Hadouken! brings cheeseball rock into the 21st century

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Rock 'n' roll is having a tough time on the pop charts these days. There have been only a few rock-oriented acts that have been performing consistently well on the Hot 100 recently, mostly Fun. and the inexplicably popular Imagine Dragons. Rock's not even doing that great on rock radio, with alternative stations leaning heavy on the Ye Olde Timey sounds of folksters like the Lumineers and (thanks to some racially suspect decision making on the part of radio programmers) Macklemore's Atmosphere-lite rap. Depending on your definition of the genre there are maybe a dozen or so rock songs on the Hot 100 at any given time, and probably few of them would appeal to the declining population of listeners holding it down for capital-R Rock Music—the only real guitar-based, fist-pumping anthem charting right now is Fall Out Boy's "The Phoenix," and even hard-rock power ballads, formerly an easy way for a band to find a pop audience, aren't working the way they used to.

But the big, broad, dumb rock anthem isn't quite extinct yet. Recently it's even seen a little bit of a comeback thanks to some help from an unlikely savior: dubstep.

Every genre of pop music is scrambling to jump on the dubstep bandwagon right now, and dubstep's proven itself wildly adaptable to a wide range of styles—it blends extremely well with rap, which makes obvious sense, but it even works with country-pop, as shown by Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble," which peaked at number two on the Hot 100. With its trademark build-and-release dynamics and head-bangable drops it's a clear match for hard rock as well, and groups like the UK's Modestep have been doing a good job of exploiting that compatibility.

Another British group, Hadouken! (named after the special move from Street Fighter), currently has the number 69 spot with their single "Levitate." The song is festooned with the signature elements of modern dubstep, with synths that throb and synths that sound like they're pulled from eight-bit video games and the inevitable drop that you can see coming from several miles away. But underneath all of the au courant accoutrements "Levitate" is basically a big, corny, cheeseball pop-metal song. In the 80s it would have had glammy Sunset Strip-style guitars behind it, and in the early aughts it would have been a straight-up emo song. The choice to make it a rock-dubstep-electro hybrid seems almost totally arbitrary, although it seems to be working out all right for them.

The type of listener who would have dug "Levitate" in one of those other potential incarnations is being confronted with a choice between keeping to an increasingly isolated existence in a walled-off rock scene that's getting less and less fresh talent as other genres gain traction with younger artists, or try to get over rock's decades-long aversion to dance music. Either way, it beats having to listen to the Lumineers.

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

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