…performing at the Grammys.onmy25/YouTube
One of the smallest but most creative acts in contemporary music is perhaps the oddest hit of 2019 so far: rock music.
There has been one more new record, 42, that was released in 2018, compared to the 46 that was released in 2017.
The gap is even steeper for rock music—no new rock album was released in 2018, compared to 11 in 2017. That’s just two years in a row.
Could it be that rock music just isn’t as popular as it once was?
It certainly isn’t the case in the music industry. It’s still the one of the biggest categories at the Grammys, and whenever rock music is released, the airwaves across the world are jammed with radio play, online sales, and Tidal streamers.
Are there just more pop hits now?
We have also seen a drop in the number of record collectors and vinyl hoarders over the past decade, which is a drag for both consumers and record labels.
Prices for vinyl, as well as CD prices, have also continued to drop as each format fades, which is probably part of the reason for the decline in sales.
But are music fans still cutting out CDs, albums, and vinyl altogether?
I don’t know if the numbers show it, but what I do know is that many contemporary artists like Adele, who have big voices, make a lot of vinyl sales. Adele’s latest album, “25,” became the first album in history to spend 100 consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard charts.
Adele’s new album, “25,” which was released in November last year, reportedly sold more than three million copies. When her previous album, “21,” came out in 2011, it sold 2.8 million in its first week of sales, making it the biggest album debut ever.
Each new record by Adele is nearly tied with the chart entries of British singer/songwriter Ellie Goulding. A surge in the popularity of Ellie Goulding has led to a number of hits on the Billboard charts, including her latest album, “High Fantasy.”
These two artists are among the best-selling female rock singers in history, and Adele and Goulding also continue to make waves by releasing pop albums, which sell more copies.
Is it possible that pop albums are a diminishing product? That pop stars like Adele and Goulding are pigeonholed as “rock” singers, and therefore hold only one style of music and always go with pop over rock? Or is it possible that pop music is simply seen as a smaller and a few more popular genres than other musical styles?
Is Adele a pop singer? No. Is Adele a pop singer who sells a lot of pop records? Yes.
While there are more mainstream pop artists that just become known as “pop stars,” Adele has carved out her own brand of pop music. It may not be as “rock” as you like, but as a pop star, she is still doing her thing, making music for the masses.
So what are the implications of this?
As rock music continues to make a smaller and smaller contribution to the charts, maybe we need to redefine what makes an album a “pop album.”
Furthermore, maybe music fans are starting to think more about pop albums that have a bit more variety, and are led more by songs.
Again, maybe that includes rap music and the rise of EDM (electronic dance music) music. Maybe it includes female female hip-hop artists like Cardi B, with her hit singles, “Bodak Yellow” and “I Like It.”
Are singles starting to become more important than albums, as listeners move towards creating content on their cell phones and in the car? It sounds like we may be moving toward a new definition of what an album is in 2019.
And yet, that same change can also be seen in pop music, where pop songs, like “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift, are really becoming strong hits rather than even being singles—no longer.
Lisa James is a writer, adviser, and founder of the popular festival The World Stage.