Is Rock Dead?


Kiss live concert image.

Kiss’ Gene Simmons famously said “rock is dead” years ago. Is he right? – Author Anne Erickson, Photo via Ken Settle

Is rock dead? I’m a longtime radio host and journalist, so it’s a question I’ve asked so many rock stars over the years. What’s the state of rock and metal music today? Is it in a good place? Or, is rock music dead?

The question really stems from a 2014 interview that Kiss’ Gene Simmons did with Esquire. In it, he said, “Once you had a record company on your side, they would fund you, and that also meant when you toured they would give you tour support. … There are still record companies, and it does apply to pop, rap, and country to an extent. But for performers who are also songwriters — the creators — for rock music, for soul, for the blues — it’s finally dead.”

That statement blew up. It was everywhere. Suddenly, a bunch of rock stars were coming out of the woodwork to exclaim that, no, rock music is not dead.

But, Simmons stuck by his words. In 2021, Heavy Consequence asked the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer to clarity his statement.

“The point is, yeah, rock is dead because if we play the game from 1958 until 1988, which is 30 years, you had Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones, Pink Floyd, and on and on and on,” he said. “And you can go to the heavy part of it, which is Metallica, Maiden, if you want to put KISS in there, that’s fine. AC/DC, on and on and on. Even U2, Prince, Bowie, Eagles. And then you get to disco stuff, and Madonna, and that stuff, and Motown, of course. And then from 1988 until today, who’s the new Beatles?”

Who is the new Beatles? It’s a good question. But, music is so different now. There wasn’t even the Internet back when the Beatles broke. So, there really is no comparison. That said, bands like Bad Omens and Falling in Reverse and massive. Perhaps they are the new Beatles, for a new generation?

Simmons added in the interview with Heavy Consequence: “I’ve heard a reaction of Foo Fighters, one of my favorite bands, but you’re kidding yourself. There’s also the boy bands: NSYNC, One Direction, BTS, and [sarcastically] XYZ, PTA, and good for them that they’ve got success. Don’t kid yourself. As soon as those girls are gonna grow a little bit older, that’s going to go away. It’s like sugar: you taste it, it gives you that little energy boost, and then it’s gone forever and you don’t care.” He continued, “But don’t kid yourself, it ain’t The Beatles. They don’t write songs, they don’t play instruments, it ain’t that. And we all love Elvis, never wrote a song in his life. There’s just nothing that compares to The Beatles.”

On the instruments thing, times have changed. Do you have to play instruments anymore to be a rock star? You certainly don’t in other genres.

Simmons also stood by his “rock is dead” statement in an interview with Metal Hammer in 2022. “”I stand by my words: rock is dead. The people that killed it are fans. Fans killed the thing they loved by downloading and file sharing for free. How do you expect somebody who loves the guitar to come into this creative process? You’ve got to invent yourself. And so rock is dead.”

Is Rock Dead?

Okay. Here are my thoughts. Sorry, Gene. As a radio host and journalist, I know, and feel, that rock isn’t dead. Rock and metal music are alive and well.

Want proof? Metallica. Whether you like them or not, Metallica prove that heavy music is here to stay.

Back in 2019, right before the pandemic, Metallica were named the “biggest all-time touring band,” after a study by Pollstar. They state that up until that point, Metallica sold over 22 million tickets and grossed $1.4 billion in touring since 1982. That doesn’t even count all their latest touring.

“Making the case for Metallica as the biggest all-time touring band is not difficult,” Pollstar said. “The numbers speak for themselves: according to Pollstar Boxoffice, Metallica sold nearly 22.1 million total tickets and grossed some $1.4 billion since 1982, dwarfing huge rock bands of the era including AC/DC (14.3 million tickets) and Ozzy Osbourne (10 million, 13.2 if counting Ozzy plus Black Sabbath). The closest competitor on dollars grossed is Guns N’ Roses, with nearly $800 million grossed largely thanks to the band’s mammoth Not In This Lifetime reunion tour.”

Notice those are all rock and metal acts named. The truth is that rock and metal acts still sell out stadiums. Really, the only non-rock act that I can think of with this kind of selling power is Taylor Swift.

That’s live music. When you look at the streaming world, while pop and hip-hop are very popular, rock and metal music hold their own. Acts such as the aforementioned Bad Omens and Falling in Reverse are among the top-streamed artists on Spotify. Add to that acts that combine pop and metal music, such as Poppy.

So, no, rock is not dead. Metal is not dead. They are thriving. But, they’re also evolving. Embrace it. Rock on.

Anne Erickson
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Posted by Anne Erickson | Features, Metal, Music, Rock