having been at the pinnacle, from its appearance in the mid-50s until the grunge era, it went through a period of transition, in the 90s, before being relegated to the background of the popular scene. Which doesn’t mean it’s a thing of the past.

“Rock is not even a style of music”

First, a clarification is in order. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, despite what its name suggests, was never really exclusively dedicated to the commemoration of rock.

Since the creation of the pantheon, in 1983, several blues, folk, country or jazz artists, whose music has inspired rock’n’roll, have been inducted there. The presence of Whitney Houston and The Notorious BIG alongside the Doobie Brothers and T. Rex this year is therefore not particularly surprising.

When the legendary hip-hop group NWA were honored in 2016, Ice Cube, in his acceptance speech, claimed that rock’n’roll was “not an instrument”, “not even a style of music”. , but rather “a state of mind”. “Rock ‘n’ roll is about not conforming to those before you and creating your own path, in music and in life,” the rapper said.


Whitney Houston in 2011

“There is a conception of a rock that is not only a musical genre, but more a globality of popular music, observes Danick Trottier. They took up a lot of the essence of rock’n’roll, which was very striking. Rock inspired what came later, even rap, especially in energy and in the ability to be in tune with youth. »

The heirs of rock

If rock no longer plays everywhere, its heritage is palpable, also believes Nicolas Bernier, professor at the Faculty of Music at the University of Montreal. First, because he still has fans. But also because it “is integrated today in a more intricate way into the creation and the musical offer in the same way as all the other genres”, thanks to increased accessibility to music.

If something has lost its feathers, it may be precisely this kind of consensus that we could feel before around a strong musical trend. Gender integration and diversity are now so transparent that it becomes difficult to categorize.

Nicolas Bernier, professor at the Faculty of Music at the University of Montreal

Rock, which encompasses a plethora of subgenres, has become an entity difficult to define and even more difficult to delimit. “In rock [d’origine], there are the instruments, the guitar, the bass, the drums, the voice, that really carried, seductive voice, says Danick Trottier. There is also the famous verse-chorus form, with a very catchy chorus. On the side of the representation, what defines it is the energy, the capacity for rebellion. »

Instruments have been greatly eclipsed by electronic means. By this very fact and by other circumstances, musical formations no longer have the same necessity. The modern era is a time of collaborations between solo artists.


The group The Lumineers at the Osheaga festival, in Montreal, in 2013

However, rock has never ceased to influence, to inspire, and is still reproduced. An example: collective singing, these stadium anthems, à la Queen. The Lumineers, The 1975 or Arkells, in particular, cheerfully take up this code introduced by rock, illustrates Danick Trottier.

The “canonization of rock”

One of the most current appearances of rock is part of the current of “retromania”, explains the professor of musicology, a concept very present in the last 10 years, where everything retro is coming back into fashion.

This is how movies like Bohemian Rhapsody (on Queen) or Rocket Man (on Elton John) take to the stage and are a hit, but also because rock and its icons have become myths. The genre is thus elevated as a memory imbued with nostalgia, it is considered “like the classical music of popular music”, affirms Danick Trottier.

We are in a historicization and a canonization of rock. We’ve come so far into a conception of rock music as a classic that it freezes it. A bit like we froze Beethoven in time, we do the same thing with the Beatles and other groups.

Danick Trottier, professor in the music department of the University of Quebec in Montreal

This has a lot to do with the status that rock currently has, a genre “which is not dead, but which looks a lot into its past”. This also complicates the task for emerging formations, which are struggling to carve out a place for themselves and conquer the general public. The American group Greta Van Fleet, which is criticized for sticking too much to the Led Zeppelin recipe, is a good example.

If the next generation may have difficulty asserting itself, it is there. And let’s not forget the rock artists who started during the genre’s golden age and who still produce music today, from Metallica to U2, via Paul McCartney, Nick Cave or Nine Inch. Nails (inducted into the rock’n’roll hall of fame this weekend).

Whatever popular culture says, rock is still consumed, with smaller audiences. Not only by the classics, but also in a completely current context.

The potential return

Rock has a special place in the history of music. It was synonymous with a perfect symbiosis between the public, the musicians, the music and its time, explains Danick Trottier. “With the cultural revolution of the 60s and 70s, it represented something important, it represented an ideal of society, he adds. He is also more emblematic because he has gone very far, with phenomena like the Beatles or Bob Dylan. »

And because it has often happened historically, with other genres, the expert does not rule out the possibility of a revival. Although it is not really dead, rock could very well be resurrected, like folk in the 1950s or soul at the start of the 21st century.and century.

It is youth, historically, who define popular music by their tastes. Everything indicates that electronic music will be the next step, after rap, according to the observations of Danick Trottier. But nothing excludes that a future generation of young people will restore rock to its popular glory of yesteryear.

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