On June 1st someone decided it was “Pop Punk Appreciation.” The fan of the genre in me acknowledged the positivity it promoted. The cynic critiqued its arbitrariness. I was a seeming collaboration of contradictions as I conceptualized an essay explaining why I too appreciated pop punk (inspired by this article). My head was aglow with positivity. Only I never actually wrote the article. The light faded as I told myself, “You can’t write that on any day.”
By way of happenstance, any day is today. A recent interaction with a new friend sparked an appropriate moment of self awareness. As if it was completely normal practice, I initiated a conversation with her about Say Anything that ended with me sending her three links to YouTube “videos” of my favorite songs by them accompanied by rationale paragraphs. You know, like you do. Except you don’t, I do. Upon reflection on the action that difference was my realization. Pop punk means a hell of a lot to me, and it would be a disservice to myself (never mind the genre) if I didn’t explain why. That’s why I titled this piece, “I Am Pop Punk (And So Can You!).”
Part of me (the intellectual side, to be precise) can’t believe I just referenced Stephen Colbert. The other part realizes how appropriate it is, as ridiculous pop culture references as song titles are one of the trappings of the genre. (You can read about Fall Out Boy’s use of the technique under “Song notes” here and Four Year Strong’s use of the technique under “Trivia” here). It is pop punk after all. How does that mesh with punk though? For that matter, how does punk and its Do It Yourself ethos mesh with pop and its reverence for the social scene at all? The best way to explain is to return to the article that inspired me to write this one.
“What Pop Punk Means to Me” is a collection of quotes gathered by Alter the Press from contemporary “movers and shakers” in the genre. I’d tell you what the quotes are about, but I think you can figure it out from the article’s title. Most are what you might expect—“It was a genre of music that I grew up on,” “pop punk is really nostalgic for me,” and “pop punk was the soundtrack to every relationship, break-up, tragedy, and joy in my life”—unquestioned emotionalist sentimentality. And that emotional impact shouldn’t be ignored. The fact that the genre can connect so powerfully and formatively with so many speaks to its connection to the truth of the experience. The more interesting consideration, however, is what that connection is. In that regard, three quotes resonated with me.
Nathan Edwards (Carridale)To me pop punk is summer. It's the music that’s in the background to hanging with your best friends or your girl. It's the soundtrack to the best and worst of days. Very literally, pop punk to me means pop sensibility with punk ethics and work habits.Keir O'Donnell (Wolves At Heart)Pop Punk strikes the balance between music that has meaning and music that is fun to listen to. It's immediate, it's relatable and at its best it's honest.Jesse Cannon (Producer/MusicInformation.com)I have always liked punk for it's political and ethical stances such as anti-materialism and making a soundtrack to a rebellion outside the mainstream. With that said the "pop" in pop punk has always meant that I could have the aggressive sound of punk that I enjoy while getting a catchy and emotional take on the genre. It's a way to have the anger and edge of punk while not having to be so serious and get an emotional catharsis.
Each of these explanations has two important things in common. First the speakers emphasize that what appeals to them about the genre is the blending of two things that don’t apparently go together. Second they note that these influences are more than aesthetic. The words used to describe pop are “sensibilities,” “fun,” “catchy,” “emotional,” and “catharsis.” The words used to describe punk are “ethics,” “work habits,” “meaning,” “anti-materialism,” and “edge.” By reading the last two sentences it’s easy to see how conventionally these two sides don’t seem to go together. Work and fun, edgy and emotional, catchy and meaning—we accept these as diametrically opposed opposites. They shouldn’t mesh. Except, if you listen to the music, they do mesh—and why is what makes the genre so appealing.
In yet another late discussion with him recently, my roommate pointed out that there are two sides to me and people don’t often see both—the punk and the goofball. The punk is seen as harsh, intimidating, and unapproachable. He looks on distantly and only talks to those who understand. The goofball is seen as upbeat, energetic, and positively ridiculous. He talks to every stranger and dances absurdly whenever “Somebody Told Me” comes on. You wouldn’t think a person could exist with these two poles. I do because I’m real. You wouldn’t think a genre like pop punk could exist. It does because it’s real.
When I say its real what I mean is that it recognizes that there are two sides to life. As much as many of us with many different personalities and perspectives would like it, we are not creatures of pure reason and logic nor are we creatures of pure emotion and desire. In order to exist fully, happily, healthily, you must acknowledge both sides of yourself. If you try to ignore your reason and logic, you will end up destroying yourself in a series of exponentially growing pleasure seeking activities. If you try to ignore your emotions and desires, you’ll end up depressed due to an ever increasing self imposed frustration. Pop Punk is the only genre that I have ever found that consistently across albums and artists says, “I want to do what I know is right and I want to be feel happy because of it.”
The music video and lyrics for “Weightless” by All Time Low demonstrate this meeting of nearly perfectly. Lead singer Alex Gaskarth sings:
Make believe that I impressThat every wordBy designTurns a headI wanna feel recklessI wanna live it up, just becauseI wanna feel weightlessCause that would be enough
He wants his every word to impress by design, a process that necessarily takes forethought and logic. He also wants to feel weightless and it would be enough. How can be being impressive by a process you design lead to weightlessness feeling like it’s enough for you? Here’s where the awesome concept and execution of the video comes in. Even though these guys are performing an emotionally charged concert, their use of their mind to ply their craft has brought them to a state of hyper awareness of everything and everyone around them. Ultimately that is what pop punk is trying to mediate: the want to experience life in all its wonder and the work it takes to earn that weightlessness.
Anyone who knows me well is aware I’ve been intentionally avoiding two words: mind and body. It’s what I always talk to my roommate about—the combination of the two. It’s one of the things I see in my new friend—the combination of the two. To me the human experience is about respecting and enjoying every aspect and facet of your mind and body. It’s about bringing the two together to be the best person you can be. In other words, you can’t properly exist without punk’s DIY philosophy (mind) and pop’s emotional and catchy sensibility (body). It’s why I don’t live on the inside or the outside, I live on The Midside. It’s why I don’t listen to pop or punk, I listen to pop punk. That’s my explanation—the design of my every word.
It should be enough.