Over the course of the last year, I have found myself using music to escape from reality.
While I tend to pride myself on listening to a wide variety of music, I found myself coming back to one specific genre over and over: pop punk.
When people think of pop punk, the first bands that come to mind are bands such as Green Day, Blink-182, My Chemical Romance, Paramore and so on. Bands that were popular in the 1990s to mid-2000s.
These bands made commercially successful-sounding music with lyrics reflective of being young and hanging out with friends. While these bands were popular at the height of the genre’s commercial success, other bands have continued the sound these artists helped to create.
Since 2010, pop punk has maintained a strong, loyal and grassroots fan base.
While the early bands of the genre wrote youthful songs, the new groups write songs that reflect the feelings of social anxiety, escapism and growing up. Songs that give the listener the ability to escape the taxing feeling society puts on people today. One of the bands that leads this new theme is Philadelphia band The Wonder Years.
In 2011, The Wonder Years released their sophomore album “Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing,” an album that would set the tone of the genre for the next decade.
With its overall heavier sound and harsh vocals, “Suburbia” was an album meant to help the listener reflect and escape. It’s an album that encourages listeners to take their anxiety, turn it outward and escape into their imagination.
As cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib describes the album, “it feels, in tone and tension, like coming home for a summer after your first year of college, having tasted another existence and wanting more, but instead sleeping in your childhood room.”
In this last year, we all wanted to go back to that other existence we knew. We long for a time where life seemed to make more sense and we did not live in a constant wondering of what is next.
In this time, I’ve come to miss the simplicity of coming home after freshman year, facing my home with new experiences and a fresh outlook on the world. In this time, I have found myself increasingly drawn to pop punk, to remembering those times when there was a brave new world ahead of me.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a profound loss of freedom and flexibility that existed previously.
No longer can I just hang out with friends or go to parties or live carelessly.
The pandemic has effectively forced my entire generation to grow up in a matter of months.
In this process, we have been forced to assess what is really important to us, what things truly made our lives worth living.
COVID-19 has made me consider what I truly enjoy doing because I can no longer do it. It has created this distinct divide between those things that were impactful to my life and those things that I did for some other reason.
In the song “Gold Steps,” the band Neck Deep reflects on the common struggles in life. While the pandemic is certainly not a common struggle, it is something we are all struggling through.
But through living in this pandemic we have been able to understand how grateful we are for the little things and little moments.
As they sing in the song, “Life’s not out to get you despite the things you’ve been through. Cause what you give is what you get and it doesn’t make sense to make do.”
I think if anything, this is what writers of pop punk songs and living through the pandemic are trying to tell us. That we make life what we want to and no matter what we go through, at the end of the day, if we have hope we can live a great life.
To put it as simply as they do in “Gold Steps,” “When you see the signs saying hope is ahead/Then you’re right on track for a better end.”
This is why pop punk, especially modern pop punk, is so beautiful.
As a genre, it has had to grow up in the same way that its listeners and creators have. It has evolved into something much more personal and unique than the good times anthems of the ‘90s and early 2000s, something that can touch a smaller audience much more deeply than its earlier iteration.
It understands that life is not always easy, but it makes sure that we have something that helps us get through the struggles.
To quote the song “Came Out Swinging,” by The Wonder Years, “I spent the winter writing songs about getting better. Well if I’m being honest, I’m getting there.”
If we all are being honest, we are getting there.