The Evolution of Rock Music (Why the 2010s are the new ’80s)

This post is a response to Jacob Conflitti’s Rock and Roll: Put Out to Pasture. If you have not read the article yet, I strongly encourage you to because it’s awesome.

evolution of rock music

Rock music, like dinosaurs, was at one time everywhere. But it’s not like some musical equivalent where some meteor came and wiped out all the hard rockers like Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. So what happened? Did Rock as a genre die out?

Of course not! Rock is still just as common as ever. It’s simply a little harder to recognize.

I’ll agree with Jacob in his article, Rock and Roll: Put Out to Pasture, where he discussed the absence of rock music in today’s pop culture. He said rock was an old man’s game. I won’t disagree with him. It is. Except not as old as you might think.

Sure, the days of classic rock with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Boston, Pink Floyd, and Lynyrd Skynyrd may be gone, but rock did have its resurgence, and it was as early as the 2000s.

Between all of us trying to play fake instruments on EA’s Rock Band games, and music-themed shows dominating Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, in the 2000s, rock was cool. But this fad did much more than get leather wristbands and skinny jeans into American Eagle outlets and Abercrombie stores (yeah, we all used to rock that shit). It reminded us all to appreciate the greats of past times and our own.

EAs Rock Band was a key reflection of fads in the 2000s

EAs Rock Band was a key reflection of fads in the 2000s

It wasn’t just the one weird kid with long hair loving rock anymore. We all loved it. Rock Band and Guitar Hero taught even us to love rock music. They even encouraged us to branch out beyond the hit tracks of artists to the more obscure ones. For instance, Rock Band giving us Nirvana’s less popular “In Bloom,” rather than “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

This appreciation of classics led us to love and appreciate modern rock bands like Jet, Franz Ferdinand, The Foo Fighters, The Killers, Wolfmother, and yes, even Nickelback (fact: “How You Remind Me” was the most played song of the year in 2002).

So what happened? Did Rock die?

No, it just became not cool. Why? It looks like the greatest have a lesson to teach us yet again.

The ’60s and ’70s are known as a golden age for rock. But what are they followed by? The ’80s (often seen as both a musical and fashionable cesspool). But rock didn’t die in the ’80s; it simple changed. As for the why, personally I think it was due to limitations.

Rock music is a limited genre. The basics of any great rock band is to have two guitarists, vocals, bass, drums, and maybe a keyboard here and there. That’s it. Make it any more complicated and you seem to take the “rock” out of rock music.

After a decade or two, people want to hear more sounds. And so, pop music, specifically club music, EDM, and DJs, took the place of rock music as we entered the 2010s. The Guitar Hero franchises even took note of this, releasing DJ Hero in 2009 after the Guitar Hero game line began losing steam and sales.

And as the rock sound lost popularity, bands had to switch their styles in order to stay relevant. But what if a band chose to not change and instead decided to “fight the power?”  No one would play it. There are country stations, pop stations, alternative stations, indie stations, gospel stations, and classic rock stations. See the problem? If you make rock, real rock, who will play you?

It’s for this reason that many artists abandoned rock in exchange for a more pop-y/electronic sound. For instance, Paramore, who dropped their hardcore alternative sound for a pop-y (and in my opinion, sellout) sound, now receive greater radio play on more stations. This directly translates to more sales and more money.

A similar shift happened in the ’80s. Think how Duran Duran and other new wave rockers incorporated electronic sounds into their music. Hell, even Van Halen added synth to their music (resulting in the creation of the band’s most popular song “Jump”).

When you think of rock music, think of it this way: You are basically living in the ’80s right now. Synthetic pop sounds are in, organic sounds are out, and don’t be surprised if those “J’s on your feet” are what your kids are laughing at in pictures 20 years down the road.

Akin to the dinosaurs, rock music didn’t die out, it just changed, a lot. And the same way the chicken is related to T. rex, Coldplay and Avicii are the distant descendants of the once hard rockers, forced to adapt to a changing market and climate.

Written by Alex Baumgarten

About the author

Alex Baumgarten is the administrative director of He contributed to, is a reader for Fortnight Literary Press, and is the music blogger for in Ann Arbor Michigan. He is currently a student at The University of Michigan studying English.