Seven Ages of Pop Punk

This article is part of In Defense of the Genre, a series of critical and personal essays in praise of pop punk. Previously, Ciara wrote about listening to ‘December’ by Neck Deep on repeat and thinking about ex-friends.

The history of pop punk is something this series frequently gestures towards but has never really sketched out in any detail. Partly this is because discussing pop punk’s relationship to punk itself is usually aimed at dismissing pop punk as punk’s poser kid brother, and the founding concept of this series is taking pop punk seriously when no-one else will. Partly it’s because – even if Green Day’s ‘Basket Case’ is as old as I am – pop punk still feels like a baby of a genre, so that it kind of takes me by surprise that it has history enough to be worth explaining. Partly it’s because it never occurs to you whether someone might need or want a map to your hometown. Isn’t everyone born knowing those particular twists and bends, the shortcut to the cinema and the best place to cross the street? 

We are in the midst of an improbable pop punk revival. It’s incredibly exciting. But too many people who try to write about that revival don’t have that bone-deep sense of the genre’s history and themes and conventions. “Today’s pop punks go to therapy,” The Guardian writes in the latest of their triennial articles on how a new generation of pop punkers break new ground by writing songs about feeling shitty. It makes me feel insane. It betrays a depth of knowledge that doesn’t extend to the biggest bands’ biggest singles. Today’s pop punks might go to therapy, but pop punk has always been about being depressed.

So: I’ve invented seven eras of pop punk from whole cloth and made playlists for each of them. I hope they can guide you through the history of the genre, but as more of a sketch map than a satellite photograph. Each playlist is somewhere between ninety minutes and two hours long, and, hopefully, acts as a launching pad, and at the very least, a fun listen. These are my playlists, so are informed by my own blind spots, biases, and tastes. So, you know: sorry to Bowling for Soup for not including you, maybe try sucking less next time.

I don’t want to grow up

the blueprint: 0-1993

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In Defense of Chasing Amy, 25 Years Later [Crooked Marquee]

Chasing Amy does not exactly hold an esteemed position in the cultural memory. Partly this is because of Kevin Smith’s current station: the director of  films no one likes, and the author of the worst tweet ever. But the bigger problem is that its logline makes it sound genuinely offensive: Holden (Ben Affleck) falls in love with lesbian Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams). And she falls in love with him right back. 

I wrote an impassioned defense of Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy on its 25th anniversary over at Crooked Marquee! You can read it here.

The Great Wipeout of Television History

I’m not much given to ranking such things, but if you put a gun to my head and asked me to rank my favourite sitcoms, The Likely Lads would easily make the top tier. It aired three seasons on BBC between 1964 and 1966—which, because it’s British television, means twenty episodes and a Christmas sketch—following Terry and Bob, two young men working in a factory in the north-east of England. It was commissioned because The Beatles were big and that made someone at the BBC want a show about young northerners, even if they ended up in Newcastle instead of Liverpool. 

Terry and Bob are instantly, vividly realized: they are united in their shared ambitions of getting drunk, picking up girls, and watching football, but there is always a tension between Terry’s pride in being working-class and Bob’s ambitions for social mobility. Bob will always blame Terry for his bad behavior, but the phrase “pushing an open door” was invented specifically to describe Bob. While many 1960s sitcoms are warm, wholesome and full of wacky misunderstandings, The Likely Lads is vulgar, realistic and incredibly modern. Season one’s “Older Women Are More Experienced”—in which Terry dates an older woman and Bob dates a younger one—ends on a punchline that wouldn’t feel out of place in Peep Show. It’s a show I adore, that I will evangelise for any chance I get.

Of the twenty episodes produced, only ten survive. 

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The Fast and The February: A Film Diary

This February, I watched all the Fast & Furious movies for the first time.1 It felt like a big hole in my pop cultural lexicon, right up there with my general James Bond ignorance and never having seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy. So I bought a boxset of films one to seven from CEX2 and borrowed the rest from the library,3 and got to work.


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The Plumber Is a Sour Clash of Class and Gender [Certified Forgotten]

After directing Australian New Wave classics Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave, Peter Weir made The Plumber, a television film that — like Steven Spielberg’s Duel — was released theatrically in overseas territories. It’s a forgotten middle child of Weir’s filmography. Not a ground-breaking piece of art like the dreamily stylish Picnic at Hanging Rock nor a universal cultural touchstone like later Weir films Dead Poets Society or The Truman Show. But beyond its beginnings on television, the pleasures The Plumber offers are more off-kilter. It goes down satisfyingly sour. 

I wrote about Peter Weir’s TV movie The Plumber for Certified Forgotten! You can read it here.

Gimmicks Aside, The Tingler is Fucking Fantastic [Unwinnable]

William Castle, King of B-movies, loved gimmicks. Giving audience members a certificate for a one-thousand-dollar life insurance policy in case Macabre caused them to die of fright. Red/blue glasses so you could see or hide the ghosts in 13 Ghosts. A forty-five-second “fright break” to leave and get a refund if you were too scared to watch the rest of Homicidal.

I wrote about The Tingler for Unwinnable! You can read it here.

It’s Been a Long, Lonely December

This article is part of In Defense of the Genre, a series of critical and personal essays in praise of pop punk. Previously, Tina Kakadelis’s ode to The Summer Set.

This year I entered a truly unprecedented third emo phase. My first was the usual one, in my early teens, sad and lonely and ready to burst out of my skin. My second was in college, an instinctive reaction to a mental health crisis that had me climbing out windows so I wouldn’t have to see my roommates. It’s odd, then, that my third came this year, when – despite living in the apocalypse – things have mostly been fine for me. The overwhelming panic that would have me hiding in bathrooms, the worry worry fluttering in my stomach that made it so hard to speak, has, if not subsided, then become something I can cope with.

But I listened to more pop punk than I have in years. I listened to all of All Time Low, a band with a consistently mixed discography who finally fulfilled their promise with 2020’s Wake Up, Sunshine. I had my triennial Blink-182 hyperfixation, so deep that I happily watched livestreams of Mark Hoppus doing the Sunday crossword. I got into Modern Baseball, Stand Atlantic and Something Corporate. I listened to this one Good Charlotte song five million times.

It wasn’t the lightning strike epiphany moment I had back in 2012: after pop punk got me through my first year at college, I don’t think I could ever turn my back on it the way I did in the back half of secondary school. It felt like “it’s not a phase, mom” had finally reached the fullness of truth. It felt like it was pointless still delineating waves in the face of the tide.

I spent February this year listening to ‘December’ by Neck Deep on repeat and thinking about people I don’t know anymore. Like Motion City Soundtrack were in a faraway city the guts of a decade ago, it was the wintery soundtrack of my spring.

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Westerns, Part 3

“I can name for you every western I’ve ever seen. It wouldn’t even be hard.” – 2018

“There’s something just better about westerns, I can’t explain it. A great western is a special thing.” – 2019

“… nobody wants to be the crotchety old man saying things were much better in the good old days. But then you sit down and actually watch a 1940s western and it melts your face clean off.” – 2020

There probably wasn’t an exact moment when I went from “getting into westerns” to just “being a big westerns guy,” but if I had to pick, it would probably be around the time I started watching the Friday western on TG4. TG4 is an Irish public broadcast TV station that mostly shows Irish language programming, but every Friday night, they show a western. I’m not sure why, but I’m glad. “An western”: Irish for “the western”, with the word western untranslated, the way you wouldn’t translate noir or giallo into English. The films they show range from established classics to obscure gems to stuff that really isn’t very good at all, but usually in an interesting way. I don’t always watch the western on Friday, but I’m always happy I did. There are some things in this world that are so purely joyful, so satisfying, that they make your heart feel like it will burst. They’re precious, and I try to hold onto them where I can. A great western is one of those. The particular pleasures great westerns offer make me fall in love with films all over again.  

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Michael Collins Remains an Irish Cornerstone 25 Years Later [Paste]

25 years ago, Neil Jordan was coming off directing The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire. He had two box office hits and a screenplay Oscar under his belt. So, naturally, he spent his Hollywood cache on a biopic about Irish republican Michael Collins.

The result occupies a peculiar place in film history and Irish culture. Despite being a major studio release, it faded from the consciousness of the international film community more or less immediately. But in Ireland, it remains a cornerstone of both pop culture and popular history: We’ve all seen it, probably lots of times, so it’s a big part of how we understand our nation and its history. For me, and I’m sure millions more, when I picture some of the most significant figures in Irish history they look like Liam Neeson or Alan Rickman.

I wrote about the 25th anniversary of Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins for Paste magazine! You can read it here.