The Year in Rock: Who's the New Kid?
The Year in Rock: Who's the New Kid?

The fragmented genre of rock has morphed into one side of a hyphenate, paired with every other genre under the sun as to say, "this music has guitars." The industry, too, plays its hand in the over-categorization of rock, from the Grammys (which has "Rock," "Alternative" and "Hard Rock" categories) and yes, even Billboard (with separate charts for Heritage Rock, Active Rock, Alternative and just plain Rock). Our biggest "rock stars" may not be the most likely pictures of rockstardom -- 2011's top rock acts included.

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Despite releasing their debut more than two years ago (in their native England), newcomers Mumford & Sons continue to ride out the strength of "Sigh No More" straight to the top of our 2011 Rock Artists ranking. The Best New Artist Grammy nominee has attained a level of success unparalleled within modern folk-rock, with 1.96 million copies of "Sigh No More" sold stateside (according to Nielsen SoundScan) and a Grammy gig alongside the godfather of the genre, Bob Dylan. The success of "The Cave" should not be forgotten, either: the single comes in at No. 5 and No. 4, respectively, on our year-end tally of the Rock Songs and Alternative Songs charts.


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Another recent breakout band takes the No. 2 spot on the year-end Rock Artists tally, fueled nearly singlehandedly by one inescapable single. With 3.5 million downloads sold (according to Nielsen SoundScan), Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" could officially be deemed a summer 2011 anthem, despite never topping the Hot 100 (it peaked at No. 3 and stayed there for eight weeks). The strength of the song, which crowns our year-end Alternative Songs chart, plus a barrage of festival performances fueled sales of the indie-pop trio's "Torches," which has sold 540,000 copies (according to Nielsen SoundScan).

As we move down the year-end ranking of top Rock Artists, we find the more familiar faces of Coldplay (No. 3) and Foo Fighters (No. 4), who both headlined Lollapalooza and released albums that debuted at No. 1 this year. Coldplay re-emerged with "Mylo Xyloto, " their fifth album and the British band's colorful attempt at pop, which has already sold 798,000 in the month and a half since its debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. As Coldplay prepares for a full North American tour in 2012, we can expect to see the band back on the top Rock Artists list next year.

While other legacy rockers have gone the "album artist" route, the Foo Fighters continue to both release successful singles and critically-praised albums ("Wasting Light," released in April, is nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy and is the band's first No. 1 on the Billboard 200). The combined success of "Rope" (201,000 downloads) and "Walk" (244,000 downloads) make the band 2011's top Rock Songs Artist, with the "Wasting Light" singles taking the first and third positions, respectively, on our year-end Rock Songs chart. Foo frontman Dave Grohl, who isn't exactly shy about his distaste for "music made on a computer," went to bat for his genre upon accepting the MTV VMA for Rock Video of the Year ("Walk"). "I just want to say: Never lose faith in real rock and roll music, you know what I mean? Never lose faith in that. You might have to look a little harder, but it's always going to be there." (Just to recap: The biz did show its faith in rock this year by awarding Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" its highest honor, the Album of the Year Grammy; the indie album comes in at No. 14 on our top Rock Albums chart of 2011.)

Overall, Foo Fighters and Coldplay held the fort down for established rock artists this year, as "the new kids" tested the waters to much great success. Surprisingly, Red Hot Chili Peppers, who released tenth album "I'm With You" in August, didn't even crack the top ten Rock Artists ranking, coming in at No. 11. The No. 2 spot for Kid Rock on our year-end Rock Albums chart -- for November 2010's "Born Free" -- gives more oomph to the established camp, selling 1 million copies to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Yet it's relatively new stars like Florence + the Machine and Cage the Elephant that are topping our tallies: Cage's "Shake Me Down" (341,000) coming in at No. 2 on both the year-end Rock Songs and Alternative Songs charts, while Florence found a place at No. 5 in our top Rock Artists ranking, fueled more by her debut "Lungs" than her October album "Ceremonials." ("Dog Days Are Over" continued a 2010 hot streak that just would not quit, coming in at No. 4 on the year-end Rock Digital Songs chart.)

As certain elder statesmen of rock'n'roll phrased it, the kids are alright.