Radio Hits One: Foster The People, Cage The Elephant Lead The Charge Of New "The" Bands

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Back around 2001, a Transatlantic cabal of music critics led a media hype machine declaring that rock was "back." To further this thesis, it grouped together a disparate set of bands offering variations on the stripped-down "garage rock" template who were often cheekily referred to as the "The" Bands—The Strokes The White Stripes, The Vines, The Hives, and so on. I always thought that was kind of a silly way to label those bands, since a huge number of band names have always started with the word "The," with a slightly smaller subset of that group naming their bands "The [blank]s."

Looking at Billboard's year-end Alternative Songs chart for 2011, however, you might wonder if a decade later we quietly experienced a new wave of "The" Bands, only this time with names that had words on both sides of the "the." The top two spots on the chart are occupied by Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks" and Cage The Elephant's "Shake Me Down", with Young The Giant's "My Body" at No. 14. Like the "The" Bands of 2001, there's not much uniting them other than the fact that they're all fairly new (only Cage The Elephant enjoyed any chart hits prior to 2011) and offering major-label-sanctioned, radio-friendly versions of musical and vocal styles usually associated with indie rock.

Those three "The" Bands are also among the only relatively new faces on a year-end chart that's otherwise heavy on bands that peaked during alternative rock's commercial heyday of the 1990s. The top 20 includes songs by The Foo Fighters (twice!), The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Incubus, Blink 182, Bush, and the extremely distasteful Bradley Nowell tribute act Sublime With Rome. Even one of the relatively younger acts on the chart, The Black Keys, was lumped in with the tail end of the garage-rock revival.

Since I covered this back in June, the Foo Fighters/Foster The People dichotomy has only intensified. Times critic Jon Caramanica recently declared 2011 "The Year When Rock Just Spun Its Wheels" in a fairly scathing takedown of the artistic and commercial relevance of major-label rock that served equal scorn to the uninspiring new bands and the veterans overstaying their welcome.


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