FEUILLETON, MUSIC

The Black Parade is Dead!: 2022 is the year pop punk returns

by MERCY FERRARS

Paramore / Pho­to: Sven-Sebas­t­ian Sajak

27/02/2022

“Every night I try my best to dream/
Tomor­row makes it better/
Then I wake up to the cold reality/
And not a thing is changed”

Paramore — Last Hope

The year is 2022. Avril Lav­i­gne and Papa Roach are about to release new records, Paramore are back in their stu­dio work­ing on new music and some­body cre­at­ed a MySpace rip-off. For­mer Blink-182 drum­mer Travis Bark­er is on a pop punk quest through the musi­cal land­scape on col­labs with new and old artists like WILLOW, The Used, YUNGBLUD and oth­ers. A com­mu­ni­ty of #elder­e­mos and #sce­niorci­t­i­zens comes togeth­er on a dis­cord serv­er I help mod­er­at­ing, titled We Are The Cul­ture. I am lis­ten­ing to a recent­ly cre­at­ed Spo­ti­fy playlist I made: “Things don’t have to suck” def­i­nite­ly bor­rows its name from TDH2S by Mag­no­lia Park, a new and ris­ing pop punk band which got me through a tough Decem­ber. I’m buy­ing cheap black eye­shad­ow and nail pol­ish at my local drug­store and feel like the world just doesn’t get me. All the while, my TikTok’s For You page is filled with thir­ty-some­things in now much despised skin­ny jeans rem­i­nisc­ing over the good old days of lis­ten­ing to MCR and Sec­ond­hand Ser­e­nade on a ripped CD, tire­less­ly rotat­ing on a bat­tery pow­ered Walk­man. An unimag­in­ably packed emo nos­tal­gia fes­ti­val appears on the hori­zon and crowns it all: When We Were Young Fest hit social media like a bomb in the third week of Jan­u­ary; trend­ing with­in the first 24 hours of the announce­ment on all social apps. Head­lined by MCR and Paramore, the fes­ti­val sets up an emo nos­tal­gia dream of unprece­dent­ed mag­ni­tude: Bring me the Hori­zon, The Used, Tak­ing Back Sun­day, Dash­board Con­fes­sion­al, Dance Gavin Dance, The All Amer­i­can Rejects, A Day to Remem­ber, Avril Lav­i­gne, Neck Deep, May­day Parade, Hawthorne Heights and oth­ers are on the line-up. 

When We Were Young con­firms that teenage angst is offi­cial­ly back in our thir­ty-some­thing mil­len­ni­al lives. A pop punk reawak­en­ing is upon us. Let’s look into it and talk pan­dem­ic angst, Gen Z and pop punk’s issue with racism. 

The Big Millennial Turn: hitting 30 in a pandemic triggers teenage angst

For a long time I’ve won­dered what caused a genre and sub­cul­ture that sig­nif­i­cant­ly shaped the 2010s but has since dropped into obscu­ri­ty to return to our lives as mil­len­ni­als approach and/or nav­i­gate their thir­ties. Shaped by teenage angst and big feels, pop punk made sense when we were teenagers our­selves, caught in the roller coast­er ride of rebel­lion, estrange­ment, life-defin­ing expe­ri­ences and untamed emo­tions. But now our gen­er­a­tion turns thir­ty and with that come an addi­tion­al fif­teen years of real-life expe­ri­ence, degrees, full time jobs and month­ly bills. We are now the ones we used to rebel against, ful­ly immersed in that same old 9 to 5 dead­en­ing rou­tine we swore we’d nev­er let our lives devolve to. How does the sud­den return to our angsty roots on the verge of enter­ing our dirty thir­ties make any sense?

A Pop Punk Pow­er­house: Paramore 

On the one hand, we’ve been through two years of a glob­al pan­dem­ic. That was a his­tor­i­cal first for us as mil­len­ni­als. There’s some­thing about the pan­dem­ic years that set off a change, a turn­ing point in our lives. In 2020, a decade of tox­ic friend­ships and rela­tion­ships end­ed for me, and it rup­tured my life in ways pre­vi­ous­ly unimag­ined. It was like a cleanse, and I start­ed into 2021 with a feel­ing of hav­ing both lost and won. I knew the days of rebuild­ing my life would come, but the stag­nat­ing, slow days of being locked down for months, both because of Covid restric­tions and the new chap­ter the pan­dem­ic years pre­sent­ed to my men­tal health, made it feel like life had come to a stop. I was still nurs­ing the left­over sad­ness of one sided friend­ships while also deal­ing with increas­ing chron­ic pain and severe anx­i­ety towards the future. What car­ried me through that time was a sud­den, inti­mate immer­sion in Paramore’s music. 

It might sound ridicu­lous, or it might make per­fect sense to you read­ing this, but Hay­ley Williams’ voice in my ears car­ried me from moment to moment, and the ecsta­t­ic, nos­tal­gic and deeply emo­tion­al sound of bands like Paramore allowed me to escape to a dif­fer­ent place, where I could for­get my real-life sor­rows when­ev­er I need­ed to. Sounds famil­iar? My 16 year old self would agree. 

Like a chain reac­tion, pop punk came back to me. Slow­ly at first. Around Decem­ber 2021, it hit me with full force, which was also when I noticed lots and lots of oth­er peo­ple return­ing to this same part of their lives. I sup­pose in the end we are still rebelling against the expec­ta­tions of grow­ing up, even at thir­ty years old. I for my part con­stant­ly feel like I have no foun­da­tions to build on as time press­es for­ward. I am no longer tossed back and forth between unprece­dent­ed feel­ings of love and hate as I was at 16, but my anx­i­ety and depres­sion run much deep­er now. Most days, I feel clue­less. How do you pilot life as a mil­len­ni­al? I tru­ly have no answer. To say it in Hayley’s words, “I don’t even know myself at all / I thought I would be hap­py by now”. 

Mag­no­lia Park / Orlan­do, Florida

Millennials, face it: The stuff we grew up on is now “old people music” 

I some­how thought that what had been hap­pen­ing to me and my Spo­ti­fy stats was just my indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ence, but then I end­ed up on Pop Punk Tik­Tok. New and ris­ing pop punk bands kept show­ing up in my feed. Along with them came a com­mu­ni­ty, a whole world of mil­len­ni­als whose teenage angst had returned to them over the course of the past two years. Events like When We Were Young Fest and the sud­den drops of new albums from estab­lished pop punk artists con­firmed to me that the return to teenage angst was also man­i­fest­ing itself in the music indus­try and pop­u­lar cul­ture as a whole. One of the rea­sons behind that has noth­ing to do with mil­len­ni­als at all, but instead with their suc­ces­sors, to whom emo and pop punk is basi­cal­ly ‘old peo­ple music’: Gen Z. 

Pop­u­lar things come back in waves. I had no prob­lem with that when my gen­er­a­tion appro­pri­at­ed 80s style and fash­ion, but Gen Z’s dis­cov­ery of pop punk leaves me scep­ti­cal. When I was a teenag­er, I heav­i­ly reject­ed flared pants. You’d force your body into skin­ny jeans whether it fit your body type or not. I remem­ber turn­ing up on the first day of 9th grade in yel­low skin­ny jeans, smudged kajal around my eyes and pink high­lights in my hair, hav­ing blast­ed HIM’s Razor­blade Romance lit­er­al­ly all sum­mer, the CD turn­ing and turn­ing in my portable dis­c­man. The stereo in my room played a “Best of Skater Hits 2007” CD I had ripped from the local library’s copy, and I rocked out to The Used and My Chem­i­cal Romance when nobody could see me. I start­ed tak­ing self­ies on an old Aldi dig­i­tal cam­era I found in our house from the sig­na­ture top down angle, star­ing thought­ful­ly and emo­tion­al­ly into emp­ty space. Emo cul­ture was built around music and attire. I nev­er real­ly looked like the emo kids that hung out in our local train sta­tion, with their sig­na­ture scene hair, colour­ful jew­ellery and torn tights. Now, at thir­ty, I look at Gen Z kids rock­ing the looks that were pop­u­lar when my par­ents were teens and watch while they slow­ly tilt into the 2000s emo aes­thet­ics. And although I’ve seen oth­er decade’s trends return and van­ish, like 80s music and fash­ion, or 50s rock­a­bil­ly cul­ture, I nev­er thought it would hap­pen to the sub­cul­ture that dom­i­nat­ed my own teenage years. To watch Gen Z kids stum­ble upon Avril Lav­i­gne songs in 2022 and pitch the “old under­ground music” to their peers is the odd­est feel­ing I could fath­om, some­thing I nev­er expect­ed to wit­ness this year, or real­ly ever. I wish I could write this arti­cle star­ing at the cor­ner of my old room that had been wall­pa­pered with Avril posters. 

2000s pop punk cul­ture is great­ly gatekept by mil­len­ni­als. After all, it’s the sen­ti­ment of our gen­er­a­tion and only hes­i­tant­ly do we acknowl­edge Gen Z’s sud­den inter­est in it. It aches to ref­er­ence Paramore to a Gen Z kid, just for them to shrug their shoul­ders and say they’ve nev­er heard of them. Keep in mind that I had dis­cov­ered Paramore myself through the Twi­light OST all those years ago and had my big fan­girl phase only last year. It reminds me that while emo/pop punk cul­ture arose from the idea of a space of belong­ing for out­siders, it was also elit­ist af. Either you were cool enough to lis­ten to the right bands and fit the alter­na­tive beau­ty stan­dard of pale, skin­ny and expres­sive­ly bold, or you were bare­ly accept­ed into the larg­er com­mu­ni­ty. So why are we doing the same thing to kids now, when we should be hap­py that we can pass on a part of our lives? Whether we love or hate their sud­den inter­est in pop punk cul­ture, Gen Z might be a cat­a­lyst for the sud­den return of pop punk in 2022. Per­son­al­ly, I’ll take any excuse to whip out the black nail pol­ish and man­i­fest an increase in facial met­al back into my life. 

Pop Punk in 2022 re-emerges within conscious culture: Of BIPoC Alt kids and the diversity issue the genre faces

Denied Iden­ti­ties and gate­keep­ing music

In the 2000s, the bands we lis­tened to were for the most part white and male, with but a few female leads and even less bands with BIPoC (Black, Indige­nous and Peo­ple of Colour) mem­bers. Whether PoC have to defend against the charge of “act­ing white” — a slur result­ing from African-Amer­i­can his­to­ry, dat­ing all the way back to slav­ery and racial seg­re­ga­tion1 — or whether they are being told that they can’t make alter­na­tive music because they are not white, some of pop punk’s gatekept white­ness is out­right racist. At the time, as white­ness defined what an alter­na­tive musi­cian or per­son looked like, it con­se­quent­ly also shoved PoC towards pre­made clus­ters of non-white iden­ti­ties. These were — and to some degree still are — in the realm of hip hop or reg­gae, jazz or rhythm and blues. The fact that these musi­cal styles did not just inspire rock itself but also influ­enced sub­gen­res emerg­ing from it, for exam­ple nu met­al or Jamaican ska, was often over­looked or ignored in the strate­gic exclu­sion of non-white youth from self-pro­claimed “inclu­sive” alt spaces. Instead, white­ness con­tin­ues to seg­re­gate between white and black iden­ti­ty clus­ters, while repro­duc­ing tru­isms that can be refut­ed with a sin­gle instance of research. But pop punk does not stand alone in this, as the same issue per­me­ates goth, punk and met­al sub­cul­tures. Think Dolls Kill’s “Goth is white” 2016 collection. 

It all ties back to a strate­gic labelling of rock’n’roll as “white peo­ple music”, when artists such as Elvis Pres­ley appro­pri­at­ed sounds and moves orig­i­nal­ly pio­neered by Black musi­cians. I have searched for an answer as to how and why this hap­pened, but it seems lit­tle found­ed rea­son sup­ports the rebrand­ing of rock’n’roll as “white cul­ture”, except that white men just could. White men have been wreck­ing the world since the dawn of human­i­ty with­out ever real­ly fac­ing con­se­quences. They sim­ply could. And so they did. 

In 1950s Amer­i­ca, with seg­re­ga­tion and Jim Crow laws still in full bloom, there is lit­tle sur­prise in the fact that Black artists were not just pushed to the edge of the genre — with very few ris­ing to world renowned fame, like Jimi Hen­drix — but that African Amer­i­can influ­ence on the genre of rock has also been writ­ten out of the offi­cial nar­ra­tives. We have the press to thank for the lat­ter, espe­cial­ly so-called “rock crit­ics”. Per­haps the last cou­ple decades of seg­re­ga­tion also seeped into the era’s art and pol­lut­ed rock’n’roll with the same fes­ter­ing, obscene delu­sion that seg­re­ga­tion did not mean inequal­i­ty. With such a strate­gic push into white­ness and the over­writ­ing of Black influ­ence on the moth­er genre, we can per­haps get an idea why alter­na­tive sub­cul­tures have nat­u­ral­ly adopt­ed and repro­duced a sim­i­lar atti­tude. As a result, black and brown teens face overt racism in cer­tain music com­mu­ni­ties. “No mat­ter how many lengthy Fall Out Boy song titles I com­mit­ted to mem­o­ry, MSN screen names I cre­at­ed or posters I lay­ered over walls, there were no black faces look­ing back at me, reas­sur­ing me that I could belong,” con­fess­es author Jenes­sa Williams in an arti­cle on gal-dem. Even when seg­re­ga­tion was aboll­ished step by step with the Civ­il Rights Act of 1964, the Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Hous­ing Act of 1968, decades of racist ide­olo­gies, race riots, the lynch­ing of Black cit­i­zens and a police and jus­tice sys­tem suf­fused with racist moti­va­tions did not fade over night. And nei­ther did the can­cers of seg­re­ga­tion inher­it­ed by rock’n’roll’s descen­dants, per­haps fos­tered by igno­rance and a lack of trans­paren­cy and discourse. 

Action/Adventure / Chica­go, Illinois

Invis­i­ble white-wash­ing and sub­tle micro aggres­sions in a cul­ture speak­ing out against fascism

“Racism isn’t just vio­lent aggres­sions, bru­tal­i­ty and bla­tant slurs. It’s the uncom­fort­able, unspo­ken nor­mal­cy of white­ness, which is per­pet­u­at­ed through alter­na­tive beau­ty con­ven­tions,” clar­i­fies Yas­mine Sum­man in her arti­cle “Am I Too Brown To Be Emo? How Alter­na­tive Beau­ty Favours White­ness”. Black influ­ence on gen­res emerg­ing from rock music doesn’t just dis­ap­pear, but the vio­lent trans­gres­sive usurpa­tion of the genre by white artists sets white­ness as both the default cri­te­ri­on for being able to play pop punk or oth­er alter­na­tive music, and also for being able to lis­ten to it and to look like it. 

Any­one who is active in an alter­na­tive sub­cul­ture mod­eled from rock music will know that they are explic­it­ly out­spo­ken against dis­crim­i­na­tion. Actu­al­ly, rock con­certs are con­sid­ered implic­it­ly left­ist spaces where racism, sex­ism, homo­pho­bia and ableist atti­tudes have no place. These val­ues are par­tic­u­lar­ly strong in punk cul­ture due to its heavy polit­i­cal sub­struc­ture. How­ev­er, all sub­cul­tures rage against the main­stream society’s deaf­en­ing norms. And yet it seems that they are so busy look­ing out­ward that they over­look what is hap­pen­ing on the inside. Prob­lem­at­i­cal­ly, racism is woven into alter­na­tive sub­cul­tures so sub­tly and covert­ly that it may only reveal itself to those it affects. 

Why does the alter­na­tive beau­ty stan­dard revolve not just around white­ness but Euro­cen­tric fea­tures? Even if new­er pop punk bands are assem­bled more diverse­ly, why do they have to prove them­selves so much hard­er? Not just musi­cal­ly and tech­ni­cal­ly, but much more orig­i­nal­ly, they first have to prove that they qual­i­fy to par­tic­i­pate in alter­na­tive sub­cul­tures at all. Con­tent cre­ator and influ­encer Gary K. Wash­ing­ton (known as @emo_unclephil on Tik­Tok) recollects: 

“When the emo/scene sub­cul­ture as we know it today rose, I was seen as an odd­i­ty. I had no real clique to call my own. I was too “white” to hang out with black kids and too black to hang out with the white kids. I just did my own thing and vibed. I con­stant­ly had to prove myself that I wasn’t just fol­low­ing a fade, that I real­ly liked the music and cul­ture. Get­ting spon­ta­neous tat­toos, straight­en­ing my hair. You name it, just to fit in. It made me feel like a los­er. No one else had to prove them­selves this much. It was ridicu­lous. If I didn’t look the part, just by being black no one would even know I liked the music. I had to go all in.” 

PoC bands are viewed with greater scep­ti­cism, and they have to excel at what they do dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly to the scene’s sta­tus quo in order to get any recog­ni­tion at all. And so do the peo­ple, con­tin­u­ous­ly hav­ing to prove them­selves wor­thy of being alter­na­tive. Off the top of our heads, can we even name three tru­ly influ­en­tial pop punk bands with peo­ple of colour? 

Beau­ty stan­dards in alter­na­tive scenes 

Emo and pop punk cul­ture was one of the first sub­cul­tures that branched out into the then-new-ish inter­net and social net­works, the effect of which was clear­ly notable. Online, one could be anony­mous. Author Jenes­sa Williams (“My Chem­i­cal Relax­er: what it’s like to grow up black and emo”) rec­ol­lects, “[Online], nobody real­ly knew who I was or what I looked like — I could assim­i­late just by how I wrote. My con­tri­bu­tions were as valid as any­body else’s.” For Williams, this meant that she could belong despite pop punk’s obses­sion with white­ness, pale skin and Euro­cen­tric features. 

On the oth­er hand, social media pro­motes pos­tur­ing, the online-exclu­sive expres­sion of your­self through pics and cap­tions. Often, this expres­sion is more intense than the irl ver­sion, per­haps espe­cial­ly so when you grew up a social­ly shy depressed teenag­er who spent half their youth online as a dig­i­tal­ly native mil­len­ni­al who hard­ly left the house. Social net­works come with tools that let you edit your­self how­ev­er you want. “I’d light­en my self­ies in paint (a rudi­men­ta­ry “draw­ing” tool that pre­ced­ed the likes of Pho­to­shop), or else take advan­tage of the trend for the high expo­sure imagery that was du jour in the ear­ly noughties. I didn’t realise the dis­turb­ing and prob­lem­at­ic nature of this at the time — that sub­con­scious­ly, I had deemed my own black­ness “unfash­ion­able”, reject­ing that side of my genet­ic make-up com­plete­ly,” Jenes­sa writes. These tools exist­ed dur­ing the days of MySpace and they exist now. They aid in assim­i­lat­ing to oth­ers in a com­pos­ite still-life moment, but they also illu­mi­nate the cor­re­la­tion between alter­na­tive beau­ty stan­dards and the white­wash­ing of their musi­cal origins.

Fast for­ward in 2022. Times must have changed, or do the laws of physics not apply to music scenes? Pop punk is still heav­i­ly dom­i­nat­ed by white­ness, many bands are still around from the first wave, and alter­na­tive beau­ty stan­dards still rest on euro­cen­tric body fea­tures, some androg­y­ny, and thin­ness. Now, the androg­y­ny we love, but, frankly, the rest can go. In a sense, the white-wash­ing of rock and any sub­cul­ture that emerges from it repro­duces a pat­tern of behav­iour long estab­lished in the white world: the extrac­tion of cer­tain con­ge­nial fea­tures from non-white cul­tures and their estab­lish­ment or appro­pri­a­tion in com­mon “white” cul­ture, while the remain­ing por­tions of non-white cul­ture are ignored or down­right repressed. Pop punk’s issue with sys­temic racism illus­trates the con­se­quences of this behav­iour. But “take their best, then make them leave” can’t be left unchal­lenged this time around. What’s more: the charge of “act­ing white” against alter­na­tive PoC is still pro­nounced to this day. It is fre­quent­ly seen on @emo_unclephil’s but also oth­er Black cre­ators’ accounts, specif­i­cal­ly on Tik­Tok. When I inter­viewed Gary and asked  how often white peo­ple call alt gen­res “white peo­ple music“, he did not hes­i­tate: “Pret­ty often, even still today through Tik­Tok. It’s a stu­pid argu­ment con­sid­er­ing the fact that rock music wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for black influ­ence. I per­son­al­ly believe that the rea­son gate­keep­ers are the way they are is because they may be scared that we’ll do it bet­ter … like every­thing else.” Pop punk can­not avoid burst­ing the bub­ble and fac­ing the chal­lenge of meet­ing its own demands for inclu­siv­i­ty and the rejec­tion of ‑isms of any kind. 

Meet Me @ the Altar / US

Screaming our hearts out to old sounds and new values: The new era of Pop Punk must be an inclusive one. 

I like what is hap­pen­ing in the music scene at the cur­rent moment, and in a weird way, find­ing my way back into the pop punk com­mu­ni­ty at thir­ty is so much eas­i­er and so much more fun than it was at fif­teen. But we’re not just old­er, times have also changed and we ought not for­get the younger gen­er­a­tion get­ting into the scene. Pop punk needs to tack­le its diver­si­ty issue and let go of its inher­ent dou­ble stan­dards regard­ing race and gen­der. With many new and diverse bands on the emo hori­zon, like Meet Me @ the Altar or Action/Adventure, I gen­uine­ly hope the genre lets go of its white-wash­ing and its out­dat­ed, ever obso­lete beau­ty stan­dards. Behind the scene(s), a beau­ti­ful new com­mu­ni­ty is forming. 

1 Christie, Ron. Act­ing White: The Curi­ous His­to­ry of a Racial Slur. Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2010.
Pho­to: Hay­ley Williams, lead vocal­ist of the Amer­i­can rock band Paramore, at Rock im Park 2013 in Nurem­berg, Ger­many / Wiki Commons

EDITED BY LARA HELENA.


Mer­cy Fer­rars is a MA grad­u­ate in phi­los­o­phy and writes fic­tion, poet­ry and non-fic­tion essays. She is mad­ly in love with Scot­land, dogs and Bojack Horseman.

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