Pop Punk’s Roots and History

Pop punk is a “fusion” genre of music that has only existed as a recognized genre of music since the 1990s (Kesuma 2012). Prior to that decade, there were bands that displayed themes similar to what pop punk would later become, especially in the 1970s. But pop-punk didn’t have a name until the 1980s. It was defined then by bands like Bad Religion, The Offspring, and Green Day. Elements of pop punk were taken from many genres of music: complex lead guitar solos of rock n’ roll, heavy bass lines, three or four-chord repetitions seen in power pop, and single-track vocals lacking harmony with an emphasis on lyrical content when they could be understood. Pop punk experienced rises in popularity from time to time, but the generally accepted periods of peak popularity are from 1994-2005, and then what is being called a “revival” from 2009-present. Alternative Press writer Matt Crane wrote an article in late 2014 describing these waves of popularity. “Pop-punk popularity comes in waves and it experiences some pretty rough low points (e.g., 2008) in between its peak years (2003 and 2013, so far).” (Crane 2014)

Culturally, pop punk fans take after the aforementioned “parental genres” of pop punk, rock, and punk rock, with some notable differences (Reese 2014). Although many subgenres of rock and punk rock have their fans wearing all black, with chains or dark makeup, pop punk took a turn around the time of the revival, and one will see that most fans today wear bright colors, albeit still in grunge chic. While hair remains plastered across the face, the hair is now pink and blue, instead of black. Where there were once cargo pants and chains, there are now colorful skinny jeans and tightly fitting band t-shirts.

The genre’s two most notable acts, Bad Religion and Green Day both spawned out of the west coast; Los Angeles and Berkeley, California respectively. California is a melting pot of media; many performance-related acts, be it on camera or on a record, get their start in California. An interesting note, however, is that these two bands would be more aptly referred to as the parents of pop punk, as both bands are labeled punk rock and not pop punk. Bad Religion formed in 1979, at a time when pop punk’s groundwork was still being laid (B 2013). Nobody knows when the official genre was born, as many bands that are considered pop punk are formally alternative rock, or some variation of pop, punk rock, alternative rock, etc. But what is known is that after 1990, the genre boomed, and its focus shifted from its west coast origins to becoming a major facet of youth culture on the east coast. (Trent 2011).

When speaking of content, pop punk owes much of its influence to punk and classic rock. Most, if not all tracks off of a modern pop-punk album will be about partying, friends and love. Love takes the front seat in most cases. Pop punk is defined by its angst-ridden teenage vibe (Adam’s Song – Blink-182), which is likely why it resonates so deeply with that particular age group. The content of the songs was often sad, telling tales of broken homes, lost loves dread of the future, and regrets from the past. Pop punk however developed an ability, especially in the revival years, to place these emotions in a musically positive light. These disheartening lyrics are often placed over upbeat, predominantly major chord progressions, high tempos and rich harmonies that evoke more positive thoughts (All Time Low – Jasey Rae) set to a typical 4/4 beat. This has the side effect of instilling hope in spite of the lyrical content.

“But along came what could only be compared to the Justice League, which would heroically usher in the golden age of pop-punk.” Said Erik van Rheenen (van Rheenen 2011). Who is this Justice League? They are the defining acts of the “Golden Age” of pop punk, or the period of popularity before the 2009-present revival. The generally accepted groups in the “league” are Blink-182, New Found Glory, Sum 41, Yellowcard, Green Day, The Ataris, Transit and The Wonder Years. These bands and any more are the most popular acts, and often attributed to defining the genre, and defending the genre in its death throes. As stated previously, pop punk is defined by its more upbeat sound in spite of its lyrical tristesse. Van’s Warped Tour, a popular annual concert that spans the United States, is known to be home to many fans and bands of pop punk. People drove hundreds of miles to watch Fall Out Boy or Paramore play a set of songs. But all of this changed around 2005.

Nobody seems to know when exactly pop-punk began to die, or what sparked it. But many would say it started when Tom Delonge abandoned Blink-182, composed of his childhood friends Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus (Kreps 2015). The band called it an “indefinite hiatus,” but most fans saw it as a breakup. This happened in tandem with the formations of many of the 2010s popular pop-punk acts such as All Time Low, formed in high school by Baltimore students Alexander Gaskarth, Jack Barakat, Rian Dawson, and Zack Merrick, whose band is a quote taken from New Found Glory song “Head On Collision.”

While everybody was caught up in the drama of Blink-182, they missed the rest of the Justice League splitting as well. Sum 41’s frontman got married, Green Day changed genres, The Ataris released a completely not pop-punk album in 2007 and then went quiet (van Rheenen 2011), and so on and so forth. In the course of a year or two, every band that Generation Y held dear silently slipped into their graves. The end was nigh and people felt the pressure from other musical figures telling the that the “scene” was through, but pop punk proved to be resilient.

In 2007, pop punk band Say Anything released their most influential record of all time, “In Defense of the Genre” a stylistically vast record that blew away critic after critic (Metacritic 2007). Everybody seemed to be rushing to defend their genre, especially the artists. New Jersey band Man Overboard’s (named after a Blink-182 song) website redirects the URL www.defendpoppunk.com to their own www.manoverboardnj.com. Just as Blink-182 sparked the death, they also brought the fire back to the revival. In 2009, Blink-182 took the Grammy stage together for the first time in years. Bassist and vocalist Mark Hoppus grabbed the mic and shouted “Blink-182 is back!” Thus began the revival of pop-punk, after being dead for only two years.

Pop punk appears to have been split into two factions today: those who listened before the revival, and those who began only after. “The decline of pop-punk had several-fold reasons for its departure from form. For one, pop-punk sold its proverbial soul to the metaphorical Top 40 devil, who, fittingly enough, came wearing thirty different hues of neon, shutter shades, skinny jeans, and spoke only in auto-tune.” (van Rheenen 2011) The advent of the ease of the at-home recording of music did nothing to ease pop punk back into popularity. Individuals lacking in vocal or instrumental talent permeated their tracks with MIDI music or pitch correction (commonly referred to as auto-tune). With bands popping up everywhere like Breathe Carolina, Blood on the Dance Floor and others calling themselves pop punk while demonstrating otherwise, the burden of proof lay on the fans. Popular social media website Twitter lit up with the popular “hashtag” #poppunkisnotdead still in use today.

As Matt Crane said, pop punk is popular in waves. Will there ever be a time when pop punk isn’t blaring through somebody’s headphones on a high school bus? Only time will tell. Many genres die after just one death, but pop punk so far has rolled with the punches. Often not even referred to as an actual genre, but as a fusion genre, or subgenre, pop punk has always been criticized. Lyrically immature, musically simple, and sometimes just plain unoriginal. But many a youth holds a flame for pop punk, and so long as there are fans, the music lives.


Crane, M. (2014, October 16). Ten Ways to Defend Pop Punk. Retrieved February 15, 2015, from http://www.altpress.com/features/entry/10_ways_to_defend_pop_punk

B, K. (2013, October 27). History of Pop-Punk Music with Timeline. Retrieved February 15, 2015, from http://hubpages.com/hub/History-of-Pop-Punk-Music-with-Timeline

Trent. (2011, August 13). Differences between West and East coast pop punk. Retrieved February 15, 2015, from http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/archive/index.php?t-1470437.html

Van Rheenen, E. (2011, April 5). Not Sad Anymore: How Pop-Punk Recaptured Its Spirit. Retrieved February 15, 2015, from http://mindequalsblown.net/editorials/not-sad-anymore-how-pop-punk-recaptured-its-spirit

Reese, A. (2014, July 20). Retrieved February 15, 2015, from http://www.gurl.com/2014/07/20/revamped-pop-punk-style-clothes-and-accessories/#1

Kreps, D. (2015, January 26). Tom Delonge Leaves Blink-182. Retrieved February 15, 2015, from http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/tom-delonge-leaves-blink-182-20150126

MetaCritic. (2007, October 23). In Defense Of The Genre. Retrieved February 15, 2015, from http://www.metacritic.com/music/in-defense-of-the-genre/say-anything

Kesuma, A. (2012, May 24). History of Pop Punk. Retrieved February 15, 2015, from http://adimagicboy.blogspot.com/2012/05/pengertian-pop-punk-dan-sejarah-musik.html

Kaufman, G. (2009, February 8). Blink-182 Confirm Reunion On Grammy Stage. Retrieved February 15, 2015, from http://www.mtv.com/news/1604564/blink-182-confirm-reunion-on-grammy-stage/

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