The decline and fall of rock bands: How going solo has replaced the group dynamic
When Arcade Fire won the Grammy Award for album of the year in February, nearly everyone called it a shock: they were non-superstars who played non-radio-friendly rock music. But just as significantly, they were, and remain, a band in the traditional sense. Not an airbrushed vocal trio with backing musicians like Lady Antebellum, nor a cobbled-together assemblage of solo superstars like most of the other acts at the Grammys, but a self-contained group with a stable lineup who play their own instruments.
There haven’t been many of these on the charts of late. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of songs — and albums — on the charts are by solo artists or acts that can’t be classified as bands (e.g., the cast of Glee). Upstart bands are now driven to utter ambitious pronouncements. “It’d be great if we could kick Lady Gaga off the charts,” said Thom Powers, of sleek New Zealand rock band The Naked and Famous, to aux.tv this month. The Vaccines, a quartet from London, England, release their debut album this week in North America; the NME has called them, “The Return of the Great British Guitar Band” and quoted them as saying, “We want indie back on the charts!” The album What Did You Expect from The Vaccines hit No. 4 in the U.K. — a strong showing, but the hegemony of solo stars remains in place. Why is it that the idea of the band has lost so much cultural currency?