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The Emergence of Pop Punk Music

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  • Category: Music

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The displacement of an original genre of music is thought to be what creates a subgenre of music. This displacement may have been brought on by cultural, economical, or political changes in society, or the displacement may bring these changes within society with the new music. Pop punk is a subgenre of punk rock and pop music. It was created by the merging of punk rock and the music that was popular at the time of its origin. In order to understand the foundation of pop punk music, one must first understand the history of the two genres it submerged from.

Rock ‘n’ roll began in the 1950’s. It was started after World War II, when its target audience was trying to return to “normalcy” and America was experiencing economic stability and prosperity (Starr, 199). Rock ‘n’ roll was created to target a wide range of young people. “It was a much younger audience than had ever before constituted a target market for music, and it was a large audience that shared some specific and important group characteristics of group cultural identity” (Starr, 199). This audience consisted of teenagers that lived in every area, were in every social class, and were of any race. Eventually, rock ‘n’ roll came to be any type of music that targeted this audience.

Rock ‘n’ roll helped its audience to create its own culture. This culture had it’s own styles and identity, that were unique to this audience alone and included certain fashions, phrases, dances, and music. “The new culture was completely dominated by the youth of the 1950’s” (Starr, 199). Rock ‘n’ roll was a form of rebellion by teenagers because it allowed them to go against the principles and restraints that adults had placed on music style and preference. Rock music soon developed into a genre of music known as “punk rock” in the 1960’s due to a backlash against the commercialization of all genres by music industries.

“Unlike any other musical genre, punk rock was started as a deliberate reaction to the mass commercialization of music” (History Of, 2011). The genre of punk rock relied heavily on its individuality and underground existence. It wanted no relation to the mainstream of popular music, and was completely against corporate control. The first punk rock bands to emerge were The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Clash. Many of these bands came from England, and were heavily influenced by the hardcore and grunge culture that was occurring in England at the time. Unlike mainstream rock, these bands brought back the more raw do-it-yourself sound that “simplified rock down to its core ingredients: loud guitars, rude attitude, and enraged singing” (Grierson, 2012). Their songs utilized only a few chords, and their lyrics were often repetitions of short phrases. Many of the bands were characterized by their aggressive and amateur sound.

Punk rock was basically started to bring back the original aspects of rock ‘n’ roll without “selling out” and giving in to the commercialization of the media. These punk rock bands sang about politics, society, the environment, and other mature topics. Their band members were well-educated adults, who were publicizing their disappointment in the direction that the world was headed. The Ramones song “Ignorance Is Bliss” addresses several issues that they saw wrong with society with lyrics such as, “What’s happening to our society? Disintegration of humanity, destruction of the environment (Cram that cop donation in your ass) Is it goin’ anywhere? Politicians, (to confuse you). What’s good for them, now it ain’t good for you, but there ain’t nothing that you can do.” These lyrics illustrated that the band members were well aware of what was going on in society and the world around them. They noticed that the environment was being harmed, that politicians were sometimes corrupt, and that society was beginning to drift apart. These lyrics shed a light that punk artists were educated and worldly. After a while, Punk was no longer just a genre of music. It had become a style of living.

Being punk entailed rejecting any form of corporate control and staying anti-establishment. “Punks” started a “movement that grew to become a revolution against political and societal establishments, whose followers would point at and criticize everything they perceived as wrong with the world. Their defiance against the majority symbolized a tendency to stay away from mainstream media, a market that supposedly destroyed individuality and creativity, turning its musicians into tools whose purpose was to gather the masses and in the process make as much money as possible” (Park, 2008). The genre of punk rock created its own individuality among its audience. Being punk meant that you didn’t approve of what was happening in society. Punk rock music served as an outlet for people to express their anger, fear, and disappointment with humanity.

It wasn’t until the 1990’s that pop music merged with the genre of punk rock; giving both genres over 30 years to develop their own individual styles and thus creating the first wave of “pop punk”. Pop punk music submerged from not only the growing popularity of punk music but also the understanding of the punk lifestyle, the cultural change toward self-identity, and the acceptance of talking about emotions. Pop punk incorporates pop melodies with the loud drumming and distorted guitars of punk rock. Punk rock music was able to regain popularity because many teens began to think that being punk was cool. Just like pop and punk rock, pop punk targeted teenagers as its main audience. At this time, the definition of what being “punk” entailed had changed and developed into something else. Although “punks” still went against the social norm and denied any form of corporate control, this new trend of “punk” focused on individuality; free of the trends that society had placed on its people.

Punk music no longer addressed issues such as politics and environmentalism. Its lyrics now focused on day-to-day events and how they made the artist feel. Pop punk related to teens not only with appealing and memorable melodies but also with its relatable lyrics about love, emotions, life experiences, and teenage problems such as feeling left out, break ups, and family issues. Pop punk lyrics also sang about teenage angst, the status quo of society, and the helplessness felt by many teens throughout the 90’s. Being punk, which was all about steering away from popular opinion, suddenly became the popular thing to do. “The commercialization of punk rock allowed the public access to a genre once frowned upon and thought of as society’s child-gone-bad.

A whole new musical style was formed through this new outlook towards punk, and paved the way for future alternative styles of rock that are still being influenced by its godfather today.” (Park, 2008). People began to move toward the one thing they had looked down upon, and began to embrace the rebellion against corporate control. It became popular to reject all that was popular.

It was this cultural change that was moving toward self-identity and self-awareness that allowed pop punk to flourish in the 1990’s. During this time, people began moving away from the social norm and wanted to create their own unique identity. It was this movement toward rejecting what was popular that allowed for the acceptance and understanding of pop punk music. Pop punk music was all about going against the mainstream. It was radio-friendly music with the speed and attitude of classic rock.

Throughout the 90’s, America experienced many mishaps such as the Cold War, the fear of nuclear weapons, and the loss of thousands of jobs due to technological advances. These incidents were addressed in songs such as Good Charlottes’ “The Young and Hopeless” with lyrics such as “And if I make it through today will tomorrow be the same? Am I just running in place? And if I stumble and I fall, should I get up and carry on, or will it all just be the same? ‘Cause I’m young and hopeless. I’m lost, and I know this. I’m going nowhere fast, that’s what they say. I’m troublesome; I’ve fallen. I’m angry at my father. It’s me against this world and I don’t care, I don’t care”. These lyrics reflect the angst and indecision that many teens felt throughout the 90’s due to their uncertainty of where the future was headed. The lyrics also address the family issues that became more prevalent during the 90’s due to divorce and single-family homes.

In the 50’s, when punk bands sang about environmental and political issues, divorce rates were at a mere 20%. In the 90’s, when pop punk bands addressed issues such as helplessness, loneliness, and family issues, divorce rates had sky rocketed to 50%. Divorce rates more than doubling over this 40-year period were a major influence on punk lyrics and angst. Punks began to aim a majority of their blame and anger about the unhappiness they faced on the family problems they experienced. The topics that pop punk bands addressed changed. The lyrics became more personable, and teens that shared the emotions that were being sung about began to relate to the music on a deeper level.

Other bands such as Blink 182 addressed the social issues of corporate control with lyrics like, “Everything has fallen to pieces. Earth is dying, help me Jesus. We need guidance; we’ve been misled. Young and hostile but not stupid. Corporate leaders, politicians; kids can’t vote, adults elect them. Laws that rule the school and workplace”. These lyrics address the mistrust that many teens felt between the government and other authority figures that were adults. They also address the attitude that many adults had on teens by stating “young and hostile but not stupid”. The lyrics of these songs are trying to show society that even though teens throughout the country may act foolishly as many teenagers do, they were still aware of the problems going on around them.

Both sets of lyrics, whether addressing family issues or distrust in the government have one underlying theme in common: emotions. The one major change between punk lyrics of the 50’s and punk lyrics of the 90’s was the change from sociocultural issues to emotions. Starting in the early 90’s, talking about your emotions became a more prevalent incident. It was not only the pop melodies but also the emotionally driven and relatable lyrics of pop punk music that allowed its audiences to relate to its music. Pop punk became an increasingly popular genre of music because it was not only catchy, but it held on to the popular theme of emotions within its lyrics.

Pop music at its time related to its audiences because of the fact that its lyrics related to the emotions and aspirations of its artists and audiences. Pop artists such as Britney Spears first became popular because she was able to relate to her young teen audience with lyrics such as, “There’s a girl in the mirror. I wonder who she is. Sometimes I think I know her. Sometimes I really wish I did. There’s a story in her eyes, lullabies and goodbyes. When she’s looking back at me I can tell her heart is broken easily”. With these lyrics, Britney addressed the loss of identity and the heartbreak that many girls were experiencing at the time. These relatable lyrics are what allowed Britney to gain and maintain her popularity. It was also the relatable lyrics of many pop punk bands that allowed their popularity to spread among a wide range of young audiences. As long as a teenager was able to identify with the emotions in a pop punk song, they became a fan of pop punk music.

Major artists within this subgenre include Blink 182, New Found Glory, Sum 41, Good Charlotte, and Green Day. “They created music that took root in punk and added catchy melodies and sing-along choruses that made them pop friendlier. While more pop than their predecessors and idols, they remained punk in the heart” (Obie, 2011). These changes from the original form of punk rock are important because they are what enabled this genre of music to become popular. The captivating beats and lyrics that were similar to 90’s pop music are what drew attention to pop punk music. These artists had started as underground bands, but later became popular as they were featured on MTV and radio stations.

MTV helped to promote many underground pop punk bands by featuring them on commercial breaks between shows and playing their music videos each morning during “MTV Jams” on which they play featured artists’ music videos. MTV also helped to promote many pop punk bands by interviewing them during “MTV News” and airing their interviews. These three factors helped many bands gain popularity among the young audiences that watched MTV.

Overtime, pop punk has become increasingly popular. Nation wide tours that allow the bands to travel and perform together have begun to create a “scene” for pop punk. The bands have begun to not only tour together but to also collaborate on music and feed off of each others ideas when producing music. Vans, a popular shoe company, sponsors the “Vans Warped Tour” which encompasses about 40 pop punk bands playing on different stages during one day. This tour has led to widespread popularity of pop punk bands because it has raised awareness to this genre of music and created a larger audience for it.

By introducing artists who are not well known, Vans Warped Tour has helped introduce artists to their “to-be” fans. Pop punk music has also gained popularity through promotion in magazines. One magazine in particular, Alternative Press (AP), has helped multiple bands gain recognition by featuring them on their cover. “Because AP magazine is one of the very few to talk about this subgenre of music, it has become closely associated with it and pop-punk becomes a lot of what lands on the pages of the magazine” (Obie, 2011). The in depth interviews and reviews with bands that are provided by AP Magazine have helped to promote several pop punk bands and help bring their music to light. The magazine also has its own tour, the “AP Tour”, which has helped to make this subgenre of music more popular.

In conclusion, pop punk is a musical genre that was developed from the growing popularity of punk rock music. As people began to accept the punk scene, they also began to relate to the music that it was incorporated with. Due to the widespread acceptance of emotions and family issues, the matters addressed in pop punk lyrics not only changed over time but also became increasingly popular. The blend of pop melodies with the guitar riffs and do-it-yourself approach of punk music allowed pop punk music to flourish among young audiences. The television interviews, news reports, and growing music festivals that broadcast pop punk music have led to its acceptance among a wide range of young people. Young audiences around the country began to relate to the emotions expressed in pop punk songs, and that is what pop punk music the popularity and recognition that it maintains to this day.

Works Cited

Grierson, Tom. “What Is Rock Music?” Rock Music. About.com, 2012. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

“History Of Punk Rock: Origins And Significance.” Essortment. N.p., 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Obie, Rina. “My Pop-Punk Scene.” My PopPunk Scene. WordPress, 21 Feb. 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.

Park, Daniel. “Corporate Punk Rock.” Oakes Literary Journal. Visionary Voices, 20 Mar. 2008. Web. 17 Feb. 2013.

Starr, Larry, and Christopher Alan Waterman. American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MTV. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.

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