It hurt to see Pete Townshend, one of my musical heroes, succumb to the notion that rock music is in decline. “Hip-hop is rock to my ears: music for the neighborhood, the street, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, the young, the ignored,” he said to The Dallas Morning News. “That used to be what I focused on.”
This isn’t the first time Pete has felt this way. In 1972(!!!), The Who released this song lamenting how rock had lost its way.
Pete’s back at it 40 years later. This time, though, he’s not entirely wrong. The first half of the 20th century was dominated by jazz and all its variations before being pushed aside by rock in the middle 1950s. It became the primary musical driver of culture for the next half-century before it was slowly elbowed aside by hip-hop sometime in the late 90s — at least in America, which is from where most of these rock-is-dead stories emanate.
But there’s more to the planet than America. Yes, hip-hop is on the ascent worldwide, but rock isn’t going gently into that good night. Rock continues to be extraordinarily popular just about everywhere.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the global lobby group for the recording industry, monitors everything about how we listen to music. In its most recent survey, the IFPI surveyed 34,000 people across 21 countries which account for 92 per cent of music industry revenues. When they broke things down by genre, the world’s favourite music is ranked this way.
As you can see, three of the top 10 positions are held by flavours of rock. Looks pretty healthy to me.
What about Canada? Data compiled from Canadian music releases in late 2018 shows that the most popular genre in this country is alternative rock. A nationwide survey says that 21.6 per cent of Canadians go for alt-rock while another 13.8 per cent are into straight rock for a total of 35.4 per cent — and that doesn’t include breakouts like punk and metal. No other genre comes close.
Another study from last spring called the IMS Business Report ranks rock as the second-most-popular genre on the planet with 57 per cent of people reporting to having listened to it, second only to pop.
Need more? A company called TickX commissioned a survey of 35,000 musicians around the plant and compared their country of origin to the genre of music that comes from their homelands. The result was a top genre from each nation. Here’s what they found:
Top genre by continent
Africa – African
Asia – Experimental/electronic
Europe – House
North America – Alternative Rock
Oceania – Alternative Rock
South America – MPB (Brazilian Popular Music)
Top genres produced in North America
The Bahamas – Vocal
Barbados – Electronic/ Reggae/ Pop
Bermuda – Electronic/ Rock
Canada – Pop Rock
Cuba – Afro-Cuban
Dominican Republic – Merengue
Guatemala – Rock/ Pop
Jamaica – Dancehall
Mexico – Ballad
Panama – Salsa
Puerto Rico – Salsa
United States – Alternative Rock
Other nations where rock came out on top: China, the most populous country earth; Indonesia, the fourth biggest country by population; Finland (metal); Japan (punk more than anything); Singapore (more punk); Sri Lanka (pop rock); Argentina (pop rock); Chile, Uruguay (metal); Australia (alternative rock); and New Zealand (indie rock). The only continent where rock is nowhere to be found is Africa (and for you pedantic types, Antarctica, but only because there was insufficient data).
Yes, there’s plenty of competition for our ears, but don’t be too quick to write off rock. It’ll be with us for a while yet.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and Q107, and a commentator for Global News.