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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I Know I’m Not Your Favourite Record #2

This article is part of the In Defense of the Genre series. Previously, in praise of Ryan Ross’s Panic! at the Disco. 


Since The Sundae’s infancy in 2017, we have been committed to taking pop punk seriously, whether writing deep-dive examinations of car imagery in the genre or emoting about Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance saving our lives. We’ve even been cited in The Atlantic for it, somehow. In all the upheaval of 2020 and COVID, our pop punk series fell by the wayside. To an outside observer, it might have appeared that we said all we had to say.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re just getting started. And so we’re relaunching the series with a look at some of our favourite pop punk albums, running the gamut from the genre’s biggest stars to obscure indie kids, spanning from the genre’s Big Bang in 1994 through to just before The Sundae came into being. We’ve renamed the series In Defense of the Genre, in tribute to the greatest pop punk scholar of our time, Max Bemis. We only hope to contribute as much to the cause.

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Car-Crash Rhetoric

This article is part of the In the Defense of the Genre series. Previously, a selection of pop punk albums that aren’t the best, the most essential, or even our favourites, but are very, very good.


Cars have been a part of American pop culture pretty much since they became a mass-produced and mass-marketed product, but they became particularly central in the 50s and 60s as the post-war economic boom lifted more and more families into the middle class. Americans owned about one car for every three people in 1960: at a time when one third of the population were children thanks to the post-war baby boom, and around seventy percent of adults were married, that meant most families had a car and some had two.

That second car is very important to the story of cars in American popular culture because they were the cars of older teenagers, or at least ones they could borrow. Most US states then, and now, issue driver’s licenses from the age of sixteen, and the car presented teenagers with a rare opportunity for independence and autonomy. Even if it was just for a few hours, they could decide where to go and what to do, and could take their friends, or their date, with them. They were free from the supervision and surveillance of their parents, able to put more space between them and their family in less time than on foot. They could explore their little piece of the world, stray off the beaten path and find secret places all their own.

Teenagers were obsessed with cars, and pop culture reflected it. Archie and the Gang in his rickety old jalopy, Wally buying his first car on Leave It to Beaver, the Beach Boys cruising up and down the coast. Tom Wolfe describes the saturation of car culture in his seminal essay “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmm)…”: “Thousands of kids are getting hold of cars and either hopping them up for speed or customizing them to some extent, usually a little of both. Before they get married they pour all their money into this…Even the kids who aren’t full-time car nuts themselves will be influenced by which car is considered ‘boss.’”

The picture is very different nowadays. The rate of teen licensing in the US has plummeted over the past few decades and become ever more stratified along class lines. The AAA Foundation found in 2012 that while, overall, seventy percent of 18-to-20-year-olds had a license, less than fifty percent of those with a household income under $20,000 had one, compared to almost ninety percent of those with $100,000 or more.

But the decline in licensing and car ownership among teens hasn’t eliminated the car from teen pop culture, just changed it. Cars are one of the most common and prominent lyrical motifs in pop punk, that most teen of genres, even though pop punk rose precisely as the decline began. I’m fascinated by pop punk’s use of car imagery for a whole host of reasons, particularly how it is deeply embedded in the history of popular music and yet also develops an approach to cars that is very much its own. Not different exactly, but unique in how it joins two warring tendencies in the portrayal of cars in popular music: cars as a source of freedom and cars as a source of tragedy.

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I Know I’m Not Your Favourite Record

This article is part of the In Defense of the Genre series. Previously, Motion City Soundtrack and the inadequacy of language.


In Defense of the Genre is about celebrating a much-maligned genre, which frequently takes the shape of in-depth personal reflections on songs, albums or bands. But we also want to zoom out a bit every so often, and take a more sweeping look at this music that means so much to us. So here are some of our favourite works in pop punk, ranging from concept-driven rock operas to gag songs about masturbating. This isn’t a list of the best pop punk albums ever, or a primer on getting into pop punk, or even a list of our definitive favourites. But it is a list of albums that we love and wholeheartedly recommend.

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