Close your eyes. It’s 2007, and you’re listening to the radio. Amid the hip-hop and pop, there’s a specific sound shining through — a little bit angrier, a little bit louder. The guitars are heavier, but the catchy choruses are familiar. This style has been penned as pop punk, and artists of this genre, like Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco and Paramore, are synonymous with the 2000s. Although pop punk isn’t as relevant in the mainstream and is not receiving as much coverage as it did just a decade ago, it still has a large following and is a favorite genre for many listeners.
Taking a step back, however, it is difficult to trace pop punk through history. Genre labels vary, ranging from emo to alternative rock to new wave. Most sources agree that bands like The Ramones laid the groundwork for pop punk in the 1970s. Their music was louder and quicker than a traditional pop song. By the mid-1990s, pop punk entered into the mainstream through artists like Green Day, The Offspring and Bad Religion. Pop punk groups signed to major record labels, appeared on MTV and heard their songs on mainstream radio.
And the genre didn’t slow down. The late 90s and early 2000s introduced the world to Blink-182, Simple Plan and Sum 41. The phenomenon expanded beyond the music itself as many pop punk junkies attended Warped Tour and shopped at Hot Topic. Even when pop punk veered away from its roots into a darker emo pop in the 2000s, the genre still found success in bands like Fall Out Boy and Paramore.
If you were to look up pictures of all the bands mentioned thus far, they all have one thing in common: a glaring lack of diversity — racially and gender-wise. And things aren’t looking up. There aren’t even many statistics online that explicitly show why there needs to be a change. Pop punk has existed in the mainstream for over 40 years, yet there’s no signs of progress in diversification. So what gives?
To be fair, other music genres have struggled (and continue to struggle) with gender and racial representation. But things seem to be moving in the right direction. At the 2019 Grammys, Childish Gambino’s “This is America” was the first rap song to win the awards for Song and Record of the Year. This is especially noteworthy considering the song’s discussions of racial inequality. At the 2020 Grammys, Billie Eillish became the first woman to win what are considered the top four awards (Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best New Artist). It’s great that music in the mainstream is improving diversity-wise, but why is pop punk falling behind?
One answer is that pop punk is in somewhat of a mainstream stalemate. Some of the prominent pop punk artists of previous decades are continuing to create music. New albums have done well, probably due to the name recognition. But where are the new faces?
Streaming platforms boast their ability to allow users to discover new music. How hard would it be for Spotify to promote lesser-known bands on Discover Weekly pages and playlists? Spotify’s “Pop Punk’s Not Dead” playlist has over 300,000 followers. Promoting artists through playlists like these go a long way.
During an open forum, members of Spotify’s in-house team said, in short, that if an artist has a good song, Spotify will find it and put it on a playlist. There’s no way that white artists are the only ones making “good songs.” As a music consumer, I shouldn’t have to spend hours looking for music that isn’t just made by a group of white guys, no matter what the genre.
Another answer is maybe we’re giving the genre more credit than it deserves. This 2017 Loudwire article praises Warped Tour for its “genre diversity.” Why is it easier to implement genre diversity than it is any other kind of diversity? Is genre diversity going to show budding musicians that there is a place in the spotlight for people who look like them?
This Altpress article lists ten pop punk bands that prove the genre isn’t dead. They say that their list “proves that the genre is wide-reaching and continues to break its own mold.” The article features some groups with one or two female members, but the lack of racial diversity is striking. This article was published in 2019. I’m not a pop punk expert, but in 2019 especially, it’s a problem that the pictures of all the bands featured look almost exactly the same.
We need to hold the publications reporting on the genre and media promoting it accountable. Just because it’s not the most popular genre at the moment doesn’t mean that diversity wouldn’t make a difference. Trends come in waves. Maybe the pop punk wave is ebbed right now, but when it flows back into pop culture, what is it going to look like? How does that compare to what it should look like?
Answering the question of what a genre should look like is broad, but a good place to start is by looking at the genre’s audience. Pop punk appeals to a large age range, with young teens just getting into the music to middle-aged adults who have continued to listen to the bands they enjoyed when they were younger. Listeners don’t overwhelmingly tend to be of a certain gender, and with some pop punk bands achieving such wide mainstream success, the genre has been exposed to many people of different racial backgrounds. The audience is diverse, so the faces behind the music should be diverse as well.
While investigating, a thought crossed my mind: what if white men really do make up the majority of pop punk musicians? But, this can be broken down gradually. The one tiny glimmer of hope in mainstream pop punk is female-fronted bands, like Paramore, Against the Current and Tonight Alive.
Venturing outside the genre, all-female or majority female groups are becoming more prevalent, especially in the alternative pop scene — think The Aces, The Regrettes and Haim. However, on all of these artists’ Spotify pages, the artists under the “Fans Also Like” tab aren’t just majority female groups. I was inspired to tackle the question of diversity question because I was listening to some newer pop punk and digging around Spotify. Going through the tab over and over on different artists’ pages, I noticed a trend of the only suggested artists for all-male white groups being, once again, all-male white groups. This isn’t the case for female groups. Why is there this discrepancy?
This diversity gap can be easily filled, yet it’s not happening! The same goes for racially diverse groups. On the other side of the genre spectrum, country music’s roots are tied to racism, but people like Lil Nas X and Kane Brown are breaking through with great success. Pop punk doesn’t have as nearly of a racially silencing backdrop, yet there’s no signs of change to come.
So what can we do? There are bands worth listening to that shed the mold of what pop punk has looked like for the past half-century. They’re hard to find, but once found, listeners have the power to contribute to a group’s following and share the music they love with others. Below, I’ve listed some songs from diverse bands I found below that exemplify the pop punk genre. I don’t expect these bands to have songs on top 40 radio tomorrow, but each listen will contribute to the careers of these artists. My hope is that as diverse groups grow in popularity, others will take note. Things look different now than they did 40 years ago, and the music we listen to needs to reflect that.
Editor's Note: The views presented in this story belong to the writer and are not necessarily reflective of North by Northwestern as a whole.
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