Here’s to us fools that have no meaning…

by mikeflanagan1

Sometimes I wonder if every generation just thinks the music they grew up with is the best, or if what’s popular with young teens today really does absolutely suck. It amazes me how much has changed since I first fell in love with music. I’m not even 20, but the difference between what was getting kids into music when I was 13 and the shitstorm of synth/dance/crunkcore bullshit that kids are getting into now is just baffling.

The very end of the 90’s and first few years of the new millennium saw a wave of goofy, energetic, and often heartbroken suburban kids who didn’t know how to play their instruments (and didn’t try to pretend they did) break into popular music. Kids of all ages (I was about 10 when I discovered Blink182) could relate to the fist-pumping, heart-on-your-tiny-sleeve lyrical content, or at the very least the catchy melodies and twangy guitar lines. Baggy shorts, baby-sized tees, and striped tube socks became badges that connoted membership to a movement that was always seeking new members. No elitism, no self-destructive stigmas, no bullshit. Just catchy music, positive energy, and community.

That’s all dead and nothing can ever bring it back.

Pop-punk posterboys New Found Glory, a band that I will praise until the day I die, is now the most tell-tale example of why the genre they helped thrust into the mainstream will never influence impressionable and desperate young teenagers ever again.

 

New Found Glory

New Found Glory

 

Ten years ago yesterday (10/20), NFG released their debut full-length Nothing Gold Can Stay on Drive-Thru records, a label that played a huge role in shaping my early music taste but has since gone to shit trying to adhere to the ever-changing (in the worst possible way) “underground” rock scene. NGCS is raw, unpolished, and downright immature, but in a way that foreshadowed an immense amount of maturity-via-immaturity to come from this promising group of five dudes from Coral Springs, FL. Alternative Press named it one of 1999’s influential albums. AP writer Brendan Manley writes foreshowingly, “Like it’s title implies, Nothing Gold Can Stay is the sonic transcript of a glorious, fleeting time for NFG – and for pop-punk. But just as gold never loses its luster, it’s only fitting that 10 years later, Nothing Gold Can Stay still shines.” NFG released their self-titled album in 2000 and Sticks and Stones in 2002. Both became landmark albums in the pop-punk scene. To this day, I can put on Sticks and Stones in my car at any given time and be able to belt out the words to “My Friends Over You” with absolutely anyone who happens to be sitting shotgun at the time.

In 2004, NFG released Catalyst, an angrier, more explorational follow-up to Sticks and Stones. The album saw the band fidgeting and veering slightly off the pop-punk path. It seemed as though, if only for a brief moment, they were tired of wearing the pop-punk tag and shed their old skin. This was the same year that Blink182 released their dramatically polarizing, relatively experimental untitled album. The fact that the album was fantastic and just what maturing Blink fans needed (whether they let themselves know it or not) is beside the point; 2004 watched two of pop-punk’s most monumental figureheads slide away from their signature sounds that propelled a movement. This wouldn’t have been a bad thing had the music scene remembered to take its ADD meds. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

The band rediscovered and even embellished its sunny energy on the tragically underrated Coming Home in 2006. The album was decidedly happy and carried nothing but uplifting messages throughout. NFG’s guitarist and de-facto leader Chad Gilbert said the songs came out that way because he and lead singer Jordan Pundik were both engaged and everyone in the band was comfortable and happy, for the most part. The album didn’t sell as well as expected. By 2006, kids were just not interested. 

 

Pete Wentz on the cover of Cosmo

Pete Wentz on the cover of Cosmo

 

The bands that were influenced by bands like NFG were marketing a new kind of “underground” pop music (oxymoron) that twisted and mutated any aspect of pop-punk that could be sold as a gimmick. Personally (anyone who knows me knows this might stem from a personal vendetta), I blame Fall Out Boy bassist/frontman (not lead singer) Pete Wentz for getting that ball of dung rolling. In all fairness, Fall Out Boy started as a pop-punk band with decent intentions. Singer Patrick Stumps melodies are solid and catchy and Wentz’s lyrics, though they may be empty, are occasionally clever in a way that one might be able to squeeze out a few drops of meaning. But once Fall Out Boy landed heavy rotation on MTV (or at least MTV’s distant cousin who lives up in the high-200 channels and still plays music videos), Wentz began to market his face and sell his image. The music isn’t as terrible as I sometimes like to let on, but I have an awfully hard time extracting any sense of honesty from it. Wentz has a knack for knowing what’s going to be popular with early highschoolers a second or two before it happens, and he uses it to his full advantage. Pop-punk bands in the late 90’s/early 2000’s lacked this foresight, and didn’t give a fuck. They just made energetic, therapeutic music for themselves in which others happened to find similar meaning. I have trouble taking a band seriously whose least talented member is placed smack-dab in the middle of t-shirts and promo shots simply because he is the best looking.

Furthermore, the sense of innocence and revered youth is gone from pop-punk entirely. Popular motifs like sex, drugs, and alcohol replaced heartbreak, (reasonable) teenage rebellion, and fuck you ex-girlfriend. Some examples of song titles from one of the most popular pop-punk bands of today are “Damned if I Do Ya (Damned if I Don’t)” and “Holly (Would You Turn Me On?).” Both songs are by All Time Low, whose name came from the NFG song “Head On Collision” off Sticks and Stones. I don’t want to sound like a dad and say today’s music is the devil, and I’m not trying to hold All Time Low responsible for bastardizing the genre (not single-handedly, anyway). In fact, they started out with the best of intentions too. But growing popularity can do awful things to a band’s integrity. If they tried to tell me they weren’t marketing toward a very specific demographic (one that happens to dictate the charts), I would call bullshit right in their faces and fight them.

Pop-punk bands used to crack the eggshell of innocence from the inside just enough to interest young teens who were starting to develop a sense of independence and identity. The bands today are outside trying to smash it with a hammer.

In all seriousness though, with the shift in subject matter comes a certain stigma. Bands like Metro Station, Brokencyde, 30h3, etc. are all riding the wave of every 15-year-old girl’s fantasy (and, subsequently, every 13-year-old boy’s): jealousy, pettiness, sexual implications (that most of them don’t fully understand), dancing, drinking, ect. Instead of writing songs about what high school kids actually go through, they write about what high school kids want to go through. And what kid in high school doesn’t want to seem older? What kid in high school isn’t curious about drinking or drugs and wouldn’t jump at the chance to indulge in them to look cooler? The scene has evolved in such a way that style, all-too-often style in which cigarettes and cheap vodka are accessories, is much more important than the music. People used to look up to the kids who got their shit together, learned how to play instruments (to some extent), wrote songs, and played shows at local VFW’s and church basements. Now all you have to do is look like you do.
 

It could be that true pop-punk as we knew it in 2002 has simply not existed since then. There have been bands that tried to revive it or showed some glimmer of hope; bands like Hit The Lights, who are essentially the poor man’s NFG, and Cartel, who completely blew it with their follow-up to their fantastic debut, Chroma. But even these bands are bringing to the table a different kind of pop rock, even if their intentions are similar. In reality, pop-punk is geared toward a very specific demographic and always has been. Someone who was 20 when Sticks and Stones came out probably wouldn’t have been interested. But today’s age group that would have eaten up Sticks and Stones wants nothing to do with that kind of scene. There’s no place for real pop-punk in the world today.

Case in point: New Found Glory’s most recent release, Not Without A Fight. The record sees the band return to their original aggressive, electric, pure pop-punk form, singing about breakups, rebounds, and listening to your friends when they tell you she had bad intentions. Not Without A Fight is no Sticks and Stones, but it would have sold like hotcakes had it been released six or seven years ago. In the opening track from which the album gets its title, Pundik sings “You can’t get rid of me that easy. No, not without a fight.” The song is about a relationship, but the undertones are just too obvious and too timely too ignore.
New Found Glory has consistently written great music (perhaps giving Catalyst the benefit of the doubt) and treated their dedicated fans with nothing but the most astoundingly genuine respect and appreciation. Three days ago they played a show in Coral Springs for 100 fans in their practice space. The setlist included almost entirely old favorites, all per request from the audience. Drummer Cyrus Balooki even generously lent his drumset to a fan while he and the band played 2001 single “Dressed to Kill” and Cyrus went outside for a few minutes to cool off. In 2007, they released their second cover album, From the Screen to Your Stereo II, because they knew the fans had been asking for it for years. NFG constantly goes out of their way to make their fans happy, perhaps because they know they have one of the last remaining legions of true fans who listen to music for the right reasons.

At the end of their latest video for Not Without a Fight’s second track “Don’t Let Her Pull You Down,” a frame pops up real quick to show blood splattered on a wall spelling out “Pop-punk’s not dead.” It lives in the few bands like New Found Glory that are still making music for their dedicated 20-something fans. But sadly, once NFG’s illustrious and influential career is over, pop-punk will, in fact, be dead.

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