Music

Immaturity Made, Destroyed, And Rebuilt Blink-182

“Nobody likes you when you’re 23…” sang Mark Hoppus on “What’s My Age Again?,” a statement he used to preface premises one should avoid when in your early twenties. Of course, the major reaction to the song would indicate otherwise. “What’s My Age Again?” broke Hoppus and his band, Blink-182, into the mainstream. It was one of their biggest hits, and after its release, his band was at the forefront of the pop punk explosion of the late ’90s. This sophomoric identity made Blink-182 one of the most popular bands in the country for a time. It also is what made their decline and dissolution inevitable.

“What’s My Age Again?” is a profoundly juvenile song, even unpleasant at times, such as when Hoppus calls his girlfriend’s mom a “bitch” for hanging up on him in the middle of a prank call accusing her husband of sodomy. It was paired with a music video that featured all three members of the band running naked all over the streets of Los Angeles. It was all very immature, but Blink-182 reveled in that immaturity and positioned themselves as a trio of impish, rude jokesters who liked to make jokes that 13-year-old boys love. In turn, those same teens saw the video for “What’s My Age Again?” and had new heroes.

Blink-182 were not new to the music scene when Enema of the State came out. They had two studio albums to their name, and were well into their careers. They also weren’t new to juvenility, either. (Dude Ranch has a song called “Dick Lips” on it, for further reference.) Not wanting to grow up or mature had been a recurring theme of theirs for years. They were boys in men’s bodies, or at least Hoppus and Tom DeLonge were, and they were steering the ship.

Pop music in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, when MTV was still a tastemaker and Total Request Live mattered, was absolutely driven by young people. To a degree, this has always been true, but it felt like what was hot at the time was driven toward tweens and teens specifically. Boy bands like Backstreet Boys and ‘NSync, who one could imagine on the cover of The Simpsons’ parody magazine Non-Threatening Boys, made the girls’ (and some boys) hearts flutter. But what of the mangy, dirt covered young adolescent males? You couldn’t grab them by the heart, and their interest in female acts of the time such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were prurient at best. The strategy that seemed to work best was tapping into the part of their brains that liked fart jokes and goofy scatological humor.

This was not all Blink-182 did — they also wrote simple songs about romance and heartbreak such as “Dammit” and “Josie” — but it’s what broke the band. It’s that mode, sophomoric comedy, which came to define and really slingshot Blink-182 to the top. And this worked tremendously for Blink-182… for a while, yet there was one inevitable issue looming large in the distance. The thing is, nobody should like you when you’re 23 and still act like you’re in your freshman year. There was a decided time limit on how long they could get away with not acting their age — Hoppus was 27 when the song hit the charts, by the way. The fans who found them after the “What’s My Age Again?” video eventually outgrew Blink’s sense of humor and limited world view expressed in their music. MTV lost its luster, and the group left the zeitgeist as well, and so new fans were less likely to find them. Additionally, young kids searching for what’s cool often feel like adults of a certain age are “too old” to be a fan of. Teens weren’t going to get into a thirtysomething Blink-182, no matter how much toilet humor they had at their disposal.

It would also seem that the band got sick of that sh*t as well. The group went on a bit of a hiatus, where DeLonge started investing in more angsty side-projects like Box Car Racer. The trio all became fathers as well, and when they returned for their self-titled 2003 album, they did take a more mature approach. It’s not a jokey album, and it’s decidedly not sophomoric. According to Travis Barker’s memoir, all three of them consider it the band’s high point. The issue wasn’t in the band transitioning, but the fan base doing so. Some who had given up on the band probably didn’t bother with it, assuming it would be more of the same, while others wanted the lewd and crude material, and were disappointed when it wasn’t there.

Being the juvenile band they always were would have felt weird, for the general public and the band, but they were already branded by Enema of the State and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket and it was too late to change that. As such, Blink-182 released one more album, eight years later, which came as quickly as it went, and then Tom left for good.

While the change from Scott Raynor to Travis Barker didn’t really fundamentally change the band, other than the drumming getting a lot better, the transition from leaving Tom DeLonge behind to Blink-182 going forward with Matt Skiba made them a fundamentally different band. There certainly seemed to be a sense of panic in the move: Pop punk, as a whole, has waned in popularity, but few bands had fallen as far as Blink-182, although that’s in part because they had so far to fall. So what was the only way to get back up? Return to the ways that got you there in the first place.

Blink hitched their apple wagon to gross out humor and immaturity, and it’s true that’s a path with a relatively short sell-by date. But if they hadn’t made music like what’s on Enema of the State and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, and hadn’t made music videos where they ran around naked, they never would have broke big in the first place. Their new album — California, dropping on July 1 — is an attempt to reinvigorate those old sophomoric ways, but it’s not aimed at teens. This time around, the layover has been so long that the group hopes nostalgia will kick in to endear old fans to their young and dumb ways on singles like “Rabbit Hole” and “Bored to Death.” The latter of those has a video where Blink-182 finds themselves back in a high school, not as students, faculty, or even the band at a school dance, but rather the soundtrack to young folks’ lives. Will this be the case in real life? It’s difficult to say. But what is easy to point out is Blink-182’s success as a band hinges on the old adage: “Dance with the one who brung you.”

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