For the past couple of years, the phrase “pop-punk revival” has been uttered and typed so many times that any meaning it could’ve ever possibly held has completely faded. We have Blink-182 drummer and powerhouse producer Travis Barker to thank for this exhaustion after he took on a slew of clients and offered them all the same sound with slightly different packaging. This ranges from longtime artists like Willow and Avril Lavigne to literal random dudes such as Iann Dior and Jdxn, but the most important (read: blameable) figure was none other than Machine Gun Kelly.
“I always wondered why people think this is so new for me,” MGK, real name Colson Baker, said in an interview, promoting the 2020 album Tickets To My Downfall, “when I spent half a decade on Warped Tour stages and covering songs by all different types of bands.” But it was obviously a different direction for his recorded music and he knew it would be a big deal, which is why he did it. Revamping a genre that hasn’t been mainstream since the early 2000s was a way to stay in the cultural conversation. Plus, he already had floppy hair, piercings, and a history of misogyny, so it was an easy switch (and it will also be an easy switch back, bye-bye MGK).
The term “pop-punk revival” understandably bred as much resentment as it did excitement, maybe even more. Fans of smaller pop-punk bands like The Story So Far, State Champs, Boston Manor, and newer, not-Travis-Barker-related acts such as Meet Me At The Altar and The Linda Lindas, just to name a few, were all wondering: What do you mean pop-punk is being revived? It never died in the first place. Slowly, the phrase “pop-punk revival” revealed itself to be nothing more than a marketing slogan. It succeeded as a result of nostalgia culture, and it was a route through which artists on major labels could rise. And it worked — it usually does. Emo Nite was successful from its inception, as is the new, mind-boggling When We Were Young Fest.
In a recent Rolling Stone article that reads more like an advertisement than an essay, Rob Sheffield writes about this whole resurgence: “It’s beautifully bizarre, since pop-punk was never about aiming for cultural significance.” But, it’s not “beautifully bizarre” that this time around pop-punk has achieved cultural significance; it was meticulously planned out by labels and teams. Maybe Sheffield thinks that the fact that this is all a marketing scheme doesn’t matter, and maybe that’s true — MGK inspiring young people to pick up electric guitars is an undeniably positive thing. But it’s disingenuous to act as if this all happened organically; it’s wrong to even call it a “revival” when it was incredibly forced. This commercialization of pop-punk is just another example of the uselessness of genres; they are tools used to manipulate audiences. This happens all of the time in the music industry, but perhaps this time it’s particularly dismal because this is all so blatantly antithetical to the DIY and anti-capitalist values that punk is historically rooted in. It feels cruelly ironic, and it takes the spotlight away from smaller bands who are doing much more interesting things.
And there are so many smaller bands doing much more interesting things! Something that is not being discussed right now, and will not be discussed by most of the media because it’s not as commercially successful, is the emo moment we’re having with the recent reunions of bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, Elliott, Algernon Cadwallader, and Pity Sex. The return of these beloved, cult-followed acts promises much more than nostalgia culture could ever give. It promises movement forward instead of backward, and it means the strengthening of tight-knit communities.
When I saw Machine Gun Kelly at SummerStage last year, the crowd stood in place, singing along and sometimes bopping their heads. Mostly I noticed nearly every person in the crowd holding their phone in the air, desperate to film for their Snapchat or Instagram story because appearing to be at an MGK show on social media was more important than actually being at one. Algernon Cadwallader, speaking to Spin about their comeback, recently said about playing shows: “Pedals were always an issue, getting kicked and unplugged and microphones bashed into my face because people were singing along. It was like a war out there. I think we were just like whatever, if that’s what y’all wanna do, that’s cool. It’s not gonna sound as good but I don’t think that’s the point.” The underground scenes often have more vibrance and fervency, where the point of being there is to experience absolute self-expression. It’s about fans connecting with themselves and everyone around them.
This is not a revival of any sort, since emo has been doing well as of late with bands such as Retirement Party, Joyce Manor, Ratboys, Prince Daddy And The Hyena, Worst Party Ever, and more. But this series of comebacks — which notably follow that of iconic early-2000s group My Chemical Romance — marks an exciting time for fans of the genre, especially oldheads who were into these bands when they were active. The ardor here is driven purely by love for the songs and the scene; these reunion shows will be packed rooms of vehement music appreciators, and that is as punk as it gets.