One of last year’s highest-paid musicians is a band whose beloved original lineup hadn’t played together for more than 20 years before reuniting last year, and plays a kind of music that is quietly dying.
Guns N’ Roses made $42.2 million in 2016, according to recently released Billboard stats, coming in second place to Beyonce with $62 million but still far ahead of other contemporary giants like Adele ($37 million), Justin Bieber ($30.5 million), and Kanye West ($26.1 million). The band owes that bizarre triumph to profits from its long-anticipated reunion tour that began in April 2016, which has brought back together classic lineup members Axl Rose, Duff McKagan, and Slash, and is still going today.
But beyond the tour itself, Guns N’ Roses’ success is a testament to the unexpectedly lucrative new industry of nostalgia.
Even though its last album, Chinese Democracy, came out in 2008 (with Slash replaced by a man with a KFC bucket for a head), the band was able to rack up enough fervent interest from longtime fans last year to put on a multimillion-dollar tour—not to mention nag a respectable $2 million in music sales and streams as well. For comparison, Beyoncé released a new album in 2016, one that was officially declared the best-selling album of the year at that, and still only brought in $7.7 million from those categories.
Guns N’ Roses are also not the the only “oldies” group cashing in on nostalgia. When classic-rock titans like Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones banded together last year to put on Desert Trip, a multi-weekend music festival to rival the likes of Coachella, it proved even more successful than Coachella itself. As digital music streaming becomes the predominant way that people nowadays listen to music, true enthusiasts are beginning to feel wistful for the good old days.
Rock bands. Wild, sensational concerts worthy of going down in history. Vinyl records. Personal connections with artists. All of that is worth a lot of money.