The nominations for Top Rock Song for the 2020 Billboard Music Awards are a joke
Billboard is massively out of touch and something needs to change.
The Billboard Music Awards are a staple of music awards season. Whilst not being as big of a deal as the Grammys or the Brits, they're a regular and worthwhile part of the whole awards deal nonetheless. After being delayed due to the coronavirus, things are back on track for 2020's edition of the awards and the nominations are rolling in. One set of nominations in particular caught my eye and that was the nominations for Top Rock Song. Those nominations caught my eye because, well... they were very dissapointing. I'd go as far actually as to call them a bit of a joke. Here's why.
The first of those nominations is Imagine Dragons' beautifully emotive song "Bad Liar". It's a great song, sure. But is it a rock song? I don't hear any guitars really in here. Whilst Imagine Dragons are very much a rock band in terms of much of their influences and instrumentation, this is definitely one of the least rock-y songs they've ever put out. It's a pop song. A great pop song, yes, but a pop song. It should be lumped in with the pop nominations, not the rock nominations.
The next song in the nominations is "I Think I'm OK", a pop-punk and emo-influenced track that's a collaboration between rapper-turned-rocker Machine Gun Kelly, British emo-pop sensation Yungblud and Blink-182's Travis Barker, a legendary drummer and producer who definitely doesn't need an introduction. This is a song I definitely think deserves to be nominated in this category and, to be honest, it's probably the only song that deserves to be here. It's absolutely a rock song. It's a glorious throwback to the pop-punk, pop-rock and emo-pop of the 00s that still retains a modern touch with production that borrows heavily from current-era pop. There are guitars a plenty, both acoustic and electric, Yungblud's voice has a brilliant gritty edge and Travis Barker's drums are as stellar as they always have been.
The next nomination is Panic! At The Disco's "Hey Look Ma, I Made It" and yes, I know, Panic were originally very much a rock band and still incorprate a lot of rock, punk and even hardcore and heavy metal influences into their music. But this song is 100% unashamedly a pop song. I feel the same way about this song as I do about the Imagine Dragons song. It's a brilliant song. A brilliant POP song. It's also two years old, so why it's even being nominated for awards in 2020 is absolutely beyond me! It's a great song, but the awards time for it is long gone now. There's also, perhaps more crucially, those fairly harrowing accusations against Brendon Urie from multiple sources regarding sexual harassment and looking the other way when members of his crew were harassing others. Bit tone deaf for Billboard to try and nominate Panic for an award in the face of all this stuff, don't you think?
The final two nominations are both by the same band, that band being Twenty One Pilots. Look, I don't mind Twenty One Pilots at all because they remind me of all the cool 80s and 90s rock and electronic bands I love like The Police, Garbage, Tears For Fears, Massive Attack and Portishead. They also remind me a lot of the criminally underrated Mutemath, which isn't surprising considering both bands have a great friendship with each other and Mutemath's frontman actually helped write and produce Twenty One Pilots' latest album Trench. But why are Twenty One Pilots even here? "Chlorine" and "The Hype" are more like bouncy reggae tracks (yes, I do get that reggae has a lot of influence from rock and blues thanks to Bob Marley's guitarist nicking a lot of his licks from people like Eric Clapton) than rock songs. If they really wanted Twenty One Pilots to be on there, surely it would have been better to nominate a song like "Jumpsuit" which actually has a heavy riff played Royal Blood-style on a bass guitar and even some screamed vocals?
Yes, they are a rock-influenced band. Yes, they have a lot of crossover appeal with people who typically like rock music or only listen to rock music. But they're not a 'rock' band. Not in the slightest. There's also the more controversial case of Tyler Joseph effectively being cancelled by his own fans because when he was asked to use his platform to help motivate social change, he responded by mocking them and then not even slightly apologising for it. Not only was this a bad move on Joseph's part, but Billboard still choosing to nominate two songs from the same band in this award shows that Billboard doesn't even care about how people might feel about nominating a band that's now become deeply controversial amongst even its own fanbase!
So why am I even going on about this? I feel that Billboard is totally out of touch when it comes to how rock music is progressing at the dawn of the 2020s. We have the super catchy yet super noisy industrial throbbing of 3TEETH, who recently contributed two amazing cover songs to the movie Guns Akimbo as well as shocking the world with an incredible subversive cover of Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks" that showed the stark reality of the bouncy indie party anthem's true meaning. There is the subversive genre-smashing brilliance that is Zeal & Ardor, where Swiss-American musician Manuel Gagneaux crafts an explosive mix of soul music and African-American spiritual music with black metal and various types of electronic music, all with an explosive political message that condemns the white-centric universe that Europe and the Americas operate in.
In the same industrial sphere of 3TEETH is the solo work of Marylin Manson's former collaborator Tim Skold, a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer who has been putting out brilliant industrial rock albums for years that have flown criminally under the radar. We also can't forget the jangly The Cure-inspired platitudes of bands like Pale Waves that have gone on to receive immense critical acclaim, as well as the punk revivalism of acts like Idles and Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes. We even have acts like Post Malone, Poppy, Denzel Curry, Scarlxd, Kid Bookie and Ghostemane who have taken rock music and reframed it in a contemporary pop or contemporary hip-hop perspective and done that absolutely brilliantly.
Why is Billboard not even giving any space for any of this? Do they have no idea that any of this stuff exists? I genuinely don't know. All that I do know is that this absolute joke of a list of nominations (Machine Gun Kelly and co. excluded, as I've made great pains to point out) shows that Billboard is hopelessly and absolutely out of touch. It's not something that can't be fixed. The Grammys had a similar problem a few years ago with the metal categories and they fixed it by changing the entire voting panel. Maybe Billboard needs to do the same thing? I don't know. All that I know is that things need to change. Rock music has been evolving and changing an insane amount over the last decade and awards nominations need to reflect that, not just choose a load of pop songs with a token pop-punk song thrown in to make rock fans happy.