A Blunt Open Letter To Rock Purists

6am. Monday morning. Tweets are popping up on my timeline about the VMAs. I dismiss them because it is too early in the morning for me to care about pop music.

8am. I’ve just sat down at my laptop to take a quick scroll through Twitter to find out about the VMA results.

Twenty One Pilots should not have won the VMA because it is clearly for ROCK music videos.”

Right. Let’s sit down and discuss why the narrow and rigid classification of music based on purist genre constructions are redundant and a really bad fucking idea.

Rock is an umbrella genre. Referring to a band as only being a rock band is about  as helpful and descriptive as just saying you’re eating a piece of fruit when you’re in-fact eating a grapefruit. Sure, Wikipedia may pride itself on having broad introduction paragraphs that loosely state the nature of the band you’ve just looked up, but at least Wikipedia then has the decency to have a sidebar in which all the genres to which the band is associated are listed.

Let’s cut to the chase. This is not going to be a polite article. This is most likely not going to be a gorgeously written article rife with exotic adjectives and intricate metaphors. This is going to be blunt and to the point. This is about the musical elitism that runs rife in the rock community and the kind of elitism that results in bands being ostracised for being a) popular and b) bringing something new to the industry that isn’t necessarily rooted in rock influences but is diverse and unique enough for it to be labelled as  an alternative artist.

Alternative is one of those musical terms that no-one truly seems to understand and it is often slapped onto artists that can’t be placed into precise genre – not that rock counts as a precise genre. 90% of the time, the artists in question have some connection to the rock genre and the broader alternative subculture. These acts, like Marilyn Manson, are usually welcomed into the fold of rock music but are denied the ability to become too popular. If an artist becomes popular then they’ve lost their alternative edge and become a mainstream artist. That is never allowed to happen. The rock community is obliged to abandon all  non-guitar based acts artists as soon as they become popular, because this would then mean that they are dabbling in pop music – a sin punishable by banishment.

However, you do get the acts that begin firmly entrenched in the alternative community and are considered to be the community’s hidden gem. This is what occurred with Twenty One Pilots – knowledge of them prior to “Stressed Out” gave you access to special Illuminati-like groups in which you were praised for knowing edgy emotional rap as opposed to “gangster rap trash”. If you were to mention Twenty One Pilots to them now they would probably glare at you and mutter an incoherent statement about how their earlier work was better and that anyone that listens to their new music is just a “fake fan” that is feeding off the hype.

The issue here is that the rock community seems to have taken it upon itself to develop some mental screening process to classify bands according to some narrow interpretation of the term “rock music”. The narrow interpretation is that it must be guitar music with a certain degree of melody and aggression, but not too much else it’s classified as metal. This narrow interpretation is great for one’s personal use, but in the greater scheme of things – it just doesn’t work as it would mean that award shows can only give away Rock awards to these purist rock bands. This is a problematic, because let’s be honest – there are not many pure rock bands out there. All the modern rock bands that have become popular in the past decade are all from the various subgenres contained under that broad and ever-so frustrating umbrella of rock music.

For instance, The Black Keys and The Arctic Monkeys were nominated for a VMA for Best Rock Video in 2014. Both of these acts are considered to be indie bands, yet they were nominated for a rock award simply because they are loosely associated with the genre. However, there is a further reason to this. The runners of these award shows, like the Grammys and the VMAs, are very much aware of the fluid nature of the rock genre. It has always been a genre that is persistently evolving to introduce new styles and sub-genres and more often than not the various award shows tend to reflect the metamorphosis the genre had undergone in that particular year.

It is for this reason that adhering to a rigid classification of the genre is an utterly terrible idea as it would merely promote stagnation within the broader alternative music community. It would deny the genre the ability to be dynamic and fluid in how it is constructed. This fluidity is one of the primary reasons why rock music has stayed so persistently relevant and so vigorously consumed by the youth of today. Rock music still remains the genre with the highest grossing album sales despite the term “rock is dead” flying around the industry like a vulture around a corpse.

Yes. There are a lot of artists associated with the rock community that could not be regarded as rock acts even if you extend the interpretation of rock to cover all of its subgenres, but should that really bother the rock community? We often pride ourselves on being a diverse and supposedly welcoming and tolerant community, or at least we do when we shit all over pop fanbases. If this is true, then why do we insist on dismissing the hard work and success of an act that is associated with one of our many subgenres? Perhaps there is a deep-seeded fear that any degree of success will result in alternative act converting to the world of alt-pop and we’ll no longer be able to lay claim to being associate with it. Either way, we need to accept that Twenty One Pilots worked hard to get here and we should be proud of their achievements and stop trying to perpetuate a rigid classification of rock music. This can only result in the genre developing across static, uncreative lines.



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