I’ve never been a big fan of Kanye West. I generally think he’s overrated,* and I find his antics off-putting. None of his big singles—“Jesus Walks,” “Through the Wire,” “Gold Digger”—ever really resonated with me; I didn’t really think they were bad, but I never went out of my way to listen to them (not that I ever had to). But when I first heard “Stronger,” I remember thinking that West had trapped some kind of “cultural sound” in a bottle (I didn’t think it in those words, exactly; it was probably something more like This song is awesome!). “Stronger” was the kind of “cutting edge” song that sounded both ahead of its time and of the moment.
*Truthfully, this impression is mainly of College Dropout, which I really didn’t like. Most of his work since that is more or less accurately rated.
Rock music stopped being the most interesting genre of pop music at least ten years ago. This isn’t to say that there are no more good rock and roll bands, or that rock music has nowhere left to develop—both of these statements are flatly false—but simply that the dominant sounds of popular culture were not rock and roll this decade. Part of this is rock’s own fault: Watch a movie from that late 1990s and you’ll hear what a lot of “rock” sounded like then—a lot of Third Eye Blind, Sixpence None the Richer, Vertical Horizon, and, of course, Barenaked Ladies. Not exactly riveting stuff.
But even more of it had to do with the flourishing of other genres, most notably rap and hip hop. Almost every artist to get that elusive combination of commercial and critical success this decade was working within those genres: Jay-Z, Kanye, Eminem, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Usher, etc. The only rock bands to approach the success of those acts in the 2000s were Coldplay and Green Day…and those bands fucking suck. Continue reading