Written by: Eva Zhu
Pop punk is exactly what the name suggests: catchy pop melodies and lyrics about adolescent romance, mixed with distorted guitar and power chords. Who says you can’t headbang to punk rock guitar riffs while singing along to lyrics about a girl who’s out of your league?
Although pop punk originated in the late 1970s with the Ramones, Buzzcocks, and the Undertones, a significant piece of the story starts in 1986 when Billie Joe Armstrong (vocals and guitar) and Mike Dirnt (bass) formed a band called Sweet Children, later adding drummer Tré Cool and rebranding as Green Day. From the start, there was something irresistible about Armstrong’s slightly nasally vocals, Dirnt’s punchy bass lines, and Cool’s bright drumming.
Their distinct sound broke into the mainstream with their third album Dookie in 1994, with MTV playing back songs such as “Longview,” “When I Come Around,” and “Basket Case.” As of 2014, Dookie had sold more than 20 million copies. By now, most people who only have the vaguest sense of who Green Day is have heard “Basket Case” and “Welcome to Paradise.”
Before Green Day hit the mainstream, teenagers Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, and Scott Raynor formed a band in August of 1992. While the band went through many names, it eventually settled on Blink-182. They quickly became known for their catchy riffs, relatable lyrics, and immature humour. Among their early releases was the iconic Dude Ranch, released in 1997 and certified gold by 1998. Its upbeat, sad-boy, teenager anthem “Dammit” was played on rock radio stations and MTV, and peaked at #11 on the US charts.
However, it wasn’t until 1999 that Blink would become the superstars of pop punk they are known as today. After Raynor’s departure, Hoppus and DeLonge enlisted the help of drummer friend Travis Barker and released their biggest and most influential release, Enema of the State, in 1999. Containing fan favourites “All the Small Things,” “Adam’s Song,” and “What’s My Age Again?” the poppy and slickly-produced album cemented Blink’s place in pop punk history.
While Blink brought the pop and Green Day brought the punk, the Arizona boys of Jimmy Eat World brought the emotion. Though their 1999 album Clarity went overlooked by almost everybody at the time, it went on to inspire many emo and pop punk bands from the 2000s onwards.
The influence of Jimmy Eat World only grew with their 2001 album Bleed American. While the album name might not ring a bell in your head, the catchy tune and lyrics of “The Middle” certainly will. The song peaked on charts all over the world, becoming an anthem and template for pop punk everywhere.
Bands such as Green Day and Blink pioneered the ‘90s pop punk sound that laid the groundwork for pop punk’s stardom. However, New Found Glory’s self-titled album from 2000 worked with Jimmy’s Bleed American sound to refine pop punk into the mainstream powerhouse it would become in the early 2000s. With Jordan Pundik’s whiny, angsty vocals and Chad Gilbert’s jangly guitars, the band quickly rose to mainstream fame in 2002 with their album Sticks and Stones.
The lyrics to the lead single “My Friends Over You” are still embedded in the brains of 2000s kids everywhere. The album is so influential that it consistently ranks highly on Top 10 pop punk album lists, and two future pop punk bands would both take their names from the album’s catchy lyrics.
While each of these four bands brought a slightly different approach to the genre, they all have something in common: they defined the sound of pop punk for the next decade. Stay tuned for an article that delves into the pop punk bands of the mid-to-late 2000s!