Cline: Classic rockers slam superficial pop scene

Darrin Cline

Gene Simmons has never met a microphone he didn’t like. The outspoken bassist and founder of legendary rock group KISS recently took a shot at the modern music scene during a concert announcement with Motley Crue.

The two iconic groups announced on March 20 that they would be touring North America, beginning on July 19. During the press conference, Simmons took aim the modern pop scene, namely Rihanna.

Simmons was quoted as saying, “We’re sick and tired of girls getting up there with dancers and karaoke tapes in the back of them. No karaoke singers allowed, no fake bulls–t. Leave that to Rihanna Shmianna and anyone else who ends their name with an A.” Readers of the Simmons interview can’t help but wonder who exactly he was referencing and whether he meant to disparage Lady Gaga, Madonna or Ke$ha.

Tommy Lee echoed Simmons’ sentiment in an interview with Billboard, stating, “No disrespect to Rihanna, she’s a great singer, but we’re in a slump for some s–t that has some personality and appeal beyond a bunch of pop stuff that’s floating around out there.” Lee continued to address the state of popular music, interspersing F-bombs with trash talk about watered down performances, award shows and American Idol.

Calling out fellow musical acts is nothing new for Simmons. The rock god has boldly chastised artists ranging from Carlos Santana to Radiohead, and has been very vocal in his criticism of Simon Cowell. Much of his criticism has emanated from the same frustrations, repeatedly questioning the true musical talents of other acts.

Simmons and Lee may not be right on with their universal panning of modern music, but they are not far off base. Motley Crue and KISS rose to popularity in the golden age of hard rock music but have been forced to watch music steadily decline.

Rock and pop have always battled for music supremacy, with each pulling their own niche markets. Twenty-five albums have reached the 15-million-sold plateau, with six of them being true rock albums, including works by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses.

Conversely, the Backstreet Boys had two records that each sold over 13 million copies, and Britney Spears’ “ …Baby One More Time” album surpassed 12 million sold. Since Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” climbed to number one in 1980, only Linkin Park has been able to hit number one with a hard rock album, doing so in 2001.

Rock music today may lack the consistent quality of KISS and Motley Crue, but it is not a total wasteland. From the 1990s and into the early 2000s, great bands continued to churn out music. Nirvana changed culture, Rage Against the Machine gave hard rock a new political activism, and Metallica became the biggest thing to ever happen to metal.

However, these groups, as well as their predecessors seemed to be swept under the rug as bubblegum pop moved like a plague through the industry. Combined with the growing popularity of rap and country-pop cross over acts, rock music seemed to stall out and fade away.

Dave Grohl, lead singer of Foo Fighters, said in an interview with Rolling Stone: “Radio rock has been suffering from some sort of formulaic-playlist syndrome. … Radio should not be warm milk. It should be moonshine.” In spite of his criticisms, Grohl went on to cap off the interview stating: “Rock and roll doesn’t need to be saved. It’s alive and well.”

Grohl has seen the highs and lows of rock popularity, and his band has become a major player in the revival of rock. The Foo Fighters were nominated for Album of the Year at the 2012 Grammy’s, being edged by the deserving Adele. The return to glory by many 1990s bands has been the bright spots for music. Stone Temple Pilots returned with their self titled album in 2010, and fellow “grunge” band Soundgraden is expected to release their long awaited sixth studio album sometime in 2012.

Much like it did in the 1990s, the alternative rock scene has been one area that has thrived, and though they may not show the tenacity of the classic hard rock bands, they are helping to reinvigorate music. The Black Keys have catapulted to a new level of stardom, and bands like Mumford and Sons have no use for karaoke tapes. Even pop music has trended upward. Adele and Kelly Clarkson have each produced number one hits in 2012, and Fun has dominated the Billboard charts for the past four weeks.

Simmons makes a fair point, but Rihanna is the unfair victim. The 24-year- old superstar stands above many of her peers in talent and versatility. KISS and Motley Crue are right, modern music is still in disarray, but I’d much rather hear the legends be part of the solution than comment on the problem.