RESEARCH PAPER – Pop-Punk Subcultures

Although punk-rock began emerging in the mid-70s, the subgenre of “pop-punk” didn’t come into view until closer to the 80s. The genre is commonly defined as “punk rock music that includes the musical elements common to the genre pop” (Micky, 2019). While punk is immediately associated with angst and self-expression, it’s subgenre and cultures embrace its origins within lyrics while contradicting it among an upbeat track; although pop-punk is a direct branch off from punk, the community and cultures associated are very different. This is highlighted in the YouTube video, Every Pop Punk Vocalist, which went viral in the community a few years ago for its entertaining, but accurate, pokes at the culture. A recurring joke in the video included the fact that the feelings expressed through the music remain strongly positive or strongly negative, whether it’s regarding their hometowns, their friends or just how they’re feeling about life.

Credit: Rebloggy

American punk-rock music magazine Alternative Press has the category narrowed down into five main stages: the foundational era, the west coast breakout, the mainstream explosion, the emo invasion, and the revival (Crane, 2014). With initial inspirations drawn from groups like The Beatles and The Ramones, the foundational era shaped the origins of the genre from the mid-80s to early-90s with some of its earliest pioneers including Buzzcocks, The Undertones, and Descendents (Ryan, Anthony and Heller, 2014). As the genre grew in America, groups from the west coast like Green Day and NOFX began making massive waves during the mid-90s. By the end of the millennium, bands like Blink-182, Good Charlotte, and Sum 41 were getting played across mainstream radio and winning MTV awards. By the mid 2000s, the subgenre of “emo” began to replace the public’s fascination of pop-punk, introducing bands like Fall Out Boy and Paramore. Although the genre was no longer thriving in the mainstream media, fans began shaping the careers of some of the most well-established, long-standing bands within the scene, like All Time Low, Mayday Parade and The Maine. As the Vans Warped Tour began growing in popularity once more in the late 2000s, the genre bounced back with a massive new wave of bands like The Wonder Years, Man Overboard, State Champs and Neck Deep.

Pop-punk can definitely be considered as one of the genres embracing the ‘jam band’ atmosphere described in week nine’s study “Consumption and Community: The Subcultural Contexts of Disparate Marijuana Practices in Jam Band and Hip-Hop Scenes” (Pawson and Kelly, 2014). The authors described the atmosphere of the shows they attended as very relaxed and overall accepting of other’s behaviours. One of the stereotypes highlighted in the video mentioned in the introduction is the community’s solidarity towards each other and dedication towards “defending pop-punk,” a slogan created by Man Overboard. This motto was taken even further when singer of The Story So Far, Parker Cannon, got into an altercation with a security guard at the Vans Warped Tour when defending a crowd-surfing fan (Kraus, 2014). Touching back on the study, many concertgoers in this scene admit to attending shows for both the live experience and opportunity to network and expand their inner circle, whether for everyday life or future shows they plan to attend.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, the lyrics usually translate as either super angsty and unhappy, or hopeful and united. Bands began becoming associated directly with pop-punk stereotypes: Mayday Parade becoming associated with heartbreak, The Story So Far and Neck Deep earning early popularity for their angsty tunes with strong inspiration taken from genre pioneers, Blink-182 known as the unfiltered group with no cares in the world. Because of these preconceived ideas surrounding the genre, it sometimes stops bands from exploring ideas and themes outside these stereotypes. For example, while preparing notes for this essay, I was able to come up with over a dozen songs just off the top of my head by bands on the theme of their hometowns, mostly pessimistic; some of those including For Baltimore by All Time Low, It’s Never Sunny in South Philadelphia by The Wonder Years, and All Signs Point to Lauderdale by A Day to Remember. Adding to that point, I was able to name even more regarding the themes of teen angst (The Downfall of Us by A Day to Remember, The Anthem by Good Charlotte, Quicksand by The Story So Far), and love and heartbreak (The Rock Show by Blink-182, Jamie All Over by Mayday Parade, Check Yes Juliet by We The Kings).

Credit: Merry Jane

Many prominent figures within the scene have come out in recent years with conflicting opinions on how they feel about the current state of the subgenre. New Found Glory frontman, Chad Gilbert, has continuously spoken up for years regarding the importance of the preserving the subgenre of pop-punk and supporting it (Gilbert, 2011), while Green Day lead singer, Billy Joe Armstrong, has said he feels the term is “too singular” and finds the name contradicting to the genre itself (Britton, 2016). Gilbert, who’s band experienced success during the peak of mainstream pop-punk, concludes the article by expressing, “I’ve argued before that we were more than pop-punk, but honestly, I’m over it. Our fans define us. No matter what we’ve been through, pop-punk fans have never abandoned us.” To contradict this point, Armstrong expressed “I come from a scene where every band was different from the others; it was all so diverse, no two bands sounded the same… Every good band was into what other good band were doing, and it didn’t matter that these bands were very different from one another. In fact, it was important that we were different from one another. And now we have pop-punk. And I hate that phrase. It lacks diversity.”

So, where does that leave pop-punk today? After blowing up on the west coast in the 90s, a lot of the style associated with the subgenre continues to embrace a mixture of skater and punk fashion. The music associated with the genre continues to be described as more melodic than hardcore but engages followers with its relatable, melancholic lyrics. While members of the community were more unsure of where they stood in the mid-2000s, it seems to be thriving more than ever today with new up-and-coming bands consistently breaking into the scene and definitive bands continuously building onto the genre.

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