Music

The Controversy of Greta Van Fleet and Musical Inspiration

Ali Bush ’19
Music Columnist

The new rock band, Greta Van Fleet, deeply upsets me. I’m seething just typing the band’s name. The rock band has made a huge splash on the rather lacking hard rock scene with their new album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, performing on The Tonight Show and even Elton John’s Oscars after-party. They play hard rock jams with blues riffs and their singer has an amazing screeching falsetto voice. If this description is familiar, it is because it also describes Led Zeppelin, spot-on. And this is why I have come to listen to this band with suspicion, and extreme annoyance. Greta van Fleet has constructed their entire discography and image on Led Zeppelin while trying to cover this up. Their musicianship and production are all adequate, but it is this band’s simultaneous total lack of creativity and industry succeeds that angers me, and prompts big questions about rock music and its future.

Greta van Fleet poses themselves as modern-day rockers who are deeply inspired by 60s and 70s hard rock, but evidence of any other influences, other than Led Zeppelin, is nonexistent. The mythical lyrics and the blues riffs certainly are direct rip-offs of Zeppelin, and lead singer Josh Kiszka’s voice, perhaps their biggest asset, that is a dead ringer for that of Robert Plant. The issue is not that they’re bad musicians. It is as if they’ve learned their scales, applied them to Led Zeppelin songs, and just kept on playing Led Zeppelin songs, inserting a slightly modifies riff or lyric here or there. Their songs repackage the guitar style and vocals of Led Zeppelin and provide nothing new to contemporary listeners. Their constant call for peace just ends up feeling hokey.

This critique is not to condemn musicians who borrow styles and motifs of other artists; this is almost unavoidable in any kind of artistic process. Rock music itself is based on a system of stealing, borrowing, and modifying. Led Zeppelin, perhaps more infamously, lifted songs of 1930s blues singers for their own creations. Without giving blatant credit to artists like Memphis Minnie and Muddy Waters, Zeppelin deprives these artists of royalties and respect. But Zeppelin at least had the decency and intelligence to adapt these songs and change it into a completely new genre. Members of Zeppelin also publicly acknowledge their cultural appropriation and express deep admiration for their predecessors.

After all of this, the band refuses to acknowledge Led Zeppelin as an influence. Failing to recognize that source that has given them their style, sound, and image is an affront to musical history. Even Robert Plant has spoken out about the band and visibly rolled his eyes over them in an interview! Maybe it’s just my opinion, or a sense of common decency, but for this band to achieve this much success, and not humbly thank the musicians who gave them their sound, is entitled and flagrantly fraudulent.

Surprisingly few critics have forthrightly expressed these concerns forthright, perhaps convinced that Greta Van Fleet is coming to save rock and roll. To me, the band’s massive success over songs that sound like Led Zeppelin covers has me anxious about the state of rock music. Did rock music reached its peak with Led Zeppelin? Is there any future for rock music, or is it already a historical genre? If bands like Greta Van Fleet continue to rise to success, rock music will never move forward. The band foreshadows a dystopia in which rock music will become just another algorithmic franchise industry, where bands that resemble Led Zeppelin 2.0 are more popular than those actually thinking outside of the box.

Greta Van Fleet renders rock music embarrassingly stagnant, and doesn’t push forward any new ideas or concepts. I’ll even go so far as to say that they are an embarrassment for rock music, as their success proves that it’s easy to be successful without being innovative. Ultimately, there is no authenticity or experimentation in their songs. They’ve simply adopted this 1960s style to provide their fans with a bit of nostalgia, which at the end of the day is pretty sad. So if you have any urge to listen to this band, please just listen to a Led Zeppelin album; you’ll have a much better time.

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