By ALICEN HACKNEY
There are certain bands that we all love to hate. Nickelback, Twenty One Pilots, Smash Mouth, Train, Phish, and most recently Greta Van Fleet, have all landed themselves on the wrong side of their genres’ fan base. Yet, despite this, they manage to make incredible sales on records, concerts, and other publicity. It’s a widespread phenomena with clear social and psychological answers.
Greta Van Fleet released their album “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” in October of 2018 following two earlier EP releases. The album not only reached number 3 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums and EPs list, but it outsold other long-standing band’s works such as Disturbed’s album “Evolution” which debuted the same day. “Highway Tune” and “Safari Song,” two singles off the album, became chart-topping hits for Billboard as well for a number of weeks.
Despite all of this success, critics took to bashing them quickly. Pitchfork released an album review rating their album a 1.6 out of 10, calling them “more of an algorithmic fever dream than an actual rock band.” Even Robert Plant himself called them out for being nothing more than a Led Zeppelin cover band in an interview with Loudwire. “They are Led Zeppelin I. Beautiful little singer, I hate him! He borrowed [his voice] from somebody I know very well, but what are you going to do?”
While record sales pointed to their fans originally not thinking the same way, they soon followed suit putting Greta Van Fleet down for their supposedly plagiarized Led Zeppelin sound.
What happened here is the work of exactly what the influencer marketing industry sets out to do. Rock Feed, a music focused digital news organization, explained this issue in a YouTube video in November, “is there something about a band that rapidly attracts the attention of millions, that makes it easy to be the smartest guy in the room and tell those millions of people why their tastes are incorrect?”
Rock Feed went on to explain that historically, rock music fans have done this about every five years or so. Some new band hits the scene, and almost immediately, usually following the shutdown from elite music critics, fans turn on the band and they are seldom heard from again.
“I don’t think it’s fair to the bands unless someone in the band has done something horrible, then cancel culture is warranted. Otherwise it’s sad to see bands lose the power to reach out to people with their message, a message people might need but once they’re out of circulation they can’t get to them,” said UMW junior Mary Foster.
According to Benjamin Shapiro, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Noisey, Vice’s online music channel, Phish is “low hanging fruit” as to what bands deserve a bashing, and although he admits they “absolutely f—ing shred,” the music they play is still just “a mushy jambalaya of the Dead, Pink Floyd, and the Sesame Street theme song.” However, Phish’s fan base had been so in love with them their songs landed in two guitar player video games and there are two Ben & Jerry’s flavors named after them. Now most people know them and their fan base for what Ben Shapiro would call “fumbling, intolerable d—weeds.”
Twenty One Pilots originally seemed like they were here to stay; they had their target demographic on lock and had the support of bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic at the Disco, who have seen their fair share of bashing and made it anyway, both of which they opened tours for. “Blurryface,” the band’s fourth album, was the first album in the digital age to have every song earn the status of either gold, platinum, or multi-platinum from the Recording Industry Association of America.
Despite their success, sources like Bearded Gentlemen Music, whose goal is to “capture the wonder of the burly rebel poet,” said that, “their sound is to imagine if you combine Nate Ruess’s gosh-shucks swagger with the superficial dance rock antics of recent Fall Out Boy along with the occasional nasally rap of Eminem as an emo seventh grader who thinks the world is against him because Degrassi was canceled.”
“For whatever reason, society is so opposed to the change of a certain music group, even if it correlates with music trends. Like Fall Out Boy, in their recent album, they incorporated rap and I’m not going to stop listening just cause [sic] they incorporated something that isn’t my personal taste. Bands like Twenty One Pilots, who were always their own style, have their own genre that’s hard to define and no one wants to claim them. Even if it’s not what you like, someone will, so it’s worth listening to,” said junior Justine Purdy.
The influence of these writers, editors, and owners of publications molds the ways in which their audiences listen to music, and have caused a volatile scene for rock music. As Rock Feed put it, “[it is] that thing we seem to do every five years when a band in rock music becomes explosively popular and then we relentlessly put them down and then a few years later we wonder why there’s nothing happening in the scene.”
“With the social media culture, I don’t see this ending since it stretches beyond music to all entertainment. As bands and other entertainment icons are their personal brands, showing the positives when it’s deserved is important,” said Foster.
When it comes to music there is no right or wrong. Just because new bands like Greta Van Fleet pop up sounding too much like something you used to hear doesn’t mean they should have reinvented their scene, it means it’s not for you.