This elephant has been standing in the room for long enough, so we might as well take a deep breath and acknowledge it: pop punk will most likely be all but dead in another 1.5 to 2 years. Like a venerable family pet still perky but advanced in its age, all we can do is enjoy the time we have left with it while bracing for the fact that someday in the not so distant future, we will have to say goodbye (although it will live in our hearts forever). The signs are all there: The Wonder Years won’t even acknowledge “I’m not sad anymore” in their setlists, Man Overboard’s popularity seems to be in steady decline now that everyone has had their “Defend Pop Punk” shirts for a few years and the novelty (and shirt color) has faded, and when we take an honest look at the two bands who have ascended to popularity since pop punk’s glory days in the early 2010s – The Story So Far and Real Friends – we see that neither of these bands really even play pop punk; the former is essentially a (fantastic) melodic hardcore band, and the latter is an emo band (albeit one with aims more in line with Jimmy Eat World than Mineral). So amidst “artistic growth and maturity”, fan indifference, and different sounds capturing the imagination of The Kids, this leaves one question that I’m sure is on everyone’s minds: if pop punk truly is leaning on its last legs, what comes next?
I believe the solo projects of two of modern day pop punk’s biggest luminaries will give us a glimpse of what will come once pop punk’s proverbial last slice of pizza has been eaten, and all that remains is a little bit of crust (with a few choice spots of cheese that were somehow overlooked). And if their radically divergent sounds indicate anything, it’s that we can expect a struggle between darkness and light easily on scale with anything John Milton wrote about in Paradise Lost…
First off, we have Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties, which is the solo project of Dan “Soupy” Campbell of The Wonder Years. Self described as “a character study through music by The Wonder Years’ frontman”, this sappy foray into the world of self-serving Americana paints a grim future for a post-pop punk world: Lots of acoustic guitars, ‘singer songwriter’ worship (it wasn’t cute when Bright Eyes made the jump, and it doesn’t sound any better now), and…horns. To tell you the truth, I had instantly made up my mind that I was going to hate this the moment I heard the dorky pseudo-nostalgia name of the project, but somehow this managed to fail even my already very low expectations. As with any “post” genre (ie: post punk, post rock, post hardcore), some of the elements of the original genre remain intact, but only as a mere suggestion of lineage. Meanwhile the bands who participate in the said “post genres” subsequently do their best to show the world how ‘mature’ they have become by making very transparent, forced attempts within their music to show how they have moved past the kind of ‘obvious kid’s stuff’ that made people pay attention to them in the first place. In Soupy’s case, this apparently means insisting on a Chris Gaines-esque alter ego (which, because he is an artist of remarkable depth and range, he will insist is not himself), shoving in brass instruments where no brass instruments need exist (ie: anywhere within the milieu of western music past the 1930s), and showing the public how musically sensitive he is the best way any coddled white person knows how: by ‘going acoustic’. Of course, this development shouldn’t really be surprising to anyone, but it is still a little sad seeing it come to fruition.
Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum comes Farpoint, the solo project of Man Overboard’s Zac Eisenstein (previously discussed on SYWH here). While Soupy has gone down the road all too common for aging sensitive punk artists (see also: Kevin Seconds) with his Tom Waits/Billy Bragg songwriter worship, Zac is offering us a glimmer of neon hope in what may possibly be the first Myspace pop revival release ever. Whereas the prevailing trend amongst pop punk bands has been to become more and more stridently ‘tr00’ (until finally the genre collapses into a singularity of forced “genuineness” and pseudo nostalgia that ceases to really bare any actual resemblance to pop punk), Eisenberg instead chooses to invoke a style that harkens back to a past era which he actually remembers, writing in one of the least tr00 genres of music imaginable. And while ex-scene-turned tr00 pop punk kids will and have already maligned this project as phony sell out bullshit, one has to give Eisenstein credit: While he does go with the prevailing trend of tr00ness by using nostalgia as jumping point for his newest musical ventures, he also defiantly goes against the grain by refusing to romanticize a period of time he himself did not live through. It’s a breath of fresh air for someone of prominence within pop punk to finally admit that the Myspace era was fun to live through, and there is nothing wrong with fondly remembering it with your music.
So, just like the tension between easycore and tr00 pop punk in the late 2000s/early 2010s, we will have a similar tug-of-war for The Youth’s imagination in a post pop punk world as well. Except this time, rather than simply being srs vs. zany or breakdowns vs. no breakdowns, the stylistic gulf will be wider, and the ideological gap will be harder to bridge. Because while the first round of modern pop punk had roots in the same music but more or less disagreed on the packaging, in a post pop punk world, everyone agrees that there is ‘more to life’ than just playing pop punk, and all post-pop punk is fueled by nostalgia, but the question comes down to which version of nostalgia you believe in. Is your music driven by a romanticized version of the past you never lived through, or do you channel genuine nostalgia for a bygone era you actually participated in (in Farpoint’s case, an era in which Hellogoodbye wasn’t a boring indie rock band)? Expect to see this question play out in a variety of strange and cringey ways in the coming years following the decline of modern pop punk. Just strap in and prepare for a bumpy ride, because while the prospect of neo-neon pop is promising, the ‘artistic maturity’ that will spew forth in the coming years from bands ‘growing’ away from tr00 pop punk will likely make Citizen’s “Youth” album look like Armed With Crayons.
Discussion: What do you think post pop punk will look and sound like? Is the end of pop punk as we know it near (be honest with yourself)? Does The Story So Far’s parody of a Leonard Cohen album cover for their new EP make you nervous for the future? Will Hellogoodbye be the Jimmy Eat World of 2018? Which bands will survive The End Of Pop Punk, and what will be left of them?