With the style forever refreshing and renewing itself, Getintothis’ Luke Chandley explores the enduring appeal of pop punk – and asks what bands need to do to remain relevant.
Ever since I first heard The Offspring’s American-Pie-era album, Conspiracy of One, I’ve listened pop punk with a certain degree of pride. As a young pup of 13, I listened to it as an entry to ‘real music’ (although I still haven’t made that leap just yet). It might not have been serious or earth-shattering in style, but it had what I wanted: fast paced music about girls and people being shitty.
There really is little else you look for at that age. The airtime this form of music gets in the US means that you often hear some of your favourite songs in movies, and this tends to help bands gain a reputation and a fanbase. Indeed the likes of American Pie (the sequel, especially) created a new wave of care-free, California-tinged artists and albums that matched the summer months perfectly.
Seminal long-players such as Blink 182’s Enema of the State and New Found Glory’s Sticks and Stones became the records that defined a certain generation, and while other bands followed in their wake, there was a blossoming of sorts; an awakening of a trashy and light-weight, yet slick and overproduced, style that became entry-level stuff for youths the world over.
The problem with the glut of bands that grew from Blink 182’s ‘golden generation’ was that a lot of them were average. They were average then and that’s why they didn’t last very long. True quality shines through, and no matter what you may have thought about them ‘back in the day’, people grow up and nostalgia will only get you so far. You’ll fade away if you aren’t either genuinely great songwriters and/or able to evolve while maintaining the quality.
A lot of the bands that haven’t survived were, with hindsight, mere bandwagon-jumpers. This isn’t necessarily a problem as such, lots of great records have been made by this type of band, but they used perfect timing to their advantage and, when that stopped, it was tough to regain their following and relevance. And when this happens, evolving becomes much harder work. Defining a new style as a full-time musician must be a living hell when you include touring, too.
There are, though, bands who are able to not only survive but also to thrive. The latest Blink 182 record topped the UK, US and Canadian charts, while across Europe, it levelled in at mostly top five. The strength of the album and the freshness of it led to more interest and, crucially, the songs that are written are good.
New Found Glory are this year touring a 20 Years of Pop Punk show. The likes of Green Day and The All-American Rejects (I think they still exist?!) all command top billing at festivals and on TV shows, too. And the reason: they pump out consistently listener-friendly, fun music that has matured in lyricism and topic as their fans have matured in age. It’s not rocket science.
One band that has bucked the well-trodden trend is All Time Low. Their success is increasing the more they move away from their original, raw sound and enter a more heavily produced, poppy sound. They have written for a market and had fun with that, as opposed to chasing a career that will get more serious critical acclaim. Their sound has stuck with an age group (mostly, considering I continuously love them and also grow in age), more so than a fanbase and that has worked for them. They may not write the most clever music in the world, but it works well, and that’s good for them.
Across the last few years, pop punk has moved away from overproduced hype, to a less touched-up, higher quality level of songwriting. Bands such as Fireworks, Set Your Goals and The Wonder Years have added more of a punk element to the mix (although they’re still no Sex Pistols in that respect, and for that I’m glad…) and their lyrics and music reflect a newly introduced style of putting together music.
Real stories about real people making music that sits a little more under the radar than the early ’00s style that I grew up with. And it’s working. It’s bringing an underground vibe back to the scene and adding the live show back to the core of their existence. Live music should always be the bread and butter.
Whether the above bands will stand the test of time, we don’t know. There will likely not be a resurgence of the genre for some years, and even though Pop Punk’s Not Dead rings around venues and festivals each year, I believe some of it is dead, and needs to stay that way.
Good music will, for the most part, continue to be made and good musicians will evolve their sound while still being able to keep most of what makes them, them. The shiny, bubblegum sound of my youth is in some ways destined to stay in history, but as music within this style evolves, something new will always turn up, changing a scene and making it fresh.
Pop punk isn’t dead, but every few years it needs to be wounded by something newer and more exciting. The more it sheds its skin, the longer it will last. Vive la revolution.