Not Sad Anymore: How Pop-Punk Recaptured Its Spirit
Consider pop-punk defended. Not only by the New Jersey outfit who coined the term as their proverbial catchphrase, Man Overboard, but by a resurgence of top-flight bands who are bringing the tumultuous genre back to its personal scale and do-it-yourself ethics and roots.
At the beginning of the 2000’s, pop-punk didn’t need to be defended; it needed to be defined. Although credited as being the forefathers of the sound, The Ramones and Descendents put the emphasis on the punk in pop-punk, and were often less than palatable for mainstream audiences. But along came what could only be compared to the Justice League, which would heroically usher in the golden age of pop-punk.
Blink-182 would be Superman, the most recognizable of the bunch. Their ability to pen raunchy three-chord songs that were infectiously catchy and, for the most part, relatable for listeners, would make them the poster children of the group. Casting would follow with Green Day and their magnum opus Dookie, as one of the longstanding paragons of pop-punk, with songs that went by at superhuman speed like the Flash and rivaled Blink with a blatant disregard for conventional lyricism.
The Ataris would play the role of Batman, writing brooding, moody pop-punk songs that kicked as much ass as the Dark Knight himself. The Green Arrow? New Found Glory, with their sharpshooting guitar licks and Jordan Pundik’s direct, to the point lyricism. That leaves Sum 41 as Aquaman, because hailing from Canada, both are the only non-Americans of the all-star ensemble, but with angsty witticisms and buzzsaw-style guitar playing, they covered the territory outside of the other bands’ domain.
Along with a star-studded supporting cast including the youthfully energetic The Starting Line, the beach-bum mentality of Yellowcard as well as a list of bands far too lengthy to name, this Justice League of Pop-Punk catapulted the genre into the headphones of mainstream audiences. Spearheaded by the breakthrough success of singles like summer-dreaming “Ocean Avenue,” the riotous sing-along “All the Small Things,” and the charmingly apathetic “When I Come Around,” pop-punk had played itself into the forefront of listeners who had, at first, disregarded the genre altogether.
But, as New Found Glory stated in their debut album, nothing gold can stay. The Justice League of Pop-Punk slowly began to tear apart at the seams. Blink-182 called a hiatus in 2005. The Starting Line hung up their instruments in 2007. The Ataris nearly abandoned pop-punk altogether with their 2007 release Welcome the Night, and haven’t released an album since. Green Day slowly went the way of the rock opera. Yellowcard took a break for the better part of three years. With most of the Justice League of Pop-Punk disbanded, its most spotlighted bands having flown the coop, what would become of the genre?
The decline of pop-punk had several-fold reasons for its departure from form. For one, pop-punk sold its proverbial soul to the metaphorical Top 40 devil, who, fittingly enough, came wearing thirty different hues of neon, shutter shades, skinny jeans, and spoke only in auto-tune. What was once a sound characterized by happy-go-lucky guitar riffs and carefree vocals became overshadowed by a superfluously placed importance on appearance and attitude, rather than on energy and sheer spirit. This was embodied by bands like All Time Low, Forever the Sickest Kids, and Cobra Starship (which, as the superhero metaphor would go, would make Midtown your friendly neighborhood Spiderman, and frontman Gabe Saporta’s electro-punk mess his sinister, goopy alter-ego, Venom).
These bands and more, marching in brightly-clad legions, armed with auto-tune and images that would make preteen girls swoon over their posters, stretched the definition of the genre itself. They faked emotions in the way that Bernie Madoff faked being an honest businessman. They wrote songs that would aim for popularity and recognition, but tended to land in the muck of mediocrity that most of the overcrowded scene wallowed in. What happened to the songs about friends, fun, and girls that comprised the true spirit of pop-punk? The bands that served as the wall that separated the two waves of the glory days were far from supervillains, but were no superheroes either.
But as the decade came to an end, the genre felt something in it change, as if it had been biked by Logan Circle to see that the fountain had been turned on. Not only had most of the premier members of the original Justice League reclaimed their thrones and reunited (with Blink-182, The Ataris, and New Found Glory back in the studio, while Yellowcard and Sum 41 released When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes and Screaming Bloody Murder, respectively), but a new wave of pop-punk heavyweights had arrived on the scene to challenge the veteran juggernauts for respect and airplay.
If the forerunners of the sound were the Justice League, this new crew of pop-punkers would be more than fitting as the Avengers of Pop-Punk (but might, as Man Overboard would suggest, be more fittingly titled as “The Defenders.”) Massachusetts-based Transit as the Hulk, featuring soaring vocals with the strength and conviction of eighty All Time Lows, and smashing guitar harmonies. The Wonder Years as Captain America, the easily relatable band that boosts the nation’s morale, especially with the profoundly optimistic opus that was The Upsides. Man Overboard would be the always-reliable Iron Man, a high-flying band with soaring melodies.
How did these bands breath new life into a genre that was badly in need of CPR? By replacing auto-tune with belted out positive lyrics, phasing out the heavy-handed production several bands leaned on as a crutch for a collectively raw, personal vibe. Instead of giving in to the dark side of the scene, they reignited the torch passed down by their predecessors.
It’s hard to come up with a conclusive list of the bands that took back the genre from its bleak, soulless state, but it would be hard to not mention This Time Next Year, The Dangerous Summer, Fireworks, and Valencia. With such an impressive list of superpowers that would rival the powers of both Marvel and DC combined, it’s safe to say that pop-punk will be in good, reliable hands for a long time.