Pop-Punk Poetics

January 16, 2019

Musical taste is often a matter of identity politics, especially when you’re a teenager. Defining what you like, and more importantly: what you hate, is an essential part of growing up in a world that does not seem to understand you in the slightest. This is where the pop-punk rockstar comes in. S/he seems to understand exactly what you are going through and provides solace in teen struggles. With due respect this blog lays bare the mechanisms of pop-punk, some two decades after its heyday. 


      [ In Too Deep - Sum 41, 2001 ]


First and foremost, it is the front/wo/man who appeals to an audience that is on average about ten years younger than the band. Excessive make-up and dramatic posture are vaguely reminiscent of 1970s glam-rock acts by the likes of KISS or Alice Cooper, and off-stage affairs heighten the sense of edginess in their artist persona. Nevertheless, pop-punk wouldn’t be pop-punk if it weren’t aimed at an outcast middle-class youth preoccupied with first world problems; an audience in desperate need of role models who do not take centre-stage but, like the kids themselves, stand in the shadows of their more popular adversaries. Hence, the drummer and bass player tend to have their own following by those who deem the front/wo/man still too outspoken for their taste. 


     [ The Middle - Jimmy Eat World, 2001 ]


This brings us to the music itself, which on the whole is characterised by three to four distorted power chords on a b-brand Stratocaster, remarkably pristine vocals, and lyrics that either refer to class(room) struggles or girls. Most of the time it’s about girls. While the bulk of pop-punk repertoire exists of 2½-minute fast-paced jams, all truly famous bands share a common denominator. Each seems to have the one bitter hit, e.g. Adam’s Song (blink-182) or Wake Me Up When September Ends (Green Day); and the one nostalgic love-song, e.g. I Miss You (blink-182) and Good Riddance (Green Day). Above all, though, they have a handful of bangers that are deeply engraved in the collective millennial memory. 


      [ First Date - blink-182, 2001 ]


In conclusion, pop-punk is a music by adolescents whose teenage spirit never vanished, produced for youngsters going through phases. It is the perfect go-to when you’re fourteen and fed up with your parents and homework. The music is just about edgy enough for you to feel alternative, but lyrically general enough for a broad audience to have their teen angst reflected. It compels as much as it sympathises which explains its subsisting popularity. For a regenerating generation of teens pop-punk is the answer to whatever questions puberty poses. Above all, it is a way of coping with the day-to-day drag that exists of homework, hormones, parents, and parties.

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