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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We Are the Sunshine Nation

McFly – guitarist and singer Danny Jones, guitarist and singer Tom Fletcher, bassist and singer Dougie Poynter, and drummer Harry Judd – had seven number ones in the UK. With their 2004 debut Room on the 3rd Floor, they became the youngest band to ever have a number one album, a title previously held by the Beatles. And I hated them. I hated them in the shallowest way imaginable. I was a Kerrang! kid, dressed in black, listening to pop punk and emo and nu-metal. Genres were much more stratified then, and I thought pop music was more or less inherently suspect. I thought McFly were a boy band, so I turned my nose up at them on principle.

I was a dumb kid, but I wasn’t alone. “[A]ll the usual credibility-gap closers – numerous Beatlesque albums, gigging at the Barfly, releasing on an indie label – still haven’t quite shifted the perception of McFly as Busted Club Juniors,” Iain Moffatt wrote for the BBC in 2010. McFly were a punching bag, more often than not: dissing McFly was a shorthand to credibility. Kasabian went after them, calling them a “pop band for kids”. An extremely young Daniel Radcliffe went after them, lamenting that the kids at his school like McFly instead of The Libertines. Someone who came fifth on RTÉ’s talent show You’re A Star in 2005 went after them. They were nominated four times at the NME Awards… for Worst Band and Worst Album.

All these years later, pop music is taken seriously by default. Rock is basically dead, and everybody listens to everything now. Calling something “pop” as a way to dismiss it seems like a relic of a time long past. No-one would claim that Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Rihanna or Ariane Grande aren’t serious artists, even when they’re criticising them. Rolling Stone declared One Direction one of the greatest rock bands of the century this year, tongues barely in their cheeks.

Yet McFly have not gotten the re-evaluation they deserve. I got into McFly as an adult, basically by accident, and discovered a yawning gap between the band McFly are and the band they were, and still are, perceived to be.

Part 1 – the boys in the band

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McFly have spent pretty much their whole career being referred to as a boy band. But were they ever one?

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God Sent Me To Piss The World Off, Part 2

This is the second part of God Sent Me To Piss The World Off, a four-part series about Eminem. You can read Part 1 here. Find the masterpost here.


Part 2 – How many records you expecting to sell after your second LP sends you directly to jail?

Discourse around freedom of speech is so terrible that it’s difficult to read the words “free speech” without rolling your eyes. Free speech is a joke: at best it’s an embarrassing forum post by a guy who is absolutely furious that the moderator keeps deleting his My Little Pony memes, at worst it’s a far-right dogwhistle. As outlined by William Davies, the right has diligently spent the last few years manufacturing a “crisis” in free speech that is supposedly infecting everywhere from college campuses to major media outlets. This tactic began in the United States, where freedom of speech is more of a hot button issue in general, and – if cable news is to be believed – college-aged liberal activists have a more developed apparatus for no-platforming speakers or demanding trigger warnings for assigned reading. (I am generally sceptical of the truth of this, because I was immersed in liberal-left university circles here in Ireland for several years at the height of this whole thing and never once encountered a “safe space”, even as middle-aged media personalities went on the radio to complain about safe spaces. I would not be in the least surprised if there are plenty of Americans for whom the same is true.)

Most of the stuff this debate is about is either not censorship or not even really happening, at least at any scale. It is not censorship that some college kids don’t find your gay jokes very funny or that someone put “trigger warning: rape” on their blog post or that The Guardian publishes an article disagreeing with your argument. The fakeness of this whole debate is something everyone left-of-centre is intensely aware of: there might be good-faith arguments to be had about the legitimacy of, say, no-platforming, but free speech warriors – from Fox News hosts down to the lowliest Twitter troll – are not approaching the issue in good faith. When they talk about threats to their free speech, they usually mean threats to the legitimacy of their authority. They say, “why am I not permitted to speak?” because “why are people disagreeing with me? I’m right!” would give too much of the game away.

But this has created a problem on the left. Not that the left “hates free speech”, as the right claims, but in liberals and leftists allowing the right to define the parameters of the debate. The right has made such a habit of calling the dumbest shit censorship – where most of the supposedly silenced end up regularly appearing on Question Time – that the left-of-centre has defensively embraced a minimalist approach to free speech.

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