And yet, in spite of the Black Keys’ indie roots, the band’s victory had hardly anything to do with indie rock. Just as they sidestepped the entrenched orthodoxy of rock radio, the Black Keys also transcended the indie caste system. They were never underground stars; in the indie rock high school cafeteria, this band was the kid with the wispy mustache and acid-washed jean jacket. And conversely, the Black Keys were outspoken in their resentment of indie politics. They depicted themselves as small-town outsiders from flyover country diametrically opposed to the privileged insider-ism of indie’s fashionable New York City hub. And, in the end, the Black Keys wound up towering over those who had ignored them. This might be a little pat, but it rings true: The Black Keys’ successful rise plays like a shadow story of how ’00s indie failed rock and roll.
Grantland’s Steven Hyden wraps up his great Winner’s History of Rock and Roll series with a doozy.