In many ways, the Youth of Today have it better than ever: Unlike myself and some of the other mildly older to much older people who frequent this site, they will never know the miseries of low-speed internet, life without smartphones, or hardcore without breakdowns. Yet in some ways, life for alternative teenagers is also more complicated than ever before – especially for those trying to live The Pop Punk Lifestyle™. Whereas a decade or so back, pop punk was pop punk, emo was emo, and hardcore was hardcore, the subsequent merging and fragmentation of genres in the mid/late 2000s has paved the way for a decidedly muddled landscape within the realm of modern pop punk. These days, it is not at all uncommon to see bands who call themselves pop punk, look hardcore, and sound emo (amongst many permutations thereof), and understandably it can all be very confusing to those who aren’t immersed in The Pop Punk Lifestyle™ and its musical and cultural nuances. The purpose of this post is to help clarify and explain the major trends in modern day pop punk, so that anyone – even those who haven’t chosen to adopt kakis, snapbacks, and pizza as their holy trinity of lifestyle aesthetics – can have a rounded view of modern day pop punk, and impress their friends with their comprehensive understanding of this dynamic and multifaceted musical genre/lifestyle.
Between 2009 and 2011, one of the biggest paradigm shifts in pop punk consisted of the transition from easycore (zaney funtime pop punk with breakdowns) to tr00 pop punk (few to no breakdowns, less wackiness, more angst, and bratty kids demanding pop punk be taken as seriously as hardcore in terms of being ‘a vital and thriving musical community’). During this time, many bands that had started as easycore (ie: The Wonder Years) stopped playing breakdowns to show people how much they had matured as artists, and thus tr00 pop punk was born. As easycore was checking out in terms of relevance amongst youngsters, there was initially a stylistic distinction between easycore and tr00 pop punk, but in the nearly three years since that initial rift, there really aren’t any pure easycore bands anymore per sey, so that distinction is now more or less moot. With the exception of #ezcrab (which we will discuss later), everybody has essentially switched over to playing different flavors of what was once roundly considered tr00 pop punk, so this post will hopefully illustrate the different subgroups within the whole of modern (formerly ‘tr00’) pop punk.
When people talk about the dominant snapback/khakis/pizza pop punk aesthetic, they are most commonly referring to bands such as The Story So Far and the various groups who sound like them (the best of which are labelmates with TSSF on Pure Noise Records). Along with crewneckcore bands such as I Call Fives and State Champs, these bands typically have a hardcore steez and play a highly angsty, at times awkwardly earnest brand of pop punk which, by most indications, has captured the majority of the average pop punk listeners’ imaginations at the moment. While The Story So Far are the kings of this scene and musically set the template for how this style of pop punk sounds (very impressive given that most of the people in TSSF are barely old enough to drink), Pure Noise labelmates Handguns provide perhaps the definitive example of the purenoisecore style.
Evidence of a shifting paradigm: Remember Times New Roman, a sweet easycore band from Christianburg, Virginia that I posted about roughly a year back? They, like pretty much all other transitional easycore bands from 2010 -2011, have also gone purenoisecore/tssfcore. This is far from a bad thing (especially since 1) they are good at it, and 2) playing easycore 1.0 in 2013 = you sound dated), but it exemplifies where the average easycore-loving pop punk kid’s head is at in 2013.
2. Transitandcomposurecore/Neo Emo
Another important aspect to understanding Pop Punk: The Way It Is in 2013 is considering the importance of 90s nostalgia (or pseudo nostalgia for those who were too young to actually remember the 90s) – particularly nostalgia for the ‘classic sounds’ of 90s emo and post hardcore. While it’s personally weird for me to see teenage kids suddenly jocking these bands that I listened back in high school (most of which, by the way, nobody gave a fuck about at the time – American Football being a perfect example), it makes total sense when you consider that one of the biggest aesthetic developments in pop punk between the days of easycore to tr00ness was the infusion of hardcore steez into pop punk. Modern day pop punk bands want to look and act like hardcore kids, and if there’s one thing hardcore kids love doing, its aping bands that were fresh 15 – 20 years ago. Thus, with Title Fight likely leading the helm as patient zero in pop punk’s flirtation with dinosaur emo, a decidedly more collegiate crowd of post easycore fanboys/girls started digging into the past rather than the present for musical inspiration, ultimately resulting in neo emo becoming a thing within pop punk.
More quick to call themselves “post hardcore” than “pop punk”, these bands tend be considerably more serious and ‘mature’ (read: not appear as though they are enjoying themselves) in their approach than purenoisecore bands. They also are more apt to jock commonplace bullshit from the 90s (ie: Nickelodeon shows and disposable cameras), viewing such things as symbols of a more simple and magical time, when one did not have the crushing pressure of being a liberal arts major at a nice school weighing so heavily upon their heads. While this form of pop punk is definitely a safer bet to like if you are young and want people to know you listen to ‘real music’, it is hard to say how long it will stay relevant – unlike other forms of pop punk, it has no room to develop as it is always backwards looking, and it is inevitable that all the 90s jocking will soon look as hackneyed and dated as the 80s jocking of the early 2000s looks now.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about #ezcrab here because the topic has already been covered fairly extensively elsewhere on this site, but suffice to say, #ezcrab represents the slowly growing minority of bands who have taken the best parts of two antiquated genres (easycore 1.0 and crabcore), and fused them together to create a fresh take on easycore that is heavier than easycore 1.0, poppier than crabcore, and more appropriate for zaney life-on-the-road music videos than purenoisecore or transitandcomposurecore.
While Lakeview were probably the first easycrab band, Chunk! No Captain Chunk was the first higher profile band to successfully transition into the style from easycore 1.0, and have given the subsubgenre a major visibility boost. Whether or not #ezcrab represent an early shift back to fun and breakdowns being cool again, or merely an anomaly in the sea of tr00ness that currently dominates pop punk remains to be seen, but with new, up and coming bands such as Abandoned By Bears taking to this style and running with it, I can’t help but be optimistic for the future.
4. Outliars, Lookoutcore, etc
Before the inevitable flood of comments accompanying any genre post come in asking why [band x] wasn’t included or where [band y] fits into this three-pronged scheme, it should be noted that while this overview certainly pertains to most contemporary pop punk bands, obviously there are exceptions to every rule, and not every band is going neatly fit perfectly into one category or another – and in fact, numerous bands have a foot in several camps at once. Fireworks is a good example of a band that falls somewhere before purenoisecore (crewneckcore, particularly) and transitandcomposurecore. The music and imagery is a little artier than purenoisecore, but it is also doesn’t sound like rehashed emo, and the band ‘works as hard as any hardcore band in the underground’.
Finally, there is a small group of bands such as Teenage Bottlerocket, Masked Intruder, and other hyperderivitive bands who are the children of bands like The Queers, Mr. T Experience, and Screeching Weasel – all of which themselves shamelessly ripped off The Ramones. While these groups definitely play pop punk and were influenced by Lookoutcore pop punk bands, they really don’t have anything to do with the modern, contemporary definition of pop punk. Rather than playing a contemporary take on pop punk, these bands are playing a sort of style of 90s pop punk revival music not unlike the 80s hardcore revival music played by recordcollectorcorecore bands. This isn’t to disparage the music necessarily, but this scene is more marginalized and has more to do with jaded beardos and oldfags than it does the average kid who shops at the mall and goes to Warped Tour, and for these reasons it hasn’t been included amongst the dominant trends in pop punk featured above.
While pop punk in 2013 basically consists of three different styles of music all calling themselves the same thing, sharing common ancestors (I will comfortably bet anyone that 0% of the bands above – no matter what they sound like or how they act – dislike New Found Glory), similar backgrounds, and, despite articulating them in different ways, even similar sensibilities – insofar as all modern pop punk bands basically want to apply the underground DIY hardcore aesthetic to their wimpy white person music. It’s all messy, confusing, and at times annoying and contradictory, but hey – isn’t that being a teenager is all about?
Discussion: Now that you are an informed, discerning individual when it comes to pop punk, what is your favorite type of pop punk? What are some of your favorite modern pop punk bands? Will easycore 1.0’s lack of relevance and the current popularity of referencing boney knees lead to increased incidents of fat shaming within the pop punk community? Which Nicktoon is the most pop punk?