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WPGM Commentary: Pop Punk – The Golden Years, Decay And Revival Of An Underrated Genre

Good Charlotte (2)
Whatever happened to Green Day?” one might ask. Or maybe no one will, because punk rock is rarely – if not at all – in people’s minds in 2016. But if you do want to know, the band was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has started recording its 12th studio album.

Green Day are basically this pop-punk miracle that gradually molded into something ‘heavier’, thus gaining massive commercial success during the ‘00s. But would they have maintained this early pop-punk success of the Dookie days, had it not been for the masterpiece that was (and still is) American Idiot? Probably not.

Bands that refused to trade their pop punk identity for an either ‘popier’ or ‘punkier’ one, have found it really hard to stay alive. Unfortunately, that’s what pop punk has always been; an ‘in-between’ genre, neither too pop, nor too punk. Still, it spoke to the hearts of countless fans who religiously followed this ‘hip’, California-bred wave, which became extremely popular during the ‘90s, mainly thanks to Green Day and Goldfinger.

Then, there were all those Green Day-like bands that sang about rejection, anger and love, in a way that pure punk never did. These were songs that could actually be sung by Orange County kids, who, despite being considered as ‘privileged’, had in fact something to protest about! Or by kids in Maryland, who saw themselves as outcasts in a small town and wanted to be heard.

That’s how ‘not fitting in’ and speaking about it suddenly became popular. When Blink 182’s very successful Enema of the State was out, people couldn’t stop singing along to “All The Small Things” and “What’s My Age Again?”, even though no one really denied the fact that the lyrics were not so deep. Still, this brand new ‘trend’ was certainly no Britney Spears, felt cooler and sounded different from anything else – like a ‘pop-y’ kind of vibe, but with a rock background.

The pop-punk path was then followed by many other bands like Sum 41 and even The Offspring, whose punk rock songs had turned slightly ‘lighter’ and more radio-friendly with the release of Americana. However, both The Offspring and Green Day have always had a talent in finding a balance between borderline pop and downright serious punk; which is why they were never truly labeled as pure pop punk.

As Blink 182 continued to gain commercial success, with Sum 41 always being one step behind, other bands like New Found Glory, Yellowcard, Good Charlotte, Simple Plan and All Time Low were dubbed as the ‘00s pop-punk newcomers. Good Charlotte were actually more than that, with a genuine approach to music, which, as it turned out, knew no pop-punk borders. The band has since very much evolved experimenting with various music styles.

But next to pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne and her then pop-punk boyfriend and Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley, we got to know a few bands that introduced a subtle – or not so subtle in some cases – emo flavour into their pop-punk menu! My Chemical Romance, The Used, Panic! at the Disco and Taking Back Sunday were some of those, while Good Charlotte took a bite out of the ‘emo cake’ with their 2004 album, The Chronicles of Life and Death.

The pop-punk ‘light’ was shining brighter and brighter, with even more bands adding to the list during the second half of the noughties, such as The All-American Rejects, Fall Out Boy and Paramore. The last two sure made an impression back then and continue to do so today as their music and lyrics have become more meaningful and revolutionary through the years.

The question remains though; could pop punk, in its original form, uninfluenced by other genres, survive next to Rihanna’s pop or Muse’s rock as a self-sufficient music genre and not as the in-between sidekick that you’ll only revert to when you need a break from the rest? Well, as long as there are skaters and surfers and people who like to have fun in this world but actually need more than just beats to do so, there’s always room for pop punk.

It is true, though, the genre has suffered a sharp decline over the last seven years or so; while people kept on seeing their favourite pop-punk bands live at the Warped Tour, the genre surely lost its mainstream appeal towards the end of the ‘00s. Apart from Green Day, who had by then transformed into a phenomenon, and Blink 182 who’ve built a very strong fanbase – that even puts up with their constant breaking-up and reuniting issues! – there was no sign of the smaller, yet once super-successful, pop-punk bands.

However, in 2011, many of those started resurfacing, trying to bring back the genre. New Found Glory even headlined the Pop Punk’s Not Dead Tour, supported by many young bands who were starting out in the industry. The band’s guitarist, Chad Gilbert, also wrote a letter to explain the whole idea and how he felt about pop punk being suddenly cast aside.

“This isn’t a dead genre, and just because there isn’t a song on the radio to clarify that shouldn’t matter”, he said. “Bands don’t have to have gold or platinum albums to prove their worth. That kind of success isn’t a bad thing, but pop-punk is so much more than that”. He closed the letter saying “You may have tried to sweep our music under the rug or not take it seriously, but we do. This music might not always be popular, but it’s valid and it means something to me whether you get it or not”.

With that kind of optimistic, ‘in your face’ attitude, things have been looking up for pop punk. Good Charlotte are back after their five-year hiatus with a brand new album in the making as well as their own label, through which they help their fellow pop-punkers (or any other band of their liking) make the best of their potential. Simple Plan have also released a new record, while Paramore are stronger than ever even as a two-piece!

Then, there’s All Time Low becoming more mature and sophisticated by the album. Their latest record, Future Hearts, also features collaborations with GC’s Joel Madden and Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus. The true surprise, though, is Fall Out Boy, who have managed to survive a hiatus and return with a whole new identity, introduced by their Save Rock and Roll album in 2013. Nevertheless, they also fall in the category of those who slightly abandoned their pop-punk roots, evolving into something rockier.

All pop-punk reunions aside, what really made me believe in the revival of the genre was 5 Seconds of Summer’s music. This band, formed in 2011, might actually be the new face of pop punk. Maintaining the genre’s main characteristics, they’ve built on it and made it sound fresh and more fun than ever. Those boys have shown that pop punk can be light-hearted but also meaningful and can survive on its own, through re-inventing itself in the most exciting way possible.

Pop punk may transform, or it may stay the same; the only thing that’s always constant, though, is the people that support it. When Joel Madden answered the fans’ questions in a Q&A organised by Alternative Press earlier this month, he pointed out how important the fans were to Good Charlotte’s success:

“Our music really wouldn’t have mattered, the radio really wouldn’t have played us, no one really would have had us on their TV shows or in their magazines if you didn’t like the music and believed in the music. And we wouldn’t have a career if it weren’t for you, so thank you”.

“Everybody wants to get into the venues”, he added. “The one thing that will put you in a venue is a fanbase… You can do a lot of things to make things look good in the music business. You can juke a lot of stats; you cannot fake fans”.

Fans are the ones that basically keep this genre alive (as with any other genre, really). They’re the reason why Hayley Williams refuses to sink the Paramore ship despite losing most of its crew and they’re probably the reason why Blink 182 just won’t give up after endless fights. Even though I wouldn’t count on the latter to hold the pop-punk fort, there is still hope and many reasons to believe that pop punk is absolutely not dead.

Words by Konstantina Pyrnokoki

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