Anyone who has grown up with the great rock and pop groups of the past will squirm uncomfortably in their chair at such dire evidence: there are currently no bands like Queen, The Jam, The Police, Nirvana or Oasis. There is a shortage of new formations — emerged, say, in the last five years — that match those of yesteryear in commercial prowess. They are times, instead, of Sheerans, Lipas, Swifts, Weeknds, Bunnies, Eilishs. From Rosalías, Tanganas, Alboranes, Aitanas, Amaias… The soloists, it seems, have taken over the charts.
Last March, following statements by Adam Levine, singer of Maroon 5 (“It seems that there are no more bands; we are an endangered species,” he lamented), the British newspaper The Guardian dedicated an article to the question, under the expressive title of: “Why the groups are disappearing”. Levine’s pessimism could be supported by data. The 30 Most Streamed Artists on Spotify in 2020 they were all soloists except one, the South Korean combo BTS (a septet whose members don’t play instruments). The ranking had to be carefully inspected to locate Maroon 5 at 33rd and Queen at 34th. Since March 2019, when Jonas Brothers was number one with Sucker, until today —more than two years—, only one other group has topped the singles chart of Billboard (United States): the aforementioned BTS.
We find a similar panorama in Spain. The ten best-selling albums last year in nyour country were all invoiced by soloists (except for the collective work Tribute to Sabina, appearing in ninth position). Among the forty most successful there were only three group albums: the last of AC / DC (19th place), BTS (33rd) and Estopa (39th).
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Contrary to what happened decades ago, pop and rock are not the most fashionable styles today. Rap, trap, R&B and reggaeton… —genres championed by soloists— have taken ground. Now all new rock is alternative; He has stoped to be mainstream. “As pop and rock die, in terms of millionaire sales, bands die, which are the ones that make pop and rock”, explains Javier Portugués, veteran A&R (responsible for Artists and Repertoire) who works with Sony Music. He has collaborated with soloists such as Joaquín Sabina, Marwan, Dani Martín, Rozalén or Malú and groups such as Estopa or Maldita Nerea. “It has to do with the idiosyncrasies of the genres,” he adds. “In rap, before starting with the first verse, you have already said your name and the producer’s name 10 times. It is a vindication of the self ”.
Festivals could be considered the last stronghold of pop and rock groups, but despite the nostalgic nature of many of these events, even the most important ones have no choice but to follow the mainstream. In the last edition of Primavera Sound (Barcelona), seven of the nine headliners were soloists: Erykah Badu, rappers Future and Cardi B, Solange, Janelle Monáe, J Balvin and Rosalía (the groups were Interpol, formed in 1997, and Tame Impala, actually a project by Australian singer and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker).
That regime change has been blessed by the industry – dealing with soloists is more practical. “For a record company, in the face of a promotion, moving an uncle or an aunt instead of a whole band is more agile and is cheaper,” says Pablo Cebrián, producer of David Bisbal and Amaia Romero, among others. It is also more effective. “In terms of marketing, it is easier to sell to a single person, an icon,” says Alizzz, producer of C. Tangana.
The internal dynamics of the groups is sometimes quite complex, which contrasts with the flexibility of the soloists. “Each person in a group has their moves, and for the industry soloists are much more comfortable,” continues Cebrián. “From one record to another, a soloist can change producer. In a band, these turns are much more difficult: when some want to go one way and others another, there are tensions ”.
Records made in the bedroom
Technological advances make it easier for any teenager who feels the urge to compose songs to not only get a very correct recording with digital tools, but to upload it to the platforms without intermediaries. “Now music is made in a bedroom,” explains Pablo Cebrián. “From what I’ve been seeing around me, new technologies have a lot of influence,” agrees Alizzz. “Many artists produce their own music, for example myself. What I’m used to is working in the studio with a singer, just him or her and me. For record companies, in addition, recording a group is more expensive ”.
Miguel Blanes, 22, singer and guitarist of Mentira, an emerging band that since 2020 has published several singles and an EP with Subterfuge Records, recognizes that supremacy: “It is a superobvian trend. There were many more bands coming out in the 2010s than now. In part I think it is because the way of composing is changing. With all the resources we have, a single person can make a super complete song. You don’t have to meet with more instrumentalists to form a project ”.
The members of Trashi (between 21 and 23 years old) undertake an original mix of indie pop and urban music with autotune, and have released several singles on the independent Helsinkipro label. They grew up admiring groups like The 1975 and The Vamps on YouTube, “bands made up of friends who got together to make music,” they say almost in unison. They attribute the present hegemony of the soloists to the fact that “now anyone can make music at home. Working alone is always easier than doing it in a group: you can do what you like. People pull more towards solo projects because of that ”, they declare.
The immediacy that modern technologies provide go well with new consumer habits. “Today you wear a series, in the second chapter it lacks a bit and you don’t put it on anymore. It’s the same with music ”, compares Pablo Cebrián. As an example of speed, he cites the case of Billie Eilish, who reached number one in the United States in April 2019 with her first album, When we all fall asleep, where do we go?. “A girl who, with her brother, in her room at home, makes songs and uploads them to the Internet … A path that 30 years ago was a Way of the cross: you had to rehearse the song with your group, get someone to pay you for a studio, master your album, edit it … Now that’s in people’s hands. Every year you see cases of kids who upload their theme and get a number of brutal reproductions ”. As Javier Portugués says, “90% of the market ends up focusing on what is breaking at the level of streaming [reproducciones en plataformas tipo Spotify], and they are all soloists ”.
Soloists collaborating with soloists
Individualities find special accommodation in a ubiquitous practice lately: collaborations. Groups do not usually attend them. “Since we entered the era of digital consumption, nine out of 10 ten launches, to have a volume of streaming importantly, they are collaborations. Soloists collaborating with each other. It is the new prototype of an artist ”, says Javier Portugués. On the list Top 100 Promusicae Songs From March 25 to April 1, only four singles of the top 20 were not collaborations, but solo tracks.
It should not be forgotten the role played in this unbalanced landscape by television talent programs, a launching pad for new artists for some time. “The talent shows are focused on the individual artist. What most attracts the attention of the public, who still does not stop to analyze other things, is the singer “, says Natalia Lacunza, 22 years old, who was in third position in FROM 2018 After signing a contract with Universal Music, he was number one in sales with his album EP2 and nominated as Pop Revelation Artist at the Odeon Awards 2020. Lacunza chose to do it on her own simply because, after moving to Madrid (she is from Navarre) she did not know anyone with whom to start a joint adventure. It is now that you have recruited a band that wishes to participate in the composition and arrangements. “The most remarkable thing now are the names of solo artists,” he says, “but the importance of the bands is still there, even if it is implicit in the soloists’ projects. Although they have gone to the background, they contribute a lot to the live moment ”.
The direct ones, however, have been reduced to a minimum due to the pandemic. Despite the transitory situation, many fans may have become accustomed to listening to music on the computer instead of in a concert hall, which also does not help to rescue the groups. “Just as teleworking has been normalized, in music the lack of live shows has been normalized,” complains producer Pablo Cebrián.
To complete the picture, social networks, where artists combine the promotion of their music with scenes of their intimacy, enhance autonomy. As Javier Portugués points out, “the last social network in which there was a group feeling was MySpace. It was a place where music groups posted their songs. There was no public display there to feed vanity. It was a network at the service of the group. Instagram, and now TikTok, bring everything back to personal appearance. In groups, the difference in followers between the account of the leader of a group and that of the band is enormous. It’s always been a bit like this: we all understood that The Police was Sting, but we knew who was the drummer and who was the guitarist. Today, social networks would have eliminated the two components that were not Sting ”.
A solo future for soloists?
With this panorama, do the groups feel, as Levine referred, an endangered species? “It could be said that yes,” replies Miguel Blanes, from Mentira. “I don’t think they will start to disappear, but they will lose the popularity they used to have. There is a trend of format change. I myself am consuming more soloist music ”. Producer Pablo Crespo, who started out as a guitarist for the group Fabula (with whom he published two albums on Warner Music and was the opening act for REM), would he have formed a band if he were now taking his first steps in music? “As I am not a singer, I am sure that I would have started as a producer much earlier and would not have gone through a group. Surely Iván, who was our singer, would have gone solo and I would be his producer. There are no longer any references, ”he says.
One wonders if this absence of successful band models can instill in the youngest with musical ambitions the notion that it is “normal” to adopt the soloist configuration. “In our childhood, the idols were the Beatles, the Stones, Supertramp, Pink Floyd … The great rock and pop bands of all life”, argues Javier Portugues. “And you took it for granted that if you wanted to dedicate yourself to music you had to buy a drums, a guitar amp, find a rehearsal room … It was the way you had to be part of that magical universe that had dazzled you since you were little. . Now that universe is a talent show of soloists. They don’t feel the need to get together to make a proposal. That is the new paradigm, and we must live with that ”.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.