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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. GRAMMY.com collected the essential albums that best define nu-metal's aggression and innovation.
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. GRAMMY.com 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.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Pamela Littky
Corey Taylor Finds Home Within Exploration On 'CMF2': "This Is The Closest To The Real Me That I've Been"
Amid his latest solo tour, Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor details to GRAMMY.com how his second solo album expanded on his multifaceted musical universe — and helped him find himself in the process.
Solo albums by famous lead singers can be dicey gambits. They can offer an artist a fresh musical pulpit, or they could divide the group that made them famous. Luckily for Corey Taylor, his solo endeavors haven't interfered with his main metal mission.
With CMFT and CMF2 — the latter of which arrives Sept. 15 — Taylor crafted legitimately interesting albums that also suit the odyssey of his multiple musical personalities. Best known for fronting the GRAMMY-winning metal band Slipknot, Taylor's masked persona has allowed him to vent rambunctious energy on and off stage; his original group, Stone Sour, saw Taylor explore more melodic heavy rock avenues. While his solo work is somewhat aligned with the music that made him famous, it's another animal altogether.
Taylor first began performing solo acoustic shows in late 2011, nearly a decade before 2020's CMFT. The shows completely shed any musical assumptions people would associate with the singer, as he covered songs he wouldn't normally do with his other bands and gave people a look into his true multifaceted identity. His solo performances also included various spoken word segments with spontaneous comedy bits, a nod to his literary instincts (to date, he's authored four books and a comic book series).
CMF2 continues to bring the unexpected. While many of its 13 tracks are heavy, they also span wider genre influences, notably '70s and '80s classic rock sounds. Tracks like "Post Traumatic Blues" and "All I Want Is Hate" bristle with intense electric energy and the acoustic ballad "Sorry Me" taps into introspective territory; the bluesy "Breath of Fresh Smoke" resides between the two sonically, building from a gentle first half into a spirited electric guitar solo at its center. "Dead Flies" closes the album by invoking '90s hard rock vibes – ultimately proving that there's really no rock style Taylor can't tackle.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Taylor in the midst of his recent tour with his solo band to discuss the new album, his artistic progress over the last 30 years, and how his solo ventures are a good way for him to transition into other musical adventures.
While your label is promoting the heavier tracks like "Beyond" from CMF2, there's a bit more nuance here than on your first album, which had some mellower moments.
Absolutely. This is the only way I've been able to describe it — the first album was "I've got all these tunes, let's just see if anybody likes them." There was really no plan, there was really no focus. I'd never really had the opportunity to present the songs that I've written over the years to see if people even like these things.
Once I realized that the audience was there for my songwriting — not the band, not the aesthetic of anything, just me writing as an artist — then we could lean into this. Now I can tap into stuff that I really want to do and really try to focus this album and make it a journey.
What I've tried to do with every album that I'm involved with, whether I'm producing or not, is to make it feel like I'm taking people somewhere, and hopefully bring them back. So on this album, the nuances are overstated. The heavies feel heavy, the quiets still quiet. The contemplative nature is still there, but the songs are just really, really good.
What's the most personal song on the new album for you?
Oh man, that's tricky. There's so many different sides to me on this album. It's a toss up between "Post Traumatic Blues" and "Sorry Me." Just from a strictly selfish point of view.
If I was talking about the more optimistic, almost romantic side, "Starmate," "Beyond," "Someday I'll Change Your Mind" — songs that I've written for my wife — that stuff brings that whole other side out of me. But when it comes to just those moments of contemplation and really dealing with those darker moments that depression affords me, "Sorry Me" is definitely one of those things where you're just sitting there and feel dog-piled by the mistakes that you've made in your life. You know it's not something that you're doing, it's the depression pulling those out of you. It's pulling those memories out to almost weigh you down even more, and fighting your way through that to get back to the surface of that ocean is tough.
"Sorry Me" is almost like that moment where you have to forgive yourself for the mistakes that you've made in your life and realize that time is moving on. And if you don't allow yourself a little levity, then you're just going to be carrying around a million tons of bricks for the rest of your life.
A lot of your lyrics, metaphorically, go into a place of trying to find home. Not home within your house, but home within yourself.
You're absolutely right. I spent so many years on the road when I was a kid that I had no real sense of what a home was. The only real home I knew was my grandmother's house. That was the only place I felt safe. It was the only place where, when I got there, I felt like I didn't have to worry about what was going to happen to me. It was the only house in the world where I felt like I could just be myself.
As I've gotten older, my home that I have now is that. I didn't really have that over the years, even when I was living by myself — maybe because I wasn't comfortable with myself. I was still finding myself. But my home now is definitely the place where I can take that deep breath and feel okay with it.
So, musically, maybe that's where my journey is still going, and maybe that's one of the reasons why I enjoy writing in so many different genres. I've never felt like there's one genre that feels like home. I'm constantly exploring different things. Then again, maybe it's just music in general that feels like home. So why can't I explore all of these different genres? Because I feel really comfortable. There's a flip side of that coin that I've never really considered before.
Your acoustic sets show another side of you, and you get to pull out unusual covers. You have a rowdy crowd, but they're willing to indulge you. Do you think because of the way you can embody these different styles, you've been able to pull in a lot of metal fans who might not normally be along for the ride?
I think so. I've definitely inspired a sort of trust because of just how many years I've been doing it now, and the fact that anything I do has really showed that it comes from the heart. It doesn't come from any other place other than this really true, honest place. I've never written music just to write music. I've written music because I wanted to write that type of music, I wanted to play that type of music. And, to me, that's the best way to try to ensure that the audience is going to show up and listen. The second you throw them for a loop and it's not honest, they're going to be like, "Nope, we're never trusting you again."
I've never known anything other than to be completely honest musically. So you're right — when it comes to the acoustic shows, there would be the handful of metal dudes [coming who were], like, the closeted metal fan who loves softer stuff but never wanted to admit it before. "If it's not Slayer, it's not heavy!"
It's those guys [who are] singing [the Slipknot ballad] "Snuff" the loudest. When you have something that touches people like that, man, it doesn't matter genre-wise.
I think that's one of the reasons why I've come to be this solo artist because, to me, the songs are what matter. A good song transcends a genre. It will transcend your gatekeeping for a certain type of music, and it will make you go, "You're going to enjoy this whether you like it or not. You just need to get over yourself."
In the "Beyond" video, I see that Corey is learning to do some lead guitar work.
Well, I'm finally sharing it, anyway. A lot of people don't know this, but when I started Stone Sour back in '92, I played rhythm and lead while singing. It was largely because everybody that we tried out just wasn't good enough, and that was the story of my life, really.
When I first started playing music, it was almost a catch-22. I was always better than the drummer that we had in the band. And when I was playing drums, I was always better than the singer that we had in the band. It was one of those instances where it was either s— or get off the pot. I had to pick one. Finally I was like, I'd rather sing. I feel really good when I sing. Not that I don't love playing drums, and I still play drums. But I would rather sing because, to me, the challenge is finding those ways to emote and do those things.
The same with guitar playing. I didn't necessarily want to be the lead guitar player, but at the same time, I've got these songs that I really love and nobody's playing them the way I want them to be played. So I have to do that. Then once I discovered people like Jim Root and all the other people that I've been blessed to work with, I've been able to give up that.
But when I demoed "Beyond" and I wrote that solo, it was one of the coolest solos I'd ever written. It's short, it's concise, it's melodic, it's got a hook of its own. I knew that if we recorded it I wanted to be the one to do it. It's just one of my favorite solos which is one of the reasons why it's the one that I do on the album.
You also play mandolin on the album, and you say your piano playing has been getting better. It's not often you see a lead singer as a multi-instrumentalist or soloist.
I guess it's because I just love writing music. I love writing songs, period, and to me, the best way to be able to write different kinds of songs is to learn to play different types of instruments. Because I learned by ear, I'm pretty adept at getting good fairly quickly. It takes me a minute. And obviously, I'm not going to go out and perform with the London Philharmonic, but at the same time getting to learn chords on the piano, or learning different tunings on the mandolin, is a lot of fun. It helps me explore stuff to the point where if I want to write something now in any genre, or any style, I can pull the Wurlitzer out on this and lay down a Doobie Brothers kind of thing and just have fun with it. That, to me, is the exciting part of learning different instruments.
You've done a lot of guest appearances and collabs over the years— everyone from Korn to Apocalyptica to comedian/voice actor Tom Kenny. What's been the most challenging?
That's a good question. I've been really lucky in the fact that everything that I've done I've been very adept at and really taken to it. Some of these genres [I've worked in] I'm already a fan, so I already have a taste of it. I will say the most nervous I ever was, and this is true, was getting up with Tom and doing the "SpongeBob Theme Song". It was so rad and we had so much fun doing it. Tom is such a sweetheart of a person, and I don't even think he realizes what a fan I have been of him for years. When we were making the very first Slipknot album, we watched Mr. Show with Bob and David every day. We had all of the episodes on videocassette, and we would watch them at the end of every night and just laugh hysterically. I just think he's one of the funniest people on the planet. Not only do I love him from that, but my son was a massive SpongeBob fan, so his voice has literally been in my life for over 25 years. It's cool to be able to have that moment now, and hopefully we'll have some more because he's like, "We have to stay in touch." And I'm like, "Oh God, this is gonna get fun now."
You've got a couple of "secret" guest musicians on this album. Duff McKagan wrote some notes for the promo materials. So is he one of them? Or are we being left to guess?
Actually, no. He sadly didn't. I would have loved to have had Duff, and maybe I'll do it on the third album. But there were two real people who played on the album, one of which was Fred Mandel. He provided the Hammond work. Roger Manning was on there and did this incredible key work on stuff like "We Are The Rest." But the two other names are actually pseudonyms for me. Richard Manitoba was one of my hotel aliases that I used in the past.
Handsome Dick Manitoba from the Dictators!
Yeah, yeah. That's where I got it from because I was a massive Dictators fan when I was a kid, and then Pebbly Jack Glasscock was a baseball player from the 1940s. That has been my email name for years.
The reason why I was almost forced to use those is because [producer] Jay Ruston refused to not credit me on the album for all of the stuff that I had played. I didn't want my list of musical credits to look like, "Oh, look, he's just got to have credit for everything." And he was just like, "We've got to put something on here." I was like, "God dammit." So I gave him those aliases. And he ran with it.
The song "The Rest Of Us" talks about the effects of PTSD and the prolonged impostor syndrome hanging over your life. For people who don't understand that — because you've had all this success, you've done all these great things — what do you think keeps that imposter syndrome lingering for you despite your achievements?
That's a good question. Maybe unresolved issues from my childhood, the stuff that I've never had the chance to explore with a therapist because there's always so many crazy things going on in my current life. That's at the bottom of the list because it just doesn't have priority.
I don't know, maybe it's because of the things that were done to me and the things that were said to me — not just when I was younger, but from prior relationships. I had a bad habit of getting together with people who didn't like the fact that I was really good at what I did, and that I was in demand. So it would consciously or unconsciously come out in the abuse that they would pile on me, and it definitely takes a toll. When you have people who don't try to inspire you to be yourself, it will make you feel like you didn't earn the things that you've earned. It's something I still struggle with.
I know people hear that, and they go, "Are you out of your mind?" Maybe I am a little bit. But it's tough when you're paraded and told that you're not any good for so many years, or that you don't deserve anything, or you're not even responsible for the things that you've earned. All you can do is try to work it out in therapy. Then once you get to the point where you're a little stronger in your life, you go, "I'm not going to allow that in my life anymore. I want to surround myself with people who appreciate me." And that's just it.
Luckily, I'm in a wonderful marriage now. We inspire each other, and we push each other to be the very best. And that leads to inspiring my kids to do that. So I'm slowly but surely giving up the ghost on that. But it's something that maybe will still haunt me until I'm towards the end of my career. Who knows?
You've talked about the fact that, with Slipknot, you can only can keep up this pace for so long. That sounds like a smart idea for you to transition into exploring other things, and still have that audience and be you, without people expecting you to jump on stage with a mask and go crazy for two hours.
Right. As a performer you physically want to rise to that occasion. The only thing that holds us back in performance is age, and I'm lucky that I'm healthy enough that I can still go at a certain level. But I know I can't continue that forever. The guys in Slipknot also know that, and that's something that we're talking about very honestly. "What do we do?" "What does the next level of Slipknot look like?"
We're looking at it from an artistic point of view. How do we make it still seem frenetic and off the chain, but also something that we can deal with from a strength point of view? It'll be interesting to see where that challenge takes us.
It also allows me to be able to do stuff like this solo thing. It's high-energy right now, but when it gets to the point where I want to tame it down a little bit, I have songs that I can lean into and let them do the heavy lifting for me.
This is probably the closest to the real me as a performer that I've been in my whole career. Because obviously with Slipknot, it's really one side of the genre. With Stone Sour, I was being held back because of certain people in the band. But with this, there are no limitations, and I can do music carte blanche as far as genre goes and performance goes. I have a band that can play anything, which is just criminal. It's really, really cool. I'm just really fortunate to be in the place where I am right now.
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 GRAMMY.com has rounded up five trends that attest to the strong pulse of rock music in 2022.
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.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.