I Think Post-Grunge Might Be Finally Dying Out in the Mainstream


It might seem like I am jumping the gun here to some and that I am late to the party for others, but I honestly do believe that post-grunge, which has been a popular genre of music since the early nineties, might be finally dying out in this popularity. Personally, I have noticed a particular lack of this style of music on the radio, represented in the pop charts, and even in the music of those who once made music that had the post-grunge sound and feel. Bands that had long maintained their popularity without changing their sound at all have branched out within the past couple of years or died out, and some died out even after they changed their sound because the reputation of the music was still poor. Connected to the post-grunge scene were the nu-metal and alternative metal scenes, though nu-metal died out a long time ago in popular, the last vestiges being seen in Linkin Park’s Meteora. However, while the recent acclaim and career resurgence of Deftones and progressive metal influenced by alternative metal bands like Tool and Mudvayne signals that alternative metal still has some life within it. Post-grunge, on the other hand, perhaps has little life left after two and a half decades of relative popularity.

While other popular bands were doing similar things before and during Nickelback’s emergence, few, if any, bands are more synonymous with the current post-grunge scene than Nickelback starting with Silver Side Up.

Both of these sub-genres have their origins in the eighties, though mainly through precursors to what would be considered the sub-genres proper later. For post-grunge, their origins are, obviously, in grunge music. Grunge was darker, gritter hard rock than the “hair band” glam metal and rock of bands like Bon Jovi, Poison, and Guns N’ Roses. It became mostly popular at first within a limited scene from Seattle, and different bands which emerged from this scene had different sounds while still clearly originating from similar ideas. Nirvana, the band who first broke the grunge scene to the masses, were influenced heavily by noise rock and garage rock, while Soundgarden carried classic rock and psychedelic rock influences much more heavily. Meanwhile, Pearl Jam was much more indebted to 70’s hard rock and alternative rock to a greater degree than the others, and Alice in Chains carried a heavy metal sound compared to most other grunge bands. Still, all these sounds influenced all these grunge bands as ideas were shared, making for a rather varied template of sounds. Even a band like Stone Temple Pilots, who were not a part of the original scene, demonstrated that same spirit of variety through their grunge evolving album by album through the influence David Bowie had the band.

Pearl Jam’s popular debut album, Ten, is an example of the hard rock, alternative rock influenced grunge that many post-grunge artists would later take from.

However, the popularity of these grunge bands created the inevitable situation where bands flooded the music industry with a sound that largely emulated (or outright imitated) the grunge scene, while not having the many stylistic variations of grunge. These are bands like Bush, Candlebox, Collective Soul, and Matchbox Twenty. Without sounding too dismissive, since these early bands in post-grunge had quite a bit of artistic merit in their own right, post-grunge was very much a grunge-lite form of music, placing heavier emphasis on the hard rock roots of grunge and making music that was more melodically accessable than the semi-noise and psychedelic sound that lingered in the background of many grunge albums. Sixteen Stone by Bush and Collective Soul’s self-titled album are often credited as bridge points between grunge and post-grunge, and are also fine examples of what post-grunge could do given these two albums high quality. Candlebox is a pretty prototypical example of “pure” post-grunge that has largely abandoned most of the influences of grunge, and instead is influenced by grunge itself. Matchbox Twenty, on the other hand, is a good example of the pop accessibility of post-grunge, since it undoubtedly has the same sound yet is far less edgy and far less heavy than most grunge music. Foo Fighters were also a major presense in rock music with songs that sounded post-grunge (ironic considering that their lead singer, Dave Grohl, was a member of Nirvana, a grunge band from the original scene), though they are and were always considered closer to being hard rock than post-grunge.

Candlebox’s self-titled album from 1993 is one of the earliest albums considered to be post-grunge. While the band was from Seattle, their comparatively softer, pop-friendly sound is what earned them the label, used as a pejorative at the time.

The next wave of post-grunge arrived with the influx of alternative metal influences on the genre, starting in the late nineties, and it is here where we can see the state the genre was in during the 2000’s that maintained its popularity for a long time, while also being the harbinger of its own eventually downfall. This wave can first be seen in the heavy metal sound of Staind’s early work, and the grunge-stylings of early work from Nickelback, whose respective debut albums largely copied the scene around them. From here we see that Staind softened their sound with more emotive rock, with Break the Cycle and 14 Shades of Gray particularly representing a post-grunge sound for the band. Meanwhile, Nickelback hardened their sound on Silver Side Up and The Long Road, including more macho expressionism to go with their nostalgia-driven, emotive pieces. Tracks from these albums dominated rock radio (particularly “It’s Been Awhile from Break the Cycle and “How You Remind Me” from Silver Side Up). By this point, the sound of post-grunge became very homogenized, with virtually every song fitting into the “masculine, dirt-on-the-boots biker with a heart of gold” image. This can be further noticed by how the album cover art for all of these bands tends to include trees with a dramatic background, an image associated with the country or dirt, or a road of some kind.

Break the Cycle, while not Staind’s breakthrough, does contains some of their biggest hits and was an early success for the second wave of post-grunge.

These two bands were not alone, though. It was around this time that Creed became incredibly popular for a couple of years, with a post-grunge sound that resembled bands like Candlebox and Collective Soul by having a mixture of pop rock in with the still prominent hard rock roots. Additionally, Foo Fighters remained a major presence on rock radio, still having popularity with post-grunge tracks as much as with hard rock tracks. Furthermore, bands began to flood the radio after these two bands had a string of massively popular songs on both mainstream and alternative rock radio, dominating a great deal of the market at the time. These include Seether, who slowly built a reputation for introspective and occasionally sarcastic hits which lasted for a surprisingly long period of time, Daughtry, whose self-titled album ran off a string of hits that all had a distinct post-grunge vibe despite being crossover hits in the pop mainstream as well, and Shinedown, a post-grunge band who have released 23 singles in total with every single one of them charting in the top 5 of the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart. These are just a few of a huge number of post-grunge bands who gained (and sometimes maintained for a decent period of time) popularity in the 2000’s.

Puddle of Mudd are one of the many prototypical post-grunge bands to achieve popularity in the 2000’s, starting with Come Clean and its hits “Blurry” and “She Hates Me.”

However, despite the fact that “How You Remind Me” topped the Hot 100 and was the most played rock song from 2000-2009, it is actually through Nickelback where the first signs of the downfall could be seen. After the success of that song, Nickelback would have several number one hits on the Hot 100, and many more which were hits on both pop and rock radio. Nonetheless, starting around the time of their fifth album, All the Right Reasons, the chips in the armor started to be visible. Nickelback had long been decried by critics for their lyrics lacking intelligence and their music lacking substance, and it appeared that a great many people were starting to agree. The Pickleback affair on Facebook shined a light on the fact that a great number of people had a great dislike for the band, and it was here that the band started to lose steam as a serious band and started to be seen as a joke. The progress was not immediate, as their next album, Dark Horse, still had multiple big hits and sales that remained relatively high despite the downturn in album sales which began happening across the board thanks to iTunes and MP3 sales in general. Without missing a beat, Here and Now was released in 2011, when the bottom came out from underneath the band. Releasing the same material as ever, with the same quality standards as ever, Here and Now produced only one hit single in “When We Stand Together,” the last Hot 100 hit the band has had to this point. In fact, a look at the charts for every single to come out since show a huge drop-off for the band, like a great number of radio stations all got together and decided they would not be playing Nickelback anymore. Perhaps out of desperation to regain they previous fame, Nickelback has attempted to modernize their sound, incorporating dance music, electronic rock, and pop rock into their sound before shifting entirely to a rather basic hard rock sound.

All the Right Reasons can be considered emblematic of the problems plaguing post-grunge of the period, and would eventually be seen as one of the genre’s worst albums, despite its commercial popularity.

What happened to Nickelback is what happens to many pop musicians: the public had decided en masse that Nickelback was a joke, and that their music was bad and not cool anymore. Past Nickelback songs were jokes, and future releases were met with public derision the likes of which the genre had never seen before. Still, the story of Nickelback is not unique to them. Staind’s older hits, particularly “It’s Been Awhile,” have become made fun of for their mixture of “tough guy” posturing and tearful nostalgia that bordered on emo at times. Hindsight has not been kind to the explosion of post-grunge bands that happened from 2000-2009 in most segments of the music industry. Still, I have noticed, being from a state in Oklahoma where music trends (among other things) tend to be slow to catch on and even slower to leave, that certain places in the country still played a lot of post-grunge music past 2009. While Here and Now did not do well nationally on the radio charts, it still sold enough copies to hit number two on the Billboard 200, and both albums since peaked in the top 5. Shinedown’s production did not slow down at all at this point, yet they have released a great number of songs which have all dominated rock radio. Daughtry’s older songs received consistent airplay for years, even past the band’s underwhelming second and third albums. Band’s that once topped the charts either do not exist or have moved on to different sounds. Even Nickelback scored a number one hit on the mainstream rock chart with “Edge of a Revolution” in 2014.

Despite being Shinedown’s worst selling album and least acclaimed album to this point, Amaryllis still had five top 5 singles on the mainstream rock charts, showing the disconnect of radio play and national popularity at this time.

As a result, I found that post-grunge was still alive and well on rock radio for a long time past when some of its biggest bands in the early 2000’s had become a punchline to much of the industry. Actually, it has been other trends that have gotten more predominant recently which make me think post-grunge is dying out in popularity in a more wholesale way. Firstly, it is increasingly obvious that overall radio play across the country is down for these bands. Nickelback’s last album was devoid of any top 10 hits on any chart, not just nationwide but worldwide. Breaking Benjamin, once a stalwart post-grunge band, has seen a slight decrease in album sales and chart performance. Sick Puppies, a post-grunge and alternative metal band who hit it big in 2009 with several hits on their album Tri-Polar, have seen number wane. Three Days Grace, another major figure in alternative metal and post-grunge during the 2000’s, continue to see relatively consistent radio success, though the band’s previously constant stream of number one hits has slowed and album sales have decreased at a relatively fast pace. The one exception might be Seether, who have managed to maintain the same level of success going into 2017 and 2018 while still being post-grunge, though it is worth noting alongside this that Seether has largely been relegated to rock radio for their entire careers, not breaking outside of this even with their more sentimental, softer tracks. However, even their album sales have slightly gone down, though it is clear that the band is still largely in the same boat they have always been in, being a post-grunge band that never had that crossover moment despite how old they are at this point.

Despite critical acclaim calling this one of their best, Three Days Grace’s 2018 album, Outsider, is on pace to be the lowest selling album of their career.

The second trend I have noticed is a distinct change in sound for bands in post-grunge, which have been minor (and less successful in maintaining radio play and/or sales) or major to the band’s sound, with the latter cases often resulting in the band sounding very much like they have left the post-grunge sound behind. Staind stopped releasing albums in 2011, and their sound never changed, but Aaron Lewis, the band’s lead singer and songwriter, has moved to making country music in recent years. Shinedown, after Amaryllis saw a decline in popularity, started to alter their sound with Threat to Survival, and have completely melded to an arena rock and hard rock sound that even includes pop rock and synthpop influences on Attention Attention. Foo Fighters have remained relatively popular as well, with 2011’s Wasting Light probably being the last major kick of post-grunge in the mainstream of music outside of strictly pop radio. However, even they have went even further towards classic rock and even progressive rock, and away from the tones and textures that largely signify post-grunge. Notably, in 2012-2014, many post-grunge and alternative metal bands started to incorporate elements of the recent trend of dubstep music, with Nickelback and Three Days Grace particularly standing out for this (Korn also released The Path to Totality, an album combining metal, funk, dubstep, and drum and bass, which is noteworthy in this discussion even though Korn’s sound is associated with nu metal rather than post-grunge). However, this change was slight, and was not received well by either critics, fans, or new audiences. This could have resulted in a third wave of post-grunge music, but ultimately did not work to bring back these band’s popularity.

At one point the forefront of post-grunge’s commercial popularity, Daugherty left the genre completely with the electro-pop and pop rock sound of Baptized in 2013.

Certainly, post-grunge is still kicking right now, with bands releasing albums this year with a distinct post-grunge sound in the vein of Nickelback, Staind, or even older bands like Bush, which have sold well and received heavy airplay on mainstream rock radio. However, the homogenized sound that dominated rock radio and rock sales for decades has started to decline in popularity, even among those areas that kept it this active. However, I do not want to get this confused with the idea that the music of post-grunge is, itself, dying, only its grip on mainstream rock. Bands who truly feel indebted to the sound will continue to exist making this type of music, and one day we might see another resurgence in post-grunge’s popularity once this current wave has died out. It will be interesting to see what happens into the future, and who knows, with the homogenized sound falling out of favor, future bands might explore some new avenues that make post-grunge an interesting scene of music. After all, disco was once considered a throw away genre of music, but the recent resurgence in its popularity and influence within all different segments of the music industry shows that sounds never really die, that just go in and out of popularity. Still, post-grunge has long needed to give way to something new to break forth in rock music, and reinvigorate it with fresh bands and ideas that can excite music listeners of all shades again.  It is about time that rock moved on, and I am hopeful that it might finally be happening.

In my opinion, Sixteen Stone, Bush’s 1994 debut album, is the best post-grunge album. With the current sound falling out of favor, who knows, we might just get a post-grunge album on par or better than this one some day.

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