How Coldplay, a band that says rock is ‘done’, grossed $500 million

“Coldplay has grasped, perhaps more than any other major rock band, the importance of collaboration in the contemporary pop music landscape,” said Theo Cateforis, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Fine Arts and Associate Music Professor for Syracuse University’s College of Arts & Sciences.

For many non-fans, this fact may have first become clear during the 2016 Super Bowl halftime show, when Coldplay was joined by Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. Critics of the band said the move was made because Coldplay didn’t have what it takes to hold the stage all on its own, but in fact, it reflects the band’s savvy.

“Whereas the classic model of the rock band in previous generations was that of a self-sustaining unit that wrote and performed its own music (think Led Zeppelin, Nirvana or countless others), Coldplay has adopted the collaborative approach of EDM and hip-hop, where producers and singers partner up in various combinations and arrangements,” Cateforis said. “Those rock bands who have successfully navigated this changing landscape have welcomed these new digital rhythms, textures and arrangements into their sound, while still retaining enough elements of their familiar sound (such as Chris Martin’s piano playing) to maintain their identity. Bands like Coldplay have essentially become hybrid entities.”

Coldplay scored the third-most downloaded digital track in 2017 in a collaboration with the EDM/pop group The Chainsmokers, “Something Just Like This.”

Alan Williams, Professor of Music and Music Business Coordinator for the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said one thing Coldplay has absorbed more fully than the bands that influenced them is the importance of hip-hop as foundational musical language. “Samples and beats are not something to experiment with (as U2 did throughout the 90s), but something to assume as a given, a process that can be supplemented by guitars and drums, but not exactly replaced by them.”

The 2017 Niesen’s Music year-end report found that R&B/hip hop was the most dominant genre of music and had a 72 percent increase in on-demand audio streaming, with seven of the top 10 most-consumed albums coming from that genre. It was the first time ever that R&B/hip hop surpassed rock.

“The market shift away from rock to other styles such as hip hop and EDM, is, on the one hand the type of generational change that we have seen throughout the history of popular music — not unlike when rock itself displaced jazz as America’s top popular music over the course of the 1960s,” Cateforis said. Or, when early rock acts, from Elvis to The Stones, made black American music, most notably the blues form, popular among white audiences.


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