No, it’s not 2007. If you take a look at the Official UK Singles Chart and the Billboard Top 200, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d woken up in the past, with Olivia Rodrigo’s viral hit ‘good 4 u’ sitting within the top 2 on both sides of the Atlantic. The track is undeniably pop punk - it’s short, sweet and full of teenage angst, plus it has a chorus which sounds a lot like Paramore - making it either the crowning moment of an unlikely genre revival over forty years in the making, or the start of pop punk’s next era in the sun.
Almost two decades on from its commercial peak, pop punk music - the kind popularised by the likes of Blink 182 and Green Day in the late 90s/early 00s - is staging a comeback. Led in the mainstream by artists such as Olivia Rodrigo, Machine Gun Kelly and Willow, and backed up in our data by rising artists like Magnolia Park, Titus, and Tyler Posey, acts taking influence from these early 2000s sounds are having a moment in 2021.
Our own charts make this resurgence clear; twice in a row, our Rock Chart was topped by Pop Punk acts, with the genre accounting for 40% of entries in the latter. One of these acts was First and Forever, who landed on our Pop Chart the week later, proving again that the genre can now compete with even the most conventionally mainstream sounds.
But what is it about pop punk music in particular that is so evergreen? After all, it’s a genre that had a commercial explosion in the mid-90s, lasting for over a decade, with more theatrical bands like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy carrying the torch into the mid 2000s. To find out, we spoke to some of the artists we unearthed using our tech to get their perspective on the history and future of the genre, where they see it going in the future, and why this cohort of pop punk bands are more ambitious than ever.
First and Forever vocalist Alex Ryan has a theory as to why pop punk is coming back in such a big way: “back when I liked emo music, it was not cool to like it at all,” he recalls when we catch-up with him from his home in Arizona, “the popular kids did not like those bands, it was always the weird scene kids. All those kids got older and now they don’t care if it’s cool. All those people who loved this music meet on TikTok and find out there’s a community for this.”
First and Forever formed as a cover band in 2018 with the modest ambition of recording just one original song. That song, ‘Chicago’, now has over 1 million streams on Spotify and acted as the springboard for Alex and his band’s career. In addition to 90k monthly listeners on Spotify, the group have over 20k followers and 250k likes on TikTok, where Alex mostly posts videos parodying pop punk and emo culture. In many ways, this willingness to self-parody on TikTok is the spiritual successor of the huge music videos found on MTV in the late 90s and early 00s.
Like most new developments in the music industry over the past year, TikTok is a huge part of the meteoric rise of pop-punk in 2021. In addition to aiding Olivia Rodrigo’s ascent, with both ‘good 4 u’ and her record-breaking ballad ‘driver’s license’ owing a big portion of their success to the app, TikTok has seen tracks by the likes of Simple Plan and All Time Low find new fans years after their release. In All Time Low’s case, the hype from their song ‘Dear Maria Count Me In’ going viral on TikTok led to their highest charting single to date.
“I think we’re on a rise now, it’s going to be different and bigger than it’s ever been before. Mainstream is pushing this forward now,” Alex concludes. “That’s my theory: It was not cool before, then everybody grew up and now it’s the cool thing to do.”
We also spoke to St Louis pop punk band Lovejoy, who entered our rock chart at #3 thanks to playlist support from Spotify. Whereas First and Forever take cues from bands popular at pop punk’s 00s peak, members of Lovejoy discovered the genre through 2010s bands like Knuckle Puck and The Story So Far - groups with millions upon millions of streams on Spotify - but very little mainstream attention. Asked what they think of the genre re-entering the mainstream through artists like Machine Gun Kelly, Lovejoy say: “Those guys are important to the genre. We have the utmost respect for the way they’ve gone about their collaborations. MGK is full of charisma and energy.”
These flirtations with mainstream culture are obviously at odds with the ‘punk’ part of the genre name, but most current bands and fans would agree that isn’t a problem. Most discovered the genre through bands that originated during its commercial peak, with the likes of Taking Back Sunday, Blink 182 and Sum 41 coming up during our conversations with artists. “I think authentic bands are the ones gaining traction, I can name a few,” says Alex. “It’s people who are doing their own thing, who aren’t trying to copy the current generation and are true to themselves, I think they’re going to do great.”
One band he cites is Orlando, Florida’s Magnolia Park. Releasing a steady stream of singles since their formation in 2019, the group clearly understands what it takes to be successful in the streaming era. Whereas rock bands of the past built their careers on landmark album releases, Magnolia Park have established an audience through back-to-back track releases, complete with music videos, guest features and social content. The result is over 120k monthly listeners on Spotify, where they feature in several popular rock playlists, and 72k followers on TikTok.
“Having a strong social media presence was always a goal of ours but the absence of concerts definitely made it a top priority for marketing ourselves,” explains Magnolia Park bassist Jared Kay. “We adapted to promoting ourselves constantly through social media so we didn’t have to stop and wait for concerts to return. Our members became content creators so we could pursue a new way to gain an audience.”
With huge social stars with massive established audiences like Addison Rae, Bella Poarch and even Olivia Rodrigo - who was best known as a Disney Channel star before the release of ‘driver’s license’ - pivoting to music, it only makes sense that growing artists looking to find a fanbase would have to take the reverse approach. “Everything changed for us once our song “Sick Of It All” went viral on the app,” Jared recalls. “We gained thousands of new fans, millions of streams and built a dedicated audience across the globe who eagerly awaited our next release.”
In addition to a newfound social media literacy and willingness to brush shoulders with more mainstream acts, this generation of pop punk artists are more diverse than ever. While women and people of colour were foundational in the origins of punk - and more broadly, rock - they were largely absent from the 2000s scene. “Growing up I gravitated towards this community because I was told it accepted anyone, however that wasn’t the case,” Jared says, citing other rising bands such as Meet Me @ The Altar and Pinkshift (both who featured on our Rock Chart) as leaders of the charge. “The next generation of pop punk/emo will be for everyone, and I can’t wait to see it,” he concludes.
The cyclical nature of trends means that a resurgence of 00s culture was inevitable. But while boy bands and rap metal have remained firmly in the past, pop punk is one cornerstone of the era that has found a place in modern pop culture. Artists in the genre today are going toe-to-toe with the biggest acts in pop and hip-hop, who have dominated the airwaves for the past decade, and with more diverse acts and greater ambitions, it seems the current crop of pop punk acts have what it takes to go the distance.