to guitar or not to guitar?

Meanwhile, Billboard Once Again Attempts to Tell Us What Rock Music Is

The state of rock and alternative, I guess. Photo: John Salangsang/Variety/Shutterstock/Genius/Youtube

The music industry has spent the past few days changing a lot of things’ names — mostly to reckon with racism, from Republic Records banning the word “urban” to Lady Antebellum becoming Lady A. (Some things never change: When the Grammys took “urban” out of one of its categories, the awards show only created more problems in the process.) Amid all this, it looks like Billboard thought it could slip in a little redefinition of the rock and alternative charts too. The biggest change involves a new 50-place Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart, which replaces the Hot Rock Songs chart. It broadens the scope of the chart — based on radio play, streaming, and sales — to now include “music that is often considered alternative, but does not fit within the commonly held boundaries of rock.” Translation: It’s a way to rank alternative-pop musicians like Billie Eilish and alternative-rap musicians like current chart-topper Powfu on the same chart as “guitar music,” while still drawing lines. And case in point: The change will also introduce two 25-place charts, Hot Alternative Songs and Hot Hard Rock Songs, which basically sound like splitting the first chart in half on genre lines. The former will feature songs “with an alternative bent,” while the latter focuses on “only guitar-based rock songs with a heavier edge.”

This isn’t all bad, considering Billboard’s only previous “alternative” chart was Alternative Songs, which only ranks based on radio play. But alternative tends to feel more like an empty radio designation these days anyway, for the sort of station that would play Eilish, Powfu, and Panic! at the Disco (who marked a whole year atop Hot [not-hard] Rock Songs last fall) back to back. If you’re wondering whether this chart will finally bring Billboard up to speed on the blossoming world of contemporary rock, you’ll have to temper your expectations a bit. Here’s the first five spots of the first chart, dated June 13:

1. “death bed,” Powfu featuring beabadobee

2. “everything i wanted,” Billie Eilish

3. “Supalonely,” Benee featuring Gus Dapperton

4. “Dance Monkey,” Tones and I

5. “Level of Concern,” twenty one pilots

It’s more of the corporatized rock, TikTok hits, and lowercase names already amply recognized on Billboard’s other charts. If there were a positive, it’d be that Billboard is putting more women on a chart with “rock” in the title — except that those women then get corralled off to the alternative not-rock chart. Not to mention, it doesn’t look like this chart will give way to more recognition for women like Fiona Apple and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield, whose recent career highs have defined the year in rock, even if the charts would have you think otherwise. The offshoot Hot Hard Rock Songs, meanwhile, looks like another spin on the mid-’00s hellscape that is the radio-based Mainstream Rock Songs chart. Falling in Reverse, a band that apparently still exists, tops Hot Hard Rock with “Popular Monster,” after previously topping Mainstream Rock with the song a month ago. Powfu also tops the Hot Alternative Songs chart, leading us to think that getting your song atop Hot Rock & Alternative will actually give you two No. 1s in most cases. (Maybe even three — Billboard tells us some songs are alternative and hard rock, although don’t expect to see Dogleg or Jeff Rosenstock up there anytime soon.)

So, if you like music “with an alternative bent” or “guitar-based rock songs with a heavier edge,” maybe Billboard can help you find some new faves, like Falling in Reverse or Powfu. But if you like rock music, you still have to ask yourself what the hell you’re doing checking the Billboard charts for it in 2020.

Meanwhile, Billboard Once Again Tells Us What Rock Music Is