If anything good has come of the pandemic, it’s that the oft-recycled assertion that ‘guitar is dead’ has been comprehensively disproven: manufacturers have been experiencing a record sales boom and are barely able to keep up with demand, while 16 million Americans have started learning to play the instrument over the past two years.
Listening habits reflect the guitar’s excellent health, too, as Olivia Rodrigo’s pop-punk anthem good 4 u became the fourth most-listened to song on Spotify this year (her piano ballad, drivers license, was no. 1), while her debut full-length, SOUR, was the most popular album on the streaming platform.
That makes Rodrigo one of this year’s most-streamed guitar artists, and it’s an achievement hammered home by her new NPR Music Tiny Desk performance, which ups the six-string ante with a band full of guitarists.
Armed with a Gibson L-00, Rodrigo opens the set – which is staged, appropriately enough, at an actual real-life DMV – with good 4 u, flanked by no fewer than four other acoustics, balancing chugging powerchords, percussive beats, upper-fret chord inversions and even 12-string leads.
The band comprises guitarist and MD Heather Baker, drummer/guitarist Hayley Brownell, bassist/guitarist Moa Munoz, and Arianna Powell, who you might recognize from her recent gig as Halsey’s guitarist.
Powell goes on to trade her Orangewood 12-string for a Gibson ES-335 that features in much of the rest of the set, which spans traitor, drivers license and a thunderous performance of deja vu – the latter of which closes with a reverb-drenched melodic solo at the 17-minute mark, complete with a blazing pentatonic run to round out the performance.
Rodrigo is one of several pop artists to achieve mainstream success with guitar-driven music this year: artists including Willow Smith and Machine Gun Kelly have picked up electrics for their latest material, while Halsey called on Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to produce new full-length If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power, which features collaborations with Lindsey Buckingham and Dave Grohl.
Taylor Swift, meanwhile, continues to go from strength to strength, ranking as Spotify’s second most-streamed artist globally, with Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny claiming the top spot.