2022 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Rock
(Clockwise from left): James Hetfield of Metallica, Starcrawler's Arrow de Wilde, Rage Against The Machine, Amy Taylor of Amyl & the Sniffers, Turnstile's Brendan Yates

Photos: Michael Hickey/Getty Images; Gus Stewart/Redferns; David Wolff-Patrick/Redferns; Gie Knaeps/Getty Images; Josh Brasted/FilmMagic


2022 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Rock

Our concept of and interest in various forms of rock is expanding. Whatever rock is, it’s not dead, and has rounded up five trends that attest to the strong pulse of rock music in 2022.

GRAMMYs/Dec 30, 2022 - 06:37 pm

Can rock 'n' roll be defined as the loud blues- and guitar-based stylings purveyed by everyone from the Rolling Stones to Greta Van Fleet? Perhaps it's the smart, Brit-punk energy of Idles, or the lush new wave-alt-rock stylings of Phoenix? Or maybe rock is really in the grooves of stoner/doom band Windhand, or classic thunder of NWOBHM icons Iron Maiden?

In a word, yes.

Established radio formats and charts have long organized and codified an ever-increasing amount of bands, artists and songs. But that organization is a trap, making it necessary to divide rock  — sometimes randomly and incorrectly — into pigeon holes. Terrestrial and satellite radio and streaming service playlists remain divided, creating categories such as active rock, classic rock, or Adult Alternative. Yet these categories inevitably leave out key bands and songs, or include questionable entries.

In reality, listeners aren’t bound to genre as in the past. Today’s music world is proof positive that as lines blur, our concept of and interest in various forms of rock is expanding. An arena might see the fans at a Rage Against The Machine or Ghost show coming back on a different night to see Harry Styles or Rhianna.

The colloquial expression "I know it when I see it" (first used as a threshold test for obscenity in a 1964 Supreme Court case!) could also be applied to an attempt to define rock. Whatever rock is, it’s not dead, and these five trends that attest to the strong pulse of rock music in 2022.

Girl Power Makes A Comeback

Although powerful women like Lizzo and Lady Gaga top the pop charts — female representation is more scarce in the higher echelons of the rock world. While Lzzy Hale of Halestorm and Taylor Momsen of the Pretty Reckless play with the boys at the big venues, a new wave of rock bands featuring women and all-female bands are bubbling up, claiming their power.

From Los Angeles comes punk-glam-pop-rock powerhouse lineup Starcrawler, fronted by bold changeling Arrow De Wilde. On the darker City of Angels tip is the heavy charm of "satanic doo-wop" band Twin Temple, who made major inroads opening arena shows for Ghost. Also making noise from SoCal are garage-rock trio L.A. Witch, self-described "California doom boogie" band Death Valley Girls, disarming old-soul singer Lauren Ruth Ward, punk singer/guitarist Suzi Moon, and a host of other creatively bold women.

NYC is home to the firebrand vocalists of SuSu (Liza Colby, Kia Warren) and Woodstock, NY birthed fuzzy punk weirdos the Bobby Lees. Elsewhere, Australia's  Amyl & The Sniffers bring propulsive, in-your-face songs like "Guided by Angels" and ‘Hertz." Other shining lights include former Melvins collaborator and bilingual powerhouse Teri Gender Bender, plus plenty of young women making noise, like Pinkshift. While punk schoolgirls the Linda Lindas owe more to X than the Runaways, their cohort gives hope that the kids are alright.   

Classics Rock The Small Screen

Rock, mainstream and otherwise, helped make some of the coolest television shows even better in 2022. "Stranger Things" gave the 36-year-old Metallica song "Master of Puppets" new life among a younger crowd. (During their Lollapalooza set, Metallica paid tribute to the sci-fi show, and jammed with actor Joseph Quinn backstage.)

The Cramps’ goth-kitsch stylings made an appearance on TV sets via Tim Burton’s "Wednesday." The titular Wednesday Addams character danced her way into weird-girl hall of fame with the lo-fi legends’ 1981 version of "Goo Goo Muck." (And let’s not forget Ms. Addams' stellar cello version of the Stones’ "Paint It Black.")

The psycho-billy/horror-punk track was streamed on-demand over 2 million times in the U.S. — a more than 8,650 percent increase from the average 47 weeks before this year, Billboard reported. While it’s not quite Kate Bush-in-"Stranger Things"-numbers, it’s a nice bump that indicates a new generation of listeners for the wild and wooly lo-fi legends.

Other 2022 small-screen rock surprises include the sci-fi German epic period drama 1899, which uses a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s "White Rabbit" as its theme music. In an interesting anachronistic approach, the surreal period show uses songs that wouldn’t be created for more than six decades. The classic rock cuts include "Child in Time" by Deep Purple, Echo and the Bunnymen’s "The Killing Moon" and Black Sabbath’s "The Wizard." The sometimes-subtle song use certainly led to Shazams from kids and cheers from older folks.

Festivals Continue To Diversify

Once upon a time (not that long ago!) Ozzfest and Family Values were the "metal" festivals, Lollapalooza ruled the alternative nation, and rarely would the twain meet. (In a nod to the times, Ozzfest held a free, online-only virtual 2022 version that didn’t exactly draw raves from rock fans.) But 2022 saw the continuation of a sea change, with heaviness becoming the common denominator in a variety of festivals.

As demonstrated by Metallica at Lollapalooza 2022, and Nine Inch Nails and Slipknot billed alongside KISS and Red Hot Chili Peppers at the four-day Louder Than Life fest in Kentucky, sub-genres of industrial, metal, glam and alt-funk are meshing with ever-increasing ease. At Psycho Las Vegas, thrash band Suicidal Tendencies were billed alongside Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, while Wu-Tang Rapper GZA headlined a night that also featured black metal group Mayhem.

Vegas was also a destination in 2022 for the inaugural ‘90s and ‘early-2000s When We Were Young Festival, which served up nostalgia (and a few contemporary acts) from 64 of the biggest names in pop-punk, emo and hardcore. The sold-out event featured performances by My Chemical Romance, Avril Lavigne, AFI and Dashboard Confessional — acts which, back in the day, were often seen as reflecting separate subgenres.

Diverse rock festivals will continue in 2023 with the inaugural Sick New World festival. Set for May, the festival will feature bands once in the "nu metal"-plus genre such as System Of A Down, Korn, Deftones and Incubus alongside more diverse groups like Evanescence, GRAMMY-nominated hardcore hitmakers Turnstile, Chevelle, Mr. Bungle, Placebo, Spiritbox, and the Sisters of Mercy.

A Reignited Rage

Rage Against The Machine were one of the bigger bands that reunited for a tour in 2022 — joining the ranks of Pantera, the Mars Volta, Biohazard, Yellowcard, God Forbid, Roxy Music, the Gaslight Anthem, Taproot, and Sunny Day Real Estate.

But their tour was a long time coming. Rage first announced dates for a reunion tour in 2020  — their first full-length world jaunt in 20 years — but were sidelined by COVID. As the pandemic  raged on, racial and political unrest gripped America and the world, making Rage’s political musical messages in songs like "Killing in the Name" as relevant as ever.

The bright side? Rage’s self-titled debut (which celebrated its 30th anniversary in November) jumped back on to the Billboard 200 charts. So when the quartet played their first concert in 11 years on July 9, 2022 in East Troy, Wisconsin, hopes were high — and fan expectations were more than met. Yet two days after the tour began, singer Zach De La Rocha injured his leg; one month later, they canceled the European leg of their tour on doctor’s orders, and the remaining shows on the 2023 North American leg of the tour were scuttled due to the severity of de la Rocha's injury.

Rage closed things out with an incendiary three-night stand at Madison Square Garden beginning Aug. 11. De La Rocha was carried onstage by crew members and sang seated on an amp — but he brought the noise.

Backing Tracks Get The Spotlight

As metal and rock stalwarts continue to perform into their 60s and 70s (Mick Jagger turns 80 in 2023), fans still demand that their heroes sound like they did in their heyday, so it’s likely they might need some assistance. While it’s been a not-so-hidden secret that Ozzy used singer Robert Mason, hidden offstage, to supplement his vocals, bands like Aerosmith make backing tracks less of a secret, using singing keyboard players.

In October, a Twitter war began after Falling in Reverse canceled an Illinois festival gig, citing lost laptops. Reverse's Ronnie Radke posted an explanatory video message on TikTok where he said the band had "no other option" to cancel, because "as a band in 2022, you need your laptops. It's like driving a car without an engine."

Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx jumped online to agree with the use of backing tracks, but Sirius XM DJ/author Eddie Trunk was astonished. "First I heard about this I thought it was a joke to wind me up. How much longer are fans, promoters , media, just going to accept the epidemic of live rock shows… not really being live?"

Former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach, a veteran of Broadway, concurred with Trunk, while Radke tweeted at the metal DJ, writing: "you wanna talk hella s— about laptops but go watch kiss lip sync, Steven Tyler plays the piano then half way through the song he stands on top of piano while it sill [sic] plays yet here we are acting like they all don't use tracks you f—ing idiot."

Blackie Lawless, whose 40-year celebration tour with metal band W.A.S.P. earned rave reviews, admitted to using backing tracks. "If I'm a fan and I'm coming to a show, I want that thing to sound as good as it can," he said during a fan meet and greet that was posted on YouTube."When we go into a studio — and let me clarify that statement; that's me singing — we do choruses, we double, triple, quadruple the vocals," he said. "When I listened to live YouTube [recordings of our shows] and we weren't doing that, it sounded thin. When we started supplementing it, it sounded better.

"If I'm a fan and I'm coming to a show, I want that thing to sound as good as it can," he continued. "There are other bands — the QUEENs of the world — they cannot duplicate 24 vocals at one time. That's what they do on those records. If you want it to sound like those records, you've gotta have some help."

Even if Falling in Reverse got blowback from peers, their transparency is becoming the new norm. It brings the fans closer to their heroes, mere mortals who struggle with addiction, have personal lives, and occasionally use backing tracks.

2022 In Review: 6 Trends That Defined Country Music

Classic Metal's Big Year: 8 Ways 2022 Was A Banner Year For The Pioneers Of Hard Rock
Lead vocalist Rob Halford of Judas Priest performs during their 50 Heavy Metal Years tour in November 2022.

Photo: SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images

Classic Metal's Big Year: 8 Ways 2022 Was A Banner Year For The Pioneers Of Hard Rock

Metal gods including Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Pantera and reigned supreme in 2022. unpacks this resurgence, and the most rocking moments of the year.

GRAMMYs/Dec 16, 2022 - 02:47 pm

"Heavy metal is always going to be there," Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford once claimed. "At its core, it’s all about a primitive connection we all need to keep in our lives." Thanks to everything from supernatural Netflix hits and surprise reunions to massive tours and multiple accolades, this primitive connection now appears to be the strongest it’s been since the genre’s ‘80s heyday.

During a 2014 interview with, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford acknowledged the "special bond" that "all metal bands have with the fans [who] support them." Thanks to everything from supernatural Netflix hits and surprise reunions to massive tours and multiple accolades, this special bond now appears to be the strongest it’s been since the genre’s ‘80s heyday.

Of course, its pioneers have always maintained a loyal level of support — once a metalhead, always a metalhead after all. And there have been several instances of the sound returning to the mainstream (see Black Sabbath scoring their first ever Billboard No. 1 album nearly a half-century into their career in 2013, for example, or Metallica headlining Glastonbury a year later). Yet such feats are typically few and far between.

In 2022, however, the scene has continually found itself in the spotlight, inspiring headbangers both old and new to repeatedly pick up their air guitars and show off their best devil horns. So why exactly has this resurgence occurred?

One theory is that heavy metal in its purest form offers an unmatched sense of catharsis. With the world forever teetering on the brink of disaster, what better to unleash your frustrations than by immersing yourself in walls of aggressive noise? It could also be argued that some veterans have made a conscious effort to appeal to a wider audience with their more recent material. And those creatives who grew up listening to the likes of the Big Four (Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer) are now able to pay tribute by incorporating their music into their latest projects.

Whatever the reasons, here are eight ways in which the heavy metal acts of yesteryear made a significant impact in 2022.

Judas Priest Get Inducted  

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been relatively ungenerous when it comes to honoring heavy metal. It took them until 2006 to celebrate arguably the daddies of the genre, Black Sabbath, and since Metallica’s induction three years later, they’ve swerved all headbangers entirely. Until, that is, in November when Judas Priest deservedly picked up the Musical Excellence Award.

The British veterans also showed off their famous dual guitar sound while performing three of their biggest hits at the ceremony, with guest presenter Alice Cooper describing them as the "definitive metal band ... like an L.A. earthquake."

Iron Maiden Completed A Mammoth Tour 

Few acts have done more to spread the metal word than Iron Maiden. Forty-seven years on from their formation and they’re performing their distinctive brand of British metal to millions — and carting around their giant mascot Eddie across the world.

More than 3 million people attended their multi-national Legacy of the Beast World Tour, which concluded in Florida in October. The longest run of shows to feature original vocalist Bruce Dickinson since the late 1980s, the hits-focused show began in Estonia in 2018 but, thanks to COVID-19, took four years to complete. Despite a collective age approaching 400, the band have already announced they’ll be back on the road next year.

Icons Got The Documentary Treatment 

From Metallica’s Some Kind of Monster to The Story of Anvil, the heavy metal scene has spawned several compelling documentaries. And 2022 added two more to the canon. First up, there was DIO: Dreamers Never Die, which enjoyed a brief stint in cinemas in September. Produced by wife Wendy, the biopic of ex-Rainbow and Black Sabbath frontman Ronnie James Dio is an affectionate portrait which refreshingly avoids the usual rise and drug-addled fall narrative.  

Then at the opposite end of the spectrum, This Is GWAR explored the bodily fluid-spewing, monster-costumed history of the titular shock rockers in a hugely entertaining watch which, rather aptly, premiered on horror streaming service Shudder.    

Classic Metal Acts Received GRAMMY Nominations 

The Best Metal Performance category is no stranger to classic acts, with Dream Theater, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath all emerging triumphant during the last decade. But you have to go back to 2015 for the last time two were nominated in the same year (Anthrax and Motorhead). Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi will be hoping to add to their trophy cabinet at the 2023 ceremony. But they face stiff competition from fellow survivors Megadeth and Ghost, the Swedish satanists whose bombastic riffs have drawn parallels with another veteran, Judas Priest. Metal purists will undoubtedly be hoping prog rockers Muse and hardcore punks Turnstile don’t spoil the party.   

Pantera Reunite, And Bring Friends

Pantera’s story looked to have ended in 2004 when guitarist Dimebag Darrell was murdered by a crazed fan on stage. Even more so when another founding member, Vinnie Paul, passed away from coronary artery disease in 2018. But 22 years on from their last album, Reinventing the Steel, remaining members Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown announced they were heading out on a North American tour which would also include dates with Judas Priest and Metallica. Black Label Society frontman Zakk Wylde and Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante will temporarily join the group who, thanks to the likes of 1994’s chart-topping Far Beyond Driven, very nearly muscled their way into the Big Four.   

"Stranger Things" Gives Metallica Classic A Second Wind 

Kate Bush’s "Running Up That Hill" wasn’t the only ‘80s classic to enjoy a new lease of life after featuring in the mammoth fourth season of Netflix phenomenon "Stranger Things." Metallica’s "Master of Puppets" also returned to the Hot 100 thanks to the guitar heroics of Joseph Quinn’s Eddie Munson. His impressive rendition not only gave the metal giants their highest chart peak since 2008 but also introduced a whole new generation to the sound of James Hetfield and co. Admirably, the band themselves were far from precious about the whole thing, revealing they were blown away by the concept and later inviting Quinn for a Lollapalooza jam session.   

Megadeth Enjoy A Triumphant Return 

To say that the recording of Megadeth’s first new album in six years was troubled is putting it mildly. Firstly, lead singer Dave Mustaine was diagnosed with throat cancer shortly after hitting the studio with co-producer Chris Rakestraw. And then founding bassist David Ellefson found himself caught up in a revenge porn scandal which ultimately resulted in his dismissal. Nevertheless, the thrash metal legends eventually managed to put all the drama behind them with The Sick, the Dying... and the Dead! equaling the No.3 peak of its 2016 predecessor Dystopia, inspiring some critics to hail it as their finest record since the early ‘90s.

Metal Continues To Infiltrate Pop Culture 

Elsewhere, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Anthrax’s Scott Ian and Rob Halford were just a few of the iconic cameos in Netflix’s Metal Lords, a teen comedy about a bunch of high school outcasts who form a metal band. Black Sabbath stole the show at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony with an unannounced performance of their signature hit, "Paranoid." And Ozzfest became the first in-real-life festival to enter the metaverse, where those who’d invested in co-founder Ozzy Osbourne’s CryptoBatz NFTs could also enjoy a better vantage point by morphing into a bat. Because why not?

5 Essential Nu-Metal Albums: How Slipknot, Korn, Deftones & Others Showcased Adolescent Rage With A Dramatic Flair

5 Essential Nu-Metal Albums: How Slipknot, Korn, Deftones & Others Showcased Adolescent Rage With A Dramatic Flair
Slipknot performs during opening night of the Ozzfest 2001 in Chicago

Photo: Scott Gries/ImageDirect


5 Essential Nu-Metal Albums: How Slipknot, Korn, Deftones & Others Showcased Adolescent Rage With A Dramatic Flair

While nu-metal is sometimes remembered as a throw-away genre, many of its elements were groundbreaking at the time. collected the essential albums that best define nu-metal's aggression and innovation.

GRAMMYs/Nov 8, 2022 - 06:44 pm

Around the turn of the millennium, adolescent rage was personified by an anarchic blend of rap and rock, which gave birth to a new genre: nu-metal. The genre was severely theatrical, melding the brash, guitar-forward instrumentation and screaming lyricism of metal with rap’s poetic delivery and drum machines.

Nu-metal took cues from early '90s alternative scenes where thrash-inspired bands such as Faith No More, Nine Inch Nails, Primus and Ministry mixed industrial, electronic, and metal music to create a dark, moody sound. Nu-metal took this further, often employing slow tempos, down-tuned guitars, and distorted string instruments. Groups such as Cypress Hill, Korn and Linkin Park featured a DJ and incorporated rapping.

While nu-metal was ripe for a wide variety of expression, the genre generally promoted individualism, breaking with tradition, and political anarchy. Its lyrics combined hip-hop's political history and metal's brutal aggression to create a sound that resonated with disaffected, sometimes isolated —  a clear deviation away from the proto-masculine themes of 1980s metal. Singers like Korn's Jonathan Davis expanded upon pervasive post-9/11 pessimism, tackling complex subjects like child abuse, suicidal thoughts, and depression. Other groups adopted imagery from horror icons H. R. Geiger (whose work inspired Alien) and Spawn comic creator Todd McFarlane.

Unlike metal in the '80s or grunge in the '90s, nu-metal was not dominated by caucasian men. Nu-metal's experimental incorporation of rap widened the genre's audience, bringing in Black and brown fans who might not otherwise listen to rock. Female-fronted bands like Evanescence, Kitty, and In This Moment were pivotal to the genre’s dominance of festival circuits and merchandise, appealing to both sexes with strong female singers  whose intensity and aggression matched that of their male counterparts. Deftones — who fused Chicano sartorial aesthetics and lowrider iconography with goth culture — along with Fear Factory, P.O.D., and Rage Against the Machine, were fronted by Latinos. All System of Down members are of Armenian descent.

Nu-metal was as much a look as it was a musical genre, uniting fans in spiked hair, Adidas jumpsuits, and JNCO jeans. The fashion sense, ideology, and in-your-face aggression of the genre’s musicality were personified by an intense commitment to the act. The members of Korn wore dreadlocks, black nail polish, unkempt facial hair, and baggy clothes. Slipknot took it one step further, donning disturbing yet mesmerizing masks, each one invoking the historical plague masks, horror icons, and at times, the darkness members felt inside them. 

While nu-metal is sometimes remembered as a throw-away genre during a low point in alternative music — due in part to the legal issues and problematic public perception of nu-metal acts like Marilyn Manson, Limp Bizkit, and Kid Rock —  many of its elements were groundbreaking at the time. Nu-metal groups including Korn and Slipknot, who released a new album this year, continue to resonate with listeners. collected the essential albums that best define nu-metal's aggression and innovation.

Korn - Korn (1994)

Nu-metal was formed and led by Korn, who was at the forefront of the genre’s move to mainstream music in the 1990s. Over 14 studio albums, the band solidified the brash musicality of their signature sound — often melding rap/rock lyricism of bands like Cypress Hill with lyrics about alienation and loneliness. James "Munky" Shaffer and Brian "Head" Welchplayed seven-string guitars through a bevy of pedals, incorporating funk-laden bass lines that distinguished the California group from metal bands of the previous decade.

These experimental leanings were evident from the band’s self-titled debut album, released six years before the genre broke into the mainstream. The album's cover laid the groundwork for what awaited listeners, an album filled with disturbing lyrics on childhood abuse and real-life boogie men. A little girl sits on a swing, motionless, peering up at a monstrous figure we only see by the outline of his shadow. From the moment Davis scream, "Are you reaaaddyyyy!!" on the opening track, "Blind," like it or not, you are on an 11-track crash course towards existential hell.

Rage Against the Machine - Evil Empire (1996)

Of all the nu-metal bands that leaned on hip-hop’s legacy, Rage Against the Machine did so with the most authenticity and reverence. (Frontman Zach de la Rocha was well regarded within hip-hop circles, often being asked to tour and collaborate with acts like KRS-One, Chuck D, the Roots, and Saul Williams.) RATM was also one of the most political bands of the era, whose far-left, militaristic lyrics railed against capitalism, colonialism, military intervention abroad, and class warfare —  all socio-political issues in the daily headlines during the late '90s and early 2000s.

Evil Empire was made during a period of vicious infighting among the group, which had just wrapped three years of touring on the success of their debut album. What culminated was an album motivated by the band’s distinct multicultural backgrounds and stubborn, idealistic stances on sound and theme. Songs like "People of the Sun," "Bulls on Parade" and "Down Rodeo" were liberation songs for the underclasses and oppressed. Its liner notes thanked writers and cultural critics Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Abbie Hoffman, and Norman Mailer. 

With Evil Empire, RATM solidified itself as a band for the people and cut one of the great musical manifestos in the process. The populist political advocacy the band pursued in the early '90s was a precursor to contemporary American sentiment where many are overwhelmed by student loan debt, low-paying jobs, inequity and housing instability.

Deftones - White Pony (2000)

On their third release, Deftones embraced the anti-traditionalist mentality of the genre to make an anti-nu-metal album. White Pony tracks like "Adrenaline" and "Around the Fur" were a tonal shift away from the genre’s darkness, favoring melody and romanticism.

Musically, the album had more in common with shoegaze than hip-hop or rap. The guitars were tuned lower than on "Around the Fur," and the album’s only single, "Change (In the House of Flies)," sounded more like the Cure or Depeche Mode than Linkin Park or Limp Bizkit. Moreno sings in a sensual, reverb-drenched wail and adds a soft layer to tracks like "Feiticiera" and "Knife Prty." The album is ethereal and dream-like, thanks to the band stacking effect petals and creating a multi-textured sound. Rather than stand in defiance to nu-metal, White Pony characterizes how diverse and broad the genre’s influences are. 

Slipknot - Iowa (2001)

As macabre as the members of Slipknot looked in their straight-jacket jumpsuits and torture-porn masks, their music was even more brutal. Slipknot embodied the pain many teenagers felt from school bullying and conservative values and encapsulated it by turning into a nightmarish group of nine mask-wearing maniacs delivering musical filth.

Their sophomore album, Iowa, was named after the band's birthplace while delivering their career's heaviest and darkest album. P"When we did ‘Iowa,’ we hated each other. We hated the world; the world hated us. Hate is the optimum word when describing the ethos of Slipknot," percussionist Shawn Crahan recalled

Hate also fueled Slipknot's lyrical content and stage presence. This is never more apparent than on the album’s second track, "People=Shit," which is a spiritual successor to philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s infamous line, "Hell is other people" in his 1944 play, "No Exit." Alternative Press described the album as "like having a plastic bag taped over your head for an hour while Satan uses your [privates] as a speedbag." 

System of a Down - Toxicity (2001)

After 9/11, America was searching for a place to project its sense of anger, sadness, and fragility. Mosques were attacked. Middle Easterners were profiled at airports. Out of this xenophobic muck, System of a Down emerged as a voice against the warmongering of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. "Toxicity" was released mere days after 9/11, but it presupposed the feelings of American interventionism that would permeate our country’s news cycle for the next two decades.

Musically, the album mined influences from pro-rock, funk, jazz, hip-hop, and alternative metal, to create a sound that was impossible to define. The band used Middle Eastern instruments like sitar, as well as banjos and pianos to create ballads on love, spirituality, police brutality, and third-world politics. Serj Tankian’s vocals resembled the stream-of-consciousness, automatic writing of Beat poets one minute and then the balladry of Leonard Cohen in the next. 

System of a Down were similar to RATM in their incorporation of hip-hop’s political poetry, but   they spun this influence so far that the connective tissue is almost impossible to trace. SOAD was louder and more abrasive than other bands with hip-hop influences, but they could turn melodic at the stop of a dime, creating a flippant, surreal journey into a psychedelic symphony that showed the breadth of nu-metals expression. 

Take The Power Back: How Rage Against The Machine's Debut LP Created Rap-Rock With A Message

Take The Power Back: How Rage Against The Machine's Debut LP Created Rap-Rock With A Message
Zack De La Rocha, Tim Commerford, Brad Wilk, Tom Morello, Brielpoort, Deinze, Belgium of Rage Against The Machine

Photo: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images


Take The Power Back: How Rage Against The Machine's Debut LP Created Rap-Rock With A Message

Released in 1992, 'Rage Against The Machine' pushed the boundaries of contemporary music into previously uncharted territory. looks back at Rage's debut record to examine how it created the blueprint for rap-rock that had something to say.

GRAMMYs/Nov 7, 2022 - 02:38 pm

Music is an ever-evolving art form, but  by the '90s, it seemed as if there wasn’t much more ground left to explore. Even in the underground, some young people felt limited by the virtually endless selection of R&B, rap, pop, rock, country, punk, and metal curated by the likes of MTV and BET.  Yet it was only a matter of time before someone asked: What would happen if we combined some of those genres?  One band that dared to answer was Rage Against the Machine.

Nov. 3 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut — a muscular type of riff-heavy hybrid rock that pushed the boundaries of contemporary music into previously uncharted territory.  Owing as much to hip-hop as it does to ‘70s metal and punk music from the mid- to late ‘80s, the Los Angeles four-piece blended rap-inspired vocals and driving guitar riffs with a unique approach to songwriting that took listeners by surprise.

Collaborations between well-known rap and rock groups — including  Run DMC and Aerosmith, Public Enemy and Anthrax, and The 2 Live Crew and Mötley Crüe — had already explored the synergy that existed between the two genres, but those were all one-time efforts. Until Rage Against the Machine came along, few other bands had made fusing the two styles a bedrock of their musical ambition. The final product became so popular that it established a blueprint that other bands like Limp Bizkit would follow, leading to a glut of rap-rock bands in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. But what set Rage Against the Machine apart from the bands that followed is that it had something to say.

Before the first note of the record sounded, the album art for Rage Against The Machine set the tone for what was to come, telling listeners as much about the band’s outlook as the music would.  The album cover features the jarring yet iconic image of the Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức in the midst of self-immolation, his final act of protest against religious persecution. This photograph told listeners as much about the band’s outlook as the music would. The result was a one-two punch of politically-charged music that pleased critics and won over fans of both rap and rock music.

Rage Against the Machine’s politics have always been just as important as its music — perhaps even more so — and the album addresses systemic racism, police brutality, media manipulation, cultural exploitation, and subjugation. But what, exactly, was the machine that the band was intent on raging against? In a 1993 interview, guitarist Tom Morello described the proverbial machine as, "anything from the police on the streets of Los Angeles who can pull motorists from their cars and beat them to a pulp and get away with it to the overall international state capitalist machinery that tries to make you a mindless cog, and not think critically, and never confront the system." 

What the band was singing about wasn’t necessarily new at the time, but who it was singing to certainly was. Instead of preaching to those who had already felt the sting of injustice, the band took its message straight to middle America. The music spoke directly to the nation’s mainstream youth and, ultimately, "elitist white America,"  showcasing Generation X’s distinct sense of cynicism tempered with hope.

Vocalist Zack de la Rocha embodied the disenfranchised, releasing a torrent of internalized frustration on each track. But rather than offering catharsis, his lyrics enjoined the listener to share in his rage, to take action against the systemic issues that plague society. Songs like "Township Rebellion" reminded them that it was well within the realm of possibility to change the power structure: "Why stand on a silent platform? Fight the war! F— the norm!" But Rage Against the Machine didn’t want a passive audience — it wanted its fans to get involved. To help make that aim a reality, the album’s liner notes provided information on progressive causes that fans could learn about on their own.

The album was released near the beginning of the Clinton presidency, which was widely regarded as a time of relative peace, prosperity, and growth in America; and, for some listeners, this made Rage Against the Machine’s message seem out of touch with the zeitgeist. Because the band was shining a light on topics that weren’t frequently covered in the news at the time, the music was sometimes written off as being little more than "complaint rock."  It would take some time before the band’s message would come into sharper focus.

The entirety of the band’s studio output was released before the Bush presidency, 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Occupy Wall Street, the Obama presidency, the rise of the Tea Party and the Alt-Right, the Trump presidency, the unrest in Charlottesville, and the highly-publicized deaths of many Black Americans like George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement. Even after the passage of so many years — and so many world-altering events — the band’s message can be carried effortlessly to the present day. In light of the recently publicized (though long-known) findings that a racist element lurks in American law enforcement agencies, for example, the meaning behind the line in the song "Killing in the Name" becomes clear: "Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses."

In a 2020 online conversation, Morello expounded on that sentiment: "Race is a very, very difficult thing to discuss in America. Racism in this country is as American as apple pie and baseball. It is interwoven with the DNA of this country, and that’s why, when you criticize racism, people think you’re criticizing America — because you are!"

Ultimately, the band’s music is a continuing reminder that, for as much as society has changed, there are certain elements within it that have remained stubbornly fixed. As the highly-influential Texas State Board of Education considers redefining American slavery as "involuntary relocation," and as the debate over teaching critical race theory in schools continues, fans are reminded of songs like "Take the Power Back" that critique the American educational system’s cultural bearings: "The present curriculum, I put my fist in ‘em/Eurocentric, every last one of ‘em."

While it is still unclear whether Rage Against The Machine's  leftist ideology ever created any political converts, it is clear that the band’s music won over more than a few right-wing fans. Even conservative stalwarts like former Speaker of the House and Republican vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, was noted as being a fan of the band’s music. While he didn’t agree with the band’s message — and the band didn’t agree with his fandom — the music’s impact is undeniable. Even now, many long-time conservative fans are just beginning to realize how misaligned the band is with their own worldview. This is largely due to the fact that some fans were willing to take the music at face value while abandoning the message entirely. For others, the "rage" part was always evident, but the parameters of "the machine" are still up for debate.

This dichotomy was no more apparent than in 2020, when Trump supporters draped in pro-police flags and MAGA paraphernalia took to the streets of Philadelphia to protest President Joe Biden’s victory while singing along to "Killing in the Name." Despite the song’s sharp critique of the police, the group of Trump followers chanted "F— you! I won’t do what you tell me!" along with the song’s crescendo.

Even though the song’s meaning had been repurposed, it remains a testament to the Rage’s longevity and to the emotion that its music can evoke. Instances like this also make it clear that, for some, the band’s music has come to symbolize a more universal sense of resistance or rebellion rather than an alignment with a particular set of political beliefs. This type of selective listening, where the music is isolated from the message, may have blunted the impact of the band’s activism to some degree, but it also allowed their message to spread far and wide.

Despite the band’s zeal, Rage couldn’t always shake the perceived hypocrisy of being revolutionary while also having access to all of the trappings of capitalism and rock stardom. This incongruity led some to ask if it was even possible to rage against the machine while simultaneously fueling it. Both de la Rocha and Morello have stated that they saw this approach as a means to inspire others to think critically about American society and global politics. The band has developed a reputation for putting its money where its mouth is, playing benefit shows and donating concert revenue to causes that are meaningful to its members. During its finally-realized 2022 reunion tour, Rage donated $1,000,000 of the proceeds from its residency at Madison Square Garden to select charities.

Since the album’s release, it has consistently appeared on many critics’ best-of lists; and the same songs that originally captivated Gen X are now garnering the attention of younger generations. In some ways, these new fans seem to relate to the band’s message in a more immediate way, relating to the music through the lens of the past decade's social change and political unrest. Contemporary artists like Denzel Curry, Brass Against and Machine Gun Kelly have also carried the message forward by covering Rage Against the Machine songs and introducing the band to new audiences.

Thirty years later, the machine still exists, but so does the band that is determined to undermine it. Rather than directly inciting a revolution, Rage has contributed to its soundtrack.  While many other bands from that era are now considered to be a thing of the past, Rage Against the Machine has stuck by its principles and remained a vital part of the current music landscape.

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American Pride? 11 Songs About A Complicated America, From Prince, Dolly Parton & More
Prince performing at Wembley Arena in London in March 1995.

Photo: Brian Rasic/Getty Images


American Pride? 11 Songs About A Complicated America, From Prince, Dolly Parton & More

In America's current political climate, 4th of July 2022 may be approached with mixed feelings. But as artists like Childish Gambino and Nina Simone have expressed in song, the U.S. has long had its challenges.

GRAMMYs/Jul 1, 2022 - 10:38 pm

As America turns 246 years old on July 4, this Independence Day may not find most Americans feeling as free as they might have on Fourth of Julys past. Yet, as the fight to maintain democracy heats up to an uncomfortable degree, we can still seek solace and strength from the songs that are written about America and use them to inspire change.

The 11 songs presented here span more than 50 years of social activism. They collectively illuminate how fighting for rights and equality have threaded American society, and how there's still plenty of room for growth. There's a lot to despair over right now, but the accompanying playlist is intended as a reminder not to lose hope during the long fight ahead. 

However you're commemorating the holiday, dive into these powerful songs from Prince and The Revolution, Rage Against the Machine, Dolly Parton and more.

Nina Simone — "Mississippi Goddam" (1964)

Racial segregation and oppression in the civil rights movement battleground states — Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee — are Nina Simone's focus in "Mississippi Goddam." "Desegregation," she sings, as her band responds, "Do it slow." "Mass participation (do it slow)/ Reunification (do it slow)/ Do things gradually (do it slow)/ But bring more tragedy (do it slow)/ Why don't you see it/ Why don't you feel it?"

"I didn't like 'protest music' because a lot of it was so simple and unimaginative it stripped the dignity away from the people it was trying to celebrate," she wrote in her 2003 book I Put a Spell On You. "But the Alabama church bombing and the murder of Medgar Evers stopped that argument and with 'Mississippi Goddam,' I realized there was no turning back."

Gil Scott Heron — "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (1971)

Originally recorded as a poem for Gil Scott Heron's 1970 album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was set to music for his Pieces of a Man album that was released the following year. The idea of not being able to just sit home and watch real change take place still resonates in a digital activism era.

"The revolution will not be right back/ After a message about a white tornado," he says in the piece. "White lightning, or white people/ You will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom."

Pointer Sisters — "Yes We Can Can" (1973)

Oakland's hit-making Pointer Sisters recorded "Yes We Can Can" the same year as the case of Roe vs. Wade was decided in the Supreme Court. It's an apt time to return to the song's hopefulness as fuel in the fire to regain reproductive rights. 

"We got to iron out our problems/ And iron out our quarrels," the Sisters sing. "And try to live as brothers/ And try to find peace within/ Without stepping on one another/ And do respect the women of the world/ Remember you all have mothers."

Prince and The Revolution — "America" (1985)

Thanks to a funked-up thread of the familiar refrain of "America, America, God shed his grace on thee" — from the 19th Century standard "America the Beautiful" — Prince's "America" can pass as a thoroughly patriotic song to people who don't dig deeply into the still-relevant critiques in his lyrics.

"Jimmy Nothing never went to school/ They made him pledge allegiance/ He said it wasn't cool/ Nothing made Jimmy proud/ Now Jimmy lives on a mushroom cloud." 

The anxiety of nuclear war that weighed heavily on songs of this era can be understood in the context of the present, with Russian attacks on Ukrainian nuclear power plants that have taken place in just the last few months.

Rage Against The Machine — "Take The Power Back" (1992)

This early Rage Against The Machine song from 1992 stands well today as an activist anthem in the disinformation age of book-banning and school curriculum upheaval. "Take The Power Back" advocates for the truth to be told and for the power to return to the people.

"In the right light, study becomes insight," sings frontman Zack de la Rocha. "But the system that dissed us/ Teaches us to read and write/ So called facts are fraud/ They want us to allege and pledge/ And bow down to their god."

Tune-Yards — "My Country" (2011)

It's been over a decade since Oakland musicians Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner — together, known as Tune-Yards — released "My Country." But the song's lyrics about America's vast inequalities, especially for those seeking a new home here, still apply just as much as they did in 2011. 

"My country, 'tis of thee/ Sweet land of liberty/ How come I cannot see my future within your arms," Garbus sings angrily.

Childish Gambino — "This Is America" (2018)

Donald Glover's unflinching look at being Black in America hits hard — and is especially potent when absorbed with the accompanying music video, which won the GRAMMY for Best Music Video in 2019. The video brings the song to life in vivid detail, including burning cars, police terror and Gambino murdering a choir with a machine gun.

The song's lyrics about the anxiety of guns expresses a sentiment that unfortunately still holds true today, as the first half of 2022 has been particularly deadly with gun violence across the country. "Yeah, this is America," he raps with increasing alarm on the song. "Guns in my area/ I got the strap/ I gotta carry 'em."

"I just wanted to make, you know, a good song," Glover told E! in an interview on the red carpet at the Met Gala in 2018. "Something people could play on Fourth of July."

Glover took home three more GRAMMY Awards for "This Is America" in 2019: Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance.

Dolly Parton — "19th Amendment" (2018)

Dolly Parton steps in with some crucial history about women's rights in "19th Amendment," presented in her endearingly bubbly style. The song is a highlight of 27: The Most Perfect Album, a compilation of songs from various artists who wrote about one of the 27 Amendments to the Constitution. (On the album, it's titled "19th Amendment," as each track's title is the Amendment it's about. Parton refers to the song as "A Woman's Right.") The project was released in 2018 by Radiolab at New York's WNYC Studios before the midterm elections.

"It is the duty of the women of this country to secure for themselves the sacred right to vote," she insists in the song.

"Being lucky enough to be a successful woman in business, I wanted to exercise my right to write about the 19th Amendment to praise and uplift women," Parton said in an interview with WNYC.

Gary Clark Jr. — "This Land" (2019)

Gary Clark Jr. is a six-time GRAMMY winner who is lauded around the world for his artistic prowess. But as an American — and, more specifically, as a Texan — he is still keenly aware of how racism still persists in this country. "This Land," which is the title track to his 2019 album, was written after a neighbor confronted him in disbelief that a Black man could own the property where Clark lives, a 50-acre horse ranch in Kyle, Texas.

"N<em></em><em></em> run, n<em></em><em></em>a run/ Go back where you come from," stings the chorus.

"I just wanted to let it be known: this land is your land, but it's mine too, and we all, as Americans, as citizens of this country, should all have an equal shot," he told The Guardian.

Maino — "I Can't Breathe" (2020)

The death of George Floyd inspired a lot of powerful music in 2020. Before the late Eric Garner was killed at the hands of NYPD in 2014, he said, "I can't breathe," which Floyd also said when he was killed by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. The phrase is now associated with the Black Lives Matter movement and international activism against police brutality.

While several artists have released songs pertaining to police brutality, a few have specifically named songs "I Can't Breathe" — including H.E.R., whose single won the GRAMMY for Song Of The Year in 2021. "Stripped of bloodlines, whipped and confined/This is the American pride," she says in a spoken word portion of the song.

Brooklyn rapper Maino also released a song called "I Can't Breathe" in 2020, using the compelling track to call out the history of the continued police brutality against Black people. "Think I'm tired of bein' silent," he rhymes over an interpolation of the music from Fugees' "Ready or Not." "Tired of people not tired to see us dyin.'"

Lukas Nelson — "Untitled" (2022)

On June 27 — three days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade — Lukas Nelson performed an untitled song on his Instagram account that reacts to the controversial decision. 

"Now the stars don't shine for her at night/ They're just holes in the sky," sings Nelson (who is Willie Nelson's son and the frontman of Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real). "They don't give no light/ And the darkness lingers/ Endlessly/ For she must carry the seed." 

Rolling Stone noted that it joins notable songs about abortion that have recently been released, such as "Disorders" by Ani DeFranco and Stone Gossard, or re-recorded, like Cyndi Lauper's new version of 1993's "Sally's Rights."

The soul of America has long been reflected in the music that's written about it. As history has shown, artists aren't afraid to speak their minds in song — and as the fight for a more equal, peaceful country continues, there are likely many more to follow.

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