Music has been developing alongside societal, political, and cultural changes. Looking at what style of music was particularly popular at a given point in history may reveal what society has been going through at that time. The 2000s was a decade of turmoil and political changes that drastically changes the societal and economic environment not only in the United States but also worldwide. As George W. Bush won the election and became a new leader, the economic expansion that preceded the election came to a significant halt, and the tragedy at the World Trade Center became a defining event in launching the struggle against terrorism.
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The musical industry reflected these challenges. The alternative rock scene that emerged in the 1980’s and gained further popularity in the 1990’s provided the youth of the 2000’s with a soundtrack to the emotional struggles that they experienced in the environment of fear, changes, and severe pressure.
In this paper, the influence of the alternative rock scene on the shaping of the early 2000s will be explored to determine how music reflected the changes that society was experiencing. The contribution of Linkin Park as a key player in the alternative rock scene will be placed in the center of the research. The album Hybrid Theory will be analyzed in greater detail for pointing out themes that arose as a result of turmoil as well as discovering its emotional, musical, and stylistic backbone.
Review of Literature
The Social and Political Landscape of the 2000s
The 2000s have been defined by historians as “America’s lost decade” when the country lost its international superiority and “punted the mantle of global supremacy to China” (Burnett). Events that took place at the very beginning of the decade were the most influential due to their traumatic nature. In 2000, the United States experienced “the most unfair US election ever,” in which Al Gore won by majority although Bush won the electoral college (Kettle).
This is similar to the way the current President won the election. One year in Bush’s presidency, the United States was traumatized by the terrorist attack of September 11th, which subsequently led to the country going into war against terrorism, warranting the administration “near-dictatorial power” (Burnett). The efforts of the Republican-led government to convince Americans that the administration was competent to continue its rule resulted in Bush defeating Kerry in the next election despite the ongoing invasion and armed action in Iraq. Nevertheless, by 2005 the society started to wake up and recognize that the existing government deteriorated the country’s position. Thus, the social and political environment of the early 2000s was challenging for society, and the music scene of that period brilliantly reflected the struggle.
Alternative Rock Scene of the Early 2000s
Rebelling against the established rules and pointing out the flaws that existed in the society at that time were primary messages that alternative rock music of the 2000s tried to convey. According to Hunter’s definition for Britannica, alternative rock is a blend of conventional sounds of rock music with other styles of music ranging from folk to hip-hop. The massive popularity of the genre in the noughties can be explained by the fact that artists wanted to experiment with their music to find signature sounds that could attract the attention of a generation that sought an outlet for its anger and resentment the society.
The list of alternative singles that represented the genre at that time included such artists and bands as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Papa Roach, Nickelback, System of a Down, Foo Fighters, the White Stripes, and many others. They were heavily influenced both by the aggressiveness of such bands like the Clash or the Sex Pistols while also taking some musical notes from the arty and melodic Patti Smith or Velvet Underground (Hunter). Pointing out clear influences that alternative rockers of the 2000s had is hard due to the complexity and multi-dimensionality of the music they produced.
Also, the knowledge of ’80s and 90’s hits also contributed to the popularity of some bands. While die-hard fans of glam rock and David Bowie, in particular, could see direct references in the music of such bands as Placebo to Ziggy Stardust, others paid closer attention to Foo Fighters because the band’s frontman was a drummer in Nirvana, the music of which defined a generation. While there are hundreds of bands that can be chosen for a detailed analysis, the music of Linkin Park will be discussed further.
Linkin Park: From Zero to Eternity
Despite the shocking and unfortunate death of Chester Bennington in 2017, Linkin Park remains the voice of a decade. Formed in 1996 by Mike Shinoda, Brad Delson, and Rob Bourdon under the initial name Xero, the band could not boast of significant success or progress. In 1999, however, Chester Bennington was recruited as a new vocalist for his unique and dynamic style of singing. The change in the lead singer prompted a change in the band’s name’ to Hybrid Theory, which did not last long. The unique sound that the band managed to achieve when Bennington ad Shinoda started working on new material for their album marked a revival that was solidified by another change in the name to Linkin Park.
The release of the now considered iconic album Hybrid Theory granted the band massive financial success due to the unique sound that was recognizable among other bands that still cherished their grunge heritage and could not experiment with new styles successfully. The “blending of Bennington’s piercingly pained vocals” with “Shinoda’s prodding rapping and the band’s irresistible pop hooks” bulldozered the band’s way to popularity (Le Miere).
Hits such as “Crawling,” “In the End,” and “One Step Closer” made the album a best seller in 2001, with more than ten million copies sold in the US only (Le Miere). Also, the album became the best-selling debut album of the century while making the band honored with a Grammy for best hard rock performance (Le Miere). Since Hybrid Theory was a massive success that opened many opportunities to the band, its significance to the shaping of the 2000’s social and musical landscape will be explored, with a focus placed on lyrics and musical choices.
Analysis: Hybrid Theory
In the true spirit of alternative rock music, Hybrid Theory was a successful attempt of the band to show that rock and rap genres can mix to create a unique combination that is unlike anything else. It was chosen to focus on this album in particular (as opposed to Meteora released in 2003) because it represents the essence of the decade’s beginning and is considered the best work that Linkin Park has ever released. This mix of formerly unmixable and even opposing styles embodies the conclusion of the promises of the Great Society, in which ethnicities, genders, races, classes, and cultures all blend into one unity. To some extent, the album pointed out the growing divide and confusion in the US between Republican and Democratic values.
While there are no direct allusions to the state of the society, the underlining idea behind some of the album’s songs was that confusion and fear prevailed, as seen in the following quotes from “Crawling”: “fear is how I fall, confusing what is real;” […] “the lack of self-control I fear is never-ending” (Hahn et al. “Crawling”). It is not surprising that these lyrics captured the attention of millions because the feeling of confusion could be applied not only to the state of political instability but also to the way most teens feel (Beaumont-Thomas). Thus, there is a universal message in “Crawling” that can be interpreted differently depending on the experiences of the song’s listeners.
In “In the End,” the authors point to the problem of the world expanding too fast, which meant that most people did not have a chance to take on new opportunities. The song represents a realization of the lie that when someone tries hard, opportunities will come. The lyrics “I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end, it doesn’t even matter” transfer the unquenchable anger that many young people may have toward the all-absorbing individualistic ideas promoted by the neo-liberalist Capitalist Democracy (Hahn et al. “In the End”).
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“One Step Closer” bears a similar connotation to “In the End” as it speaks about being on edge and recognizing the pressure that is put on everyone in the society: “Everything you say to me takes me one step closer to the edge, and I’m about to break” (Hahn et al. “One Step Closer”). The choice of topics and how the band presented them to listeners is very telling to the way society felt at that time. There was a glaring emotion of doubt and discontent with the direction in which the society was heading that could be traced through a large portion of the Hybrid Theory.
Emotional turmoil and, to some extent contradicting behaviors are inherent to most young people, which means that they seek an outlet for their feelings. For the generation that was growing up in the early 2000s, Linkin Park and Hybrid Theory became such an outlet. The value of future albums that the band produced has been extensively debated because of the changes in sound, the temporary absence of one of the main contributors, Mike Shinoda, as well as the entire new attitude with which the band presented itself.
Hybrid Theory is a brilliant representation of how alternative rock shaped the future developments in music because it made a ‘hybrid’ from traditional rock sounds and rap, making the combination unforgettable. It became a signature sound of the band that made it recognizable and catchy; the style and unique sound of Linkin Park is impossible to confuse with any other band.
While it is hard to pinpoint specific artists that were heavily influenced by Linkin Park’s music, it is evident that the decade that followed the band’s popularity was characterized by more experimentation in alternative rock sounds. The feelings of confusion and resentment that prevailed in the majority of songs on the Hybrid Theory album brilliantly reflected the state of the American society of that time. For some, “In the End” may be associated with a story of an unfortunate breakup between teenagers, while for others, the meaning of the song is much deeper and is linked to the rising pace of society’s development, which eliminates many possibilities to be successful in life, especially for the youth.
As the beginning of the 2000s was characterized by turmoil in multiple spheres of society’s life, alternative rock music came to play a large role in mirroring negative feelings. A unique thing that Linkin Park managed to achieve through their music is connecting to their listeners without setting any boundaries or rules. The Hybrid Theory album represents the meshing of cultures, styles, and approaches to music that has never been as successful.
While there is strong underlining of despair and fear for the future when it comes to actual song lyrics, there is a sense of unity associated with the album in general because every person can relate to it to one degree or another. When one is listening to the hit songs that Linkin Park released in the early 2000s, there is no sense of differentiation by race, gender, or class – everyone is equal. Thus, the main influence of Linkin Park on the new alternative wave of music was the band’s ability to look beyond labels and experiment with things that seem unmixable.
Beaumont-Thomas, Ben. “Linkin Park Singer Chester Bennington Soothed the Angst of Millions.” The Guardian. 2017. Web.
Burnett, Bob. “2000-2009: America’s Lost Decade.” Huffington Post. 2010. Web.
Hahn, Joseph, et al. “Crawling.” Azlyrics, 2000. Web.
—“In the End.” Azlyrics, 2000. Web.
—“One Step Closer.” Azlyrics, 2000. Web.
Hunter, James. “Alternative Rock.” Britannica, 2018. Web.
Kettle, Martin. “The Most Unfair US Election Ever.” The Guardian. 2000. Web.
Le Miere, Jason. “How Chester Bennington and Linkin Park’s ‘Hybrid Theory’ Changed the Face of Rock Music.” News Week. 2017. Web.