Op-Ed: Why 'Dad Rock' Became 2014's Put-Down Du Jour (Sorry, Bruce and U2)
The first time Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy, 47, heard the phrase “dad rock,” he was reading a Pitchfork review of his band’s 2007 album, Sky Blue Sky, which a writer said “nakedly exposes the dad-rock gene Wilco has always carried but courageously attempted to disguise.” This was followed by a series of negative adjectives synonymous with dad music, including “passive,” “domestic” and “lackluster.” Tweedy’s response, he recently told an interviewer from Esquire (a dad magazine if there ever was one), was visceral: “Ouch. Wow.”
Dad rock was everywhere in 2014 -- or rather, the phrase “dad rock” was, as an epithet, a punchline. Artists tagged with the label in print or online this year include U2, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, Foo Fighters, The Kinks, Leonard Cohen, Julian Casablancas, Spoon and, once again, Tweedy -- who went all-the-way dad by releasing an album with his 18-year-old son. At Pitchfork, the Antietam of dad-rock antipathy, writers used the term to describe Merchandise, The War on Drugs, Sun Kil Moon and Magic Trick. (The list expands if Twitter is included; that’s where an editor who wrote two of those reviews called Conor Oberst “borderline dad rock.”)
Fifty years ago, baby boomers adopted the edict “Never trust anyone over the age of 30,” so it’s hilarious to see youth-oriented publications form a de facto Revolutionary Tribunal and attack boomers by reprising their own credo. (Does it matter that boomers created this idea while advocating for civil rights, as opposed to sneering at Dave Grohl? Yeah, probably.) Boomers dictated popular culture for a long time, so it’s satisfying to see them pushed to the margins, even if those margins include the 70,000-seat stadiums U2 and Springsteen fill.
Dad rock -- which used to be called “classic rock,” and before that, “rock” -- has become a target because of its template: white male auteurs, guitar solos, heroism and narrative songs. It’s music for squares. The younger, more multicultural world views it as not just passive, but patriarchal, because its values exclude almost all people of color, anyone who uses a turntable or a sampler and a wide range of female artists, from Taylor Swift to Azealia Banks. A vote against dad rock is a vote for inclusiveness.
But dad rock has outlived its usefulness. As with “fanboy” or “Feminazi,” it’s a specious term that slams the door on conversation and rejects honest inquiry -- if you call the Foo Fighters “dad rock,” you don’t have to explain why you don’t like them, because hey guys, dad rock, LOL! There are plenty of ways to be a smart or even just snarky music fan without putting the blame on boring old dad.
This article first appeared in the Dec. 20 issue of Billboard.