Deputy Culture Editor – Theatre
How a dependency on nostalgia is crippling new music
The Michigan foursome has been on the scene for over a year now and have received mixed reviews, many labelling them as a refreshing blast of new energy in a stagnating genre. Others, however, have called it like they’ve heard it: they’re rip offs, plain and simple. There’s no real way to sugar coat it, just a few bars of vocalist Josh Kiszka shrieking belt and anyone can tell he’s essentially Robert Plant’s warped shadow, trapped in some sort of hell scape where his notes will never be as on key and his voice will never be as powerful. With shaggy hair, paisley vests and a laissez faire attitude towards their reviews, the group has kept Zeppelin’s aesthetic but lost all the true artistry. Lyrics, progressions, and genuine talent have fallen by the wayside as Van Fleet zeros-in on the most nostalgic traits of Plant’s performances and copies them note for note. The direct cop has some benefits; when you’re copying from the greats some of that talent is bound to rub off, (see drummer Danny Wagner’s Bonham-esque stance on the kit), but for the most part the attempt at mimicking the most influential rock band in history has been fruitless. Anyone with a pulse and a sense for good music can distinguish between Led Zeppelin and their shoddy carbon copy, one can only pray that hopefully Van Fleet will stick to their B-List rock revival tours.
However Greta Van Fleet’s claim to fame is symptomatic of a problem that spans beyond rock and plagues more genres every year: when do we draw the line between citing an influence and just riding the wave of past legends? In the past 10 years more often than not, musicians have pushed their way into the mainstream on the tails of nostalgia. Think of Lana Del Rey, whose Born to Die album was drenched in sultry references to 50’s and 60’s Americana, or The 1975, who’s eponymous album was essentially remixed numbers pulled from an Italian new wave hall. Even rap has fallen prey to the draw of nostalgia as Shyne entered the charts on the back of The Notorious B.I.G’s signature sound or as Machine Gun Kelly regurgitated the rhythm of Encore while attempting to slam its creator. It appears that to launch yourself into the playlists of the current generation, an artist needs to initially carry through a pre-existing thematic element: vintage melodies over a trap beat.
It’s worth noting that for many of these artists, the easy out of nostalgic reference is usually confined to their first album, clearly after you’re established in the scene you have more freedom to express your individuality and unique artistry. But is this foot-in-the-door loophole fair to artists who enter the industry with a completely new sound? The short answer is no. It’s time for musicians to stop leaning on the pillars of pre-existing legends. It’s a lazy, boring way to sell albums that cripples the work of those willing to bare their souls through their music. Not to mention the fact that it treats listeners as if their tastes and preferences are interchangeable, using the leverage of original sound to force themselves into the “recommended for you” section of Spotify.
Let’s not let the Greta Van Fleets of the world capitalize on the legendary craft of others. Support new and innovative music that channels influence of the classics, rather than blatantly plagiarizes it. Wouldn’t you rather listen to something brand new than a rehash of perfection? Widen your listening range far beyond your comfort zone: who knows, maybe that alternative garage duo from Ohio will be the next people to reform the musical landscape. And wouldn’t it be a shame if they were neglected in a society too wrapped up in the past to recognize the future when they heard it?