Few cultural institutions have taken quite as hard of a drubbing during the past decade as bands.
Look at the charts, be it Billboard, Spotify or Rolling Stone, and it’s like the concept of a band is almost non-existent.
It’s noticeable enough, but still a topic we dare not discuss, that Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine got heat for saying out loud to Apple Music’s Zane Lowe: “There’s no bands anymore, and I feel like they’re a dying breed.”
Part of the reason that’s a controversial statement is it’s coming from a guy in what can be loosely described as a band. I’d say a closer description for Maroon 5’s music is the byproduct a music algorithm spits out every two or three years to pad out FM playlists.
The larger point is true, though. When Maroon 5 started out in the early 2000s, it was in a landscape full of bands (and record sales to support those bands). Now, they’re part of an aging generation of platinum-selling musical collectives, along with others like Foo Fighters, Imagine Dragons and Metallica, that are dying off.
To be clear, I interpret Levine’s comments as talking about mainstream music only. Yes, touring bands contribute to thrive and sell out massive venues (as Paramore’s Hayley Williams pointed out on Twitter: “adam levine thinks paramore broke up.” That’s not the point at which he’s getting.
If you need proof, just turn on your radio. If you put the dial to 98.9 The Rock or Alt 96.5, stations known for playing rock and pop bands, you’ll hear mostly hits that are at least a decade old. Yes, you’ll hear some new songs from bands that were big during the alt and indie booms of the 2000s, like Cage The Elephant and Kings of Leon. But the new artists that are coming out are almost all solo acts like Billie Eilish, Machine Gun Kelly, The Kid LAROI and KennyHoopla (I apologize if reading those names made you feel old.)
It’s easy to see why bands don’t exist in the mainstream: They don’t make financial sense. In a time when rock music is at an all-time low in popularity, it goes against all logic for an artist to go through the painstaking work of writing and rehearsing with others (and sharing a pot of money) when it can be done on their own in their room.
Levine’s point is one that’s sadly become more true as the past decade or so has passed. I can remember conversations in 2011 and 2012 with like-minded friends where we patiently awaited that second “Smells Like Teen Spirit” moment, where a rock band would blow all other acts away and usher in a new wave of bands.
That hasn’t happened and it likely won’t. While bands, both on a local and national level, will continue to release fantastic, life-changing music, it likely won’t top the charts or maybe even make a dent in the cultural zeitgeist.
It doesn’t mean artists shouldn’t try and create music together under a single moniker. While the era of the chart-topping rock band is mostly over, there will always be groups that will take those reverberating waves from the past and morph them into new sounds. Who cares that Adam Levine may never hear it?