If you’re roughly my age (or a bit older), the early 2000s marked the years in which you started to become conscious of music as a medium. In those early adolescent years, music changed, morphing from random sounds you heard on the radio or in your childhood home to a medium you began to control and manipulate on your own.
In 2001, rock ‘n roll had grown stale. The genre, on a noticeable decline since the days of punk and grunge just a decade earlier, was in need of a revamping. In the span of a few short years that would all change.
A wave of bands began flooding this once rich and diverse musical landscape. These new up-and-coming acts were young, edgy, aloof, cool to a fault, and most of all eager to set a new standard for rock ‘n roll in the 21st century.
Oh, and one other thing. The majority of these groups had the same grammatical article before their names. A simple “The” was followed by a word or words, singular or plural, a noun or adjective or verb. Whatever, you get it.
The Strokes from New York City, The Killers out of Las Vegas, The Whites Stripes from Detroit, The Black Keys from Akron, Ohio. All across the nation, these bands’ songs soon seeped onto the radio and into the mainstream. This trend would come to be known as the “The”s.
The success of these change-makers spawned a million lesser iterations who also added “The” in front of their names. While some imitators chose not to use a “The,” though their duplicitous sound still gave them away anyway. (I’m looking at you Jet.) And even some already well-established bands took shots at the trend, like Sum-41 rebranding as “The Sums” for a time.
Every aspiring amateur garage band covered the hits (including my own band, though we practiced in a basement). Every marching band soon played “Seven Nation Army” as a fight song, and the Wedding DJs Guild of America decreed that “Mr. Brightside” must be played at every reception.
Admittedly, I too was caught up in the whirlwind these bands started. I had “Get Free” by The Vines on my first iPod. My dad bought Veni Vidi Vicious on vinyl. If an old head like him spent money on a contemporary band, you know it was probably worth listening to. My basement band covered “Seven Nation Army” (and “Are You Gonna Be My Girl, and “Cold Hard Bitch,” and “Take Me Out,” and…). I probably played “Hotel Yorba” on my boombox so much that that my brother broke the thing and told me it just didn’t work anymore so he didn’t have to hear me scream, “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, TAKE THE ELEVATOR AT THE HOTEL YORBA” one more time. This is all to say, in some way or another, I and everyone I know was somehow influenced by these bands.
Now some 17 and a half years since the turn of the century, many of the bands that defined my adolescence have fallen away to be replaced by some robot noise or another. My tastes have changed substantially. But those early music roots remain.
In a recent episode of “The Watch” podcast hosted by Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald, they interviewed music industry journalist Lizzy Goodman about her new book “Meet Me in the Bathroom,” which chronicles an oral history of rock ‘n roll in the early 2000s in New York. In the interview, (which I highly recommend checking out) Goodman rattles off the main players of this wild, genre-defining in time in rock music and explains what their roles were in shaping it.
While Goodman mostly focused on New York bands during this time (The Strokes, The Vines, etc.) the conversation she had with Chris and Andy awoke a part of my brain that had lain dormant for nearly a decade. I was catapulted back to the musical awakening of my early teens. Mix CDs of Kings of Leon, Franz Ferdinand, and The Bravery that my friends made me at school. More eclectic burned compilations of The Rapture, The Walkmen, and The Postal Service my brother Collen brought home from art school. Indie, garage, and post-punk revival were the flavors of the decade. I was all in.
Soon after their rise many of these bands leveled off, split up or drifted back into the ether. Jet broke up in 2012, The Strokes, and The Killers went on long hiatuses for the latter part of the decade, Jack White started 37 side projects after Icky Thump. Just like that, the fad was seemingly over. Yet the impact these bands had would send untold ripples across music and inspire another generation of bands like Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, The Shins, on and on.
If you shared in this obsession, you might enjoy the playlist I cobbled together below of some of my favorite “The” bands tracks. It’s by no means comprehensive and I also found myself throwing in several non “The”s, too. Couldn’t help myself. If there’s anything I missed give me a shout and I’ll add it.