My dad, a classic rock enthusiast, once asked me who I thought was going to be the next iconic rock group. A group that in 20 years will still be known and loved and played on the radio. In a nutshell, who is the AC/DC of my generation?
I don’t think there is one.
There are so many bands in existence it’s hard for just one to rise above and make an impression.This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because we live in a day and age where it’s easy to form a band, record yourself, post it to youtube or myspace or purevolume, and gain fans without ever being professionally recorded. A curse because there are literally thousands upon thousands of bands/musical artists to compete with for attention. There is no one superstar like there used to be in the 80’s and earlier decades, there is no one major record label, there is no one musical scene. The world of music is ever diversifying and ever growing with no signs of stopping. Many bands climb to fame only to come crashing down less than a year later – a few lucky groups manage to make a name for themselves but never make headlines. Most concerts now take place in smaller venues while arenas are reserved the occasional 80’s hair band doing an anniversary tour.
Bands these days are also marketing towards a younger and younger crowd. In high school I was obsessed with the Plain White T’s, an indie alternative rock band that went suddenly mainstream and (just as quickly) went out of style… as is the case for most music groups in this day and age. After their success with the song Hey There Delilah the group made cameo appearances on the ABC Family TV show “Greek” and eventually… Nickelodeon – aka rock bottom. When they felt their success start to slip they changed their sound to appeal to preteens and grade-schoolers. However, that didn’t stop me from seeing them in concert approximately 6 times. Each time I went the crowd around me got younger and younger while I felt older and older. Eventually my friends and I would find ourselves sitting alone at the bar in the back of the venue behind a sea of 12-year-olds. The albums that drew us to the band in the first place (their best albums, in my opinion), the albums that had a distinct sound and attitude, are dried up and forgotten. Those new fans, the 14-year-olds who were drawn in by their Nickelodeon appearances and generic sound, will eventually grow up and grow out of the Plain White T’s and whatever musical influence they had on this generation will be relinquished… just like my generation grew out of bands like Simple Plan and Good Charlotte – both of whom haven’t really done much in the past decade. But trust me, they were huge in 9th grade.
Many up and coming musicians get their “big break” from the Disney channel which is apparently handing out package deals, “buy one musical contract and get your own TV show for free!” These “artists” never hold the spotlight for too long and are constantly being replaced. For example: Raven Simon (That’s So Raven), Ashley Tisdale (High School Musical), Hillary Duff aka Lizzy McGuire (remember her? of course not!), and let’s not forgot Miss Hannah Montana. Of all those girls Miley Cyrus was the only one to ever make it “mainstream” (if only briefly) and she had to wear things like this in order to do it. Not to mention her various sex, drugs, and marriage scandals. She’s probably following in the footsteps of former Mickey Mouse Club member Britney Spears who earned her fame by debuting her first hit song via music video in which she’s wearing a sexy schoolgirl costume… followed by a red leather jumpsuit… followed by a green bra complete with boa constrictor… followed by, well, a shaved head, rehab, and a nasty divorce.
Sure this generation has Justin Bieber, and yes he’s compared himself to Kurt Cobain (possibly the last truly iconic rock star) but there have been Justin Bieber’s before him and he won’t be the last. For the record, I don’t think Nirvana ever sang a song that was comprised almost entirely of the word “baby.” And speaking of marketing to a younger generation, most of Justin’s fans are age 8 to age 14. We’ve all seen the video of the 4-year-old crying over her love for Justin Bieber – no wonder he sings about babies. Aaron Carter was the Justin Bieber of my generation; girls at my middle school covered their binders with “Mrs. Carter” and plastered their bedroom walls with posters of the Backstreet Boy protege. But what’s he doing now? Considering he was recently arrested for pot possession I can only assume he’s not doing much. Watch out Biebs, this is your future.
Most recently One Direction has been ruling the headlines. I have yet to hear a One Direction song but they appear to be on a mission to bring back the ever popular boy band. Based on the past successes of the Backstreet Boys (who tried to bring Backstreet back in 2009 but failed miserably) and N’Sync (who went bye bye bye in 2002) we can probably expect another year out of One Direction before they fade away. At best one of the members will branch off and start a solo career during which they bring sexy back and star in a few rom coms. The point is that these boy bands, these Disney channel stars, these preteen obsessions just don’t have what it takes to last, nonetheless to be considered iconic.
So what did AC/DC have that they don’t? What did Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison have? What did The Beatles have?
… I mean, besides actual talent. Honestly, they had the right place at the right time. They had something new and original that society hadn’t seen before. They had something daring and dangerous, something sexy and scary at the same time. They had something to sing about; they had songs about rebellion and being young, they had songs about tough issues that no one had written songs about before. They had the lifestyle, the big record label, the controversy, the sold out arenas, the headlines… they had it all. For that reason they’ve held our attention for 30 or 40 years and will likely be holding our attention long after they’re dead and gone. They had something that just can’t be replicated by today’s musical artists and something that can’t be (er… wasn’t) grown out of.