When Will the Rock Cycle Return?

Over the years, I’ve written extensively about the 12- to 13-year rock/pop cycle, undulations in the popular music matrix that can be traced back to the early 1950s. Basically, it works like this: when rock is on the ascendant, pop music is descending. Once rock reaches a peak 5 or 6 years into the cycle, it enters a period of decline and the popularity of pop music begins to increase until it, too, peaks and starts to fall off. Apply, rinse repeat. My whole theory is laid out here.

Here in October 2014, we’re definitely in the grips of pop mania. Rock hasn’t been the main driving force for music for a number of years now. Aren’t we due for a polar musical shift of some sort?  Maybe, but as I outlined in that treatise linked above, I have a feeling the the technology that makes music completely ubiquitous and irreparably interrupted the rock-pop cycle.

If we’re each our own music directors with unlimited access to tens of millions of songs on our personal devices, there can never a broad consensus about what’s hot, what’s good and what’s trendy.  The Rock-Pop Cycle depends entirely on masses of music fans agreeing on the same thing at the same time in order to work.  (A related view of that same concern can be found here.)

Which brings me to this article in Pop Matters entitled “Wait for the Rails to Rumble: The Cycles of Rock Music.” Where do we stand? And where does rock (and pop) go from here?



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

3 thoughts on “When Will the Rock Cycle Return?

  • October 21, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    I could probably make the argument that the cycle’s interruption began in the late 1990s, when pop artists and groups were beginning to be chosen and groomed actively. The Spice Girls (whom I actually like and respect), the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears (among many others) were all specifically assembled, groomed and marketed as well-funded music product.

    This deviates from the traditional sense of the audience turning to different genres (filled with hard-working artists) and instead just getting large doses of controlled consumer goods.

    The largely passive audience accepted these new artists and much profit was made, leading the corporate-owned industry in the 2000s to continue producing music based on data-mining the audience to maximize profits.

    If I had the time, I could write a thesis on the topic of the cycle’s disruption and the corruption of the already-rotten music industry.

    • October 21, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      pop stars and bands have been engineered by the industry since the inception of the music industry. The creation of “stars” is nothing new.

      • October 23, 2014 at 10:03 am

        No, but the way it’s done in the digital age is very different than in the old days. Instead of throwing stars against a wall and seeing which ones stick, the music corporations of today have removed the element of talent discovery and replaced it with complete creation of pop stars by getting them young and talent-farming them.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.