With the release of a new single from Green Day and new album from Blink-182, I’m often reminded of the classic late 1990s and early 2000s pop-punk wave. Green Day, Blink-182, Weezer, The Offspring, Fall Out Boy — the list goes on. One thing ties these bands together, they started out as some of the most respectable musical acts of the past 30 years, only to become some of the most hated groups in all of music. I’m not here to comment on the quality of these bands, this isn’t a review column. Instead, I’ll be exploring what changed in these artists that soured their fans.
The pop-punk explosion debatably started with a single event: The death of Kurt Cobain halfway through the 1990s permanently changed the musical landscape and triggered the swift death of grunge rock as a favorite genre among listeners. Just weeks after Cobain’s death, the pop-punk movement kicked off with Weezer’s self-titled debut album. The record would be certified platinum within a year after release, cementing the transition from grunge to punk. Later that year, Green Day would release what many consider the quintessential pop-punk album, “Dookie,” becoming another instant hit.
A seemingly never-ending stream of punk was released in the late ‘90s, becoming the favorite genre of many angst-filled teens. Going forward into the 2000s, there were no signs of slowing down, with bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco exploding onto the scene with their emo-influenced brand of rock.
Arguably, the first shift in pop-punk that made fans weary was the release of Weezer’s second self titled album, colloquially known as the “Green Album.” This release forwent the brazen rock sound of their 90s output. Instead, Rivers Cuomo and company offered a poppy, soft record full of catchy choruses in major keys. This is the catalyst for what I like to call the “Weezer effect.” After the massive success of the “Green Album,” many other punk bands followed suit, softening their sound to gain even more commercial notoriety. While many artists gained massive popularity from this switch, it came at the cost of losing the respect of many early fans.
The next major shift came with Green Day’s “American Idiot.” While it was certainly punk, and revered by fans and critics alike, it was different. Hits like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends” showcased a softer side to their sound, one that was a far cry from “Basket Case” or “Welcome to Paradise.” To many fans of their edgier music, “American Idiot” was when the band had sold out. As many more punk bands turned pop, their fans would often decry them as “sellouts,” an insult that became synonymous with mediocre music and rounded edges.
Eventually, many began to completely hate pop-punk as a genre. For years, every album put forth by these once beloved bands received nothing but hate from their fans and critics alike. While some were able to turn things around, like Weezer’s 2021 baroque pop album “OK Human,” most others cannot say the same. Many groups are forever deemed sellouts and out of touch for merely attempting to change and evolve their sound.
Though many are quick to blame the bands for this sudden hatred, it’s important to look at the broader context of the music industry during the 2000s.
Hip-hop was starting to become a force to be reckoned with in the music industry; it wouldn’t be long before rap took over rock as the dominant genre of music. Following the turn of the millennium, rock music was also rapidly changing. Indie rock was gaining momentum, with bands like Radiohead, Arcade Fire and The Strokes releasing albums that pushed the boundaries of rock music. Dwindling interest in the punk genre combined with a drastic change in bands’ sound led many to experience fatigue with the music of the pop-punk explosion.
Though the bands may have become the butt of many jokes, they still have legions of fans awaiting their next musical leap. Punk has also been thriving in the underground, as many heavier brands of the genre flourish in basements and small venues, still influenced by the pop-punk of yesteryear.