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  • Writer's pictureNishant Mittal

Why people don't listen to Rock anymore: A Socio-cultural analysis

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Why people don't listen to Rock anymore: Nishant Mittal
Slash from Guns N Roses

Rock and Roll was a phrase common amongst African Americans as a euphemism for Sex back in early 1900s. Rock (move back and forth) + and + roll. Etymologically, it refers to what you can probably imagine. The reference appeared in song titles every now and then, but Trixie Smith's "My Man Rocks Me With One Steady Roll" (released in 1914) won the prize for clearing all doubts.

Rock music: The origin story

Seeds of this music form were sown for decades, blending Black culture in the White American consciousness, but it finally morphed into something tangible with the advent of Elvis Presley in 1954. A White guy who sounded like a Black man. That was when the needle dropped on Rock N Roll. Elvis Presley oozed sexuality and catalysed the merger of Black and White Culture in an unprecedented fashion. Musically, it was a mix of R&B with Rockability. In terms of feel, it was "exotic" and "thrilling". It was all about "excitement", "rage", and "revelation". 1950s laid the foundation of Rock, and the world loved it for about 60 years.

Why people don't listen to Rock anymore: Nishant Mittal
Elvis Presley

Advent of Synth Pop

Rock music wasn't just a popular form of music till the 80s, it defined popular music. But with 80s came Synth Pop and it became a movement of equal proportions. Madonna, Michael Jackson and so on. The disco-synth movement became really popular, and that was understandable because with the popularisation of the synthesiser (the electric keyboard), musicians could make "new" sounds, the kinds of which a guitar, bass and drumkit simply couldn't make. Synth brought "new" sounds on the table and a new era with it.

However, Rock music isn't just about the sound. As mentioned above, it's equally about the "feel" of it. The Rockability. The thrill. The excitement. The rage. The revelation. Those things are, and have always been central to the music form. And while the 80s Synth Pop movement was different sonically, it was very similar emotionally. It was only a new avtaar.

Why people don't listen to Rock anymore: Nishant Mittal
Michael Jackson in the 80s

Comeback in the 90s (and 2000s)

With 90s, Rock (even sonically) came back in a big way with the Grunge movement. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, STP and the likes pioneered a new wave of Rock which epitomised the characteristics mentioned above and added a new dimension to things. Rock was back in a big way, but it no longer defined mainstream music like earlier. Hip-hop, Rap and Synth Pop were just as huge. This interestingly brought another musical movement in early 2000s, in the form of Nu Metal. Folks my age would remember being obsessed with Linkin Park, Rage Against the Machine, Slipknot, et al. That was Nu Metal. The music form had Rock mixed with Electronic elements like Rap and Hip Hop. It exploded and was really big till around early 2010s.

Why people don't listen to Rock anymore: Nishant Mittal
Stone Temple Pilots (one of the Grunge pioneers)

Death of Rock

From 2010s, Rock declined in a way never seen before. Not only did Rock vanish from the mainstream sonically, it also disappeared in terms of "feel". From mid 2010s, music in general essentially abandoned things like thrill, excitement, rage & revelation. The "spirit" of Rock itself seemed to have gone out of fashion. Music became "loopy" and "Lo-fi", and this trend only exacerbated with time. The "slow" and "soothing" sounds are so ubiquitous now, that when it comes to Rock, the most popular name we can recall is Coldplay. These days, Rock songs don't even make it to the Billboards Hot 100s.

India has been very different as far as music history is concerned, but the present is pretty much the same. Most popular songs in India are also "loopy", "slow" and "relaxing". According to Spotify India, "Lo-fi" versions of old songs are really hitting it these days. Prateek Kuhad (a great musician I really admire) is the most popular Indie act. And so on...

If you can see clearly, it's just same here as well. The world has behaviourally moved away from that kind of expression. Why?

The rise of Social Media

Facebook came in 2004, Instagram in 2012. The smartphone revolution became mainstream by 2015. Since then, people all the over the world are spending a third of their waking life, staring at the phones. People are addicted like never before. And what are they watching on the smartphone? Most beautiful people in the world taking their clothes off. Most adventurous people in the world, jumping off mountains for a bunch of "likes" and "shares". In short, people are getting unprecedented level of mental stimulation from their smartphones, all the time.

Even when it comes to their personal circle of friends, they're seeing folks showcasing their best (in some cases, fake) life 24x7. The flux which people are encountering every minute on their smartphone is simply bizarre. It's unbelievable. Given that context, how much room do you think can one make for "thrill", "excitement", "rage", and "revelation"?

Imagine an average guy coming from a hard day at work. He's hooked to his phone while commuting from office. He's looking at the prettiest girls, most sculpted guys, richest people in the most exotic of locations. He comes back, and listens to what? Jeremy from Pearl Jam? No. He doesn't need a thought provoking masterpiece, he needs a horse tranquilliser. He's already overwhelmed in every possible way. Things like "thrill", "excitement", "rage" and "revelation" have little place in his life now.

This, in my opinion, seems to be the fundamental reason why people have lost interest in Rock music. And frankly, Rock music is not the only casualty of this mass socio-cultural shift. Reading, Cinema, Travel...everything has changed. But that's a conversation for another time.

What's the way forward?

That's a good question. Especially for a musician like myself who's been making Rock for a long time. What's the way forward! Frankly, I don't think the smartphone (and social networking) ubiquity is sustainable. Sooner or later, people are going to realise that this is digital heroin, and it'll be dealt with appropriately. That could either happen regulatorily (unlikely), socio-culturally (plausible) or technologically (Seneca, or something else).

However, that's pretty much a far shot. It'll be unwise to hold your breath on it. Then another good question which comes forward is this: Why are people like me still making Rock music? I recently came out with a song called Raakh. It's a hard rock piece based on forest fires, both literally and metaphorically. Now why the fuck would I do something like that? Who gives a shit about forest fires, both literally and metaphorically?

The answer to that is partly sentimental and partly logical. The sentiment part is easy to understand. I like Rock music. I'm a deep thinking guy who needs "meaning" and "inspiration" in art. I can't tolerate and thus produce meaningless, uninspiring, loopy BS.

Now comes the logical part. Well, there's none. It's mostly a sentimental endeavour. Though I sincerely believe that the cultural shift away from smartphones is inevitable, and the number of people moving away from the toxicity of social media is only going to increase with time. It might take three years, or maybe five. But whenever that happens, there'll be critical mass of people interested in "feeling" things again. How much of that will lead to my success as a musician? I have no clue. But the music form as a whole, might see a comeback again. Godspeed to that.

To watch a podcast episode between Abhishek Pawar and I on the same topic, click here.

P.S. You just read an honest (and hopefully valuable) article for free. If you like reading my writing, please consider making donations. Amounts don't matter, gestures do. Here's a big cheers to all my Patrons!

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Durable Plastic
Durable Plastic
Mar 05
He doesn't need a thought provoking masterpiece, he needs a horse tranquilliser. He's already overwhelmed in every possible way. Things like "thrill", "excitement", "rage" and "revelation" have little place in his life now.

Not a great read at all IMO. Some of the most popular artists of this era make thought provoking music. They just choose different forms of expression, like rap / hip-hop and electronic music.

And some of the most popular rock artists of yesteryear were just singing in innuendos about sex and drugs. Thus, the phrase "sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll".

For every Jeremy, there's a This is America.


Dushyant Sapre
Dushyant Sapre
Dec 28, 2022

Big fan of rock, so found your article though provoking. Its sad for all fans like us we don't get to listen to the new forms of GnR, Queen, Metallica and 50+ more bands anymore. One question: is it possible that Rock itself was a form of heroin that had a shelf life of 60years?

Nishant Mittal
Nishant Mittal
Dec 28, 2022
Replying to

Music is mental programming. So it's definitely a drug. But I'd not equate it with Heroin. I'll go with something like a Multi Vitamin energy booster, or maybe Caffeine. But not Heroin for sure. That's just me, though. Thank you! :)

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