For anyone who is a punk music fan, you are probably used to the elitism and snobbery that comes with the genre. Mention you like punk music to anyone else who also likes it and get ready for some covert (or sometimes downright overt) ‘testing’ to see how punk you really are. You may get tested on punk history (‘so which Clash albums do you have? What about that rare EP by MC5?’) or how much you are keeping in touch with all the new unsigned punk music (‘have you heard of Billy and the Bogfarts? The Nazi Vibrators? No? *receive the look of pity*). And if you’re talking about a specific band and are asked if you prefer their new stuff or old stuff, the right answer is always the old stuff (even if it’s poorly produced crap- that just makes it more punk). It can be a minefield and no matter how much you tell yourself you’re above it, if you’re like me then you’re probably not and you desperately seek the musical approval of strangers and twats alike.
This kind of elitism is rife in punk in particular and probably the most mortal sin you can commit is to let slip that you like ‘pop punk’. Obviously, as the name suggests, pop punk is punk that is a little more….well- poppy. I will get this out here right now- I LIKE POP PUNK. I like Blink 182. I like NOFX. I even liked a few Bowling For Soup songs (please don’t stop reading this). I also like other ‘proper punk’ stuff but I am not going to list the bands here or else I am playing into the idea that I must justify my existence and the ‘I-am-cool-really’ mentality. So why do punk purists look down on pop-punk? The reason is usually because it’s not considered punk at all and for snot nosed teenagers with blue hair and shiny guitars to make pop songs and then pretend they’re punk makes them poseurs. Well I disagree.
Firstly, what is punk? That is a topic you could write a really cool (and totally pointless) sociology dissertation about. For me, punk is many things and the actual music itself is only a part. It’s an ideology, a lifestyle, a way of thinking, looking, behaving and I think if you consider yourself punk, then maybe you are. And don’t let anyone with a 3 foot Mohawk and a London SS t-shirt to tell you any different. It’s not just the pop-punk bands that have their credibility questioned- even established punk bands have to be careful not to incite the accusation that they are ‘selling out’ and so have to devote themselves to lives of poverty and independent labels that make their CDs in someone’s living room. In 1994, Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys was hospitalised after being beaten to chants of ‘rock star sell out’ at California underground punk club the Gilman Street Project even though he had never signed to a major label and the Dead Kennedys never lost the punk ‘edge’ of their music. When I hear stories like that, I always wonder who decided that someone is a sell out? How do you not sell out? Is there a band somewhere making a racket in a garage whilst cockroaches crawl over their sleeping bags who can really call themselves punk? And if someone walks past said garage and likes the music they hear, have the band then sold out? If being truly punk is making music without being popular then why do any punks bands make CDs or play gigs? Surely it’s because they want more people to hear their music and thus be more successful? Let’s face it- the Sex Pistols were hardly publicity shy.
Another reason that I think pop punk gets a hard time is because of the misconception about their lyrical content. Admittedly, a lot pf pop punk is quite teenager friendly as a lot of the songs are about girls and lurve (yuk) but not all of it. Blink 182 have written songs about suicide, broken families, depression and aliens. And conversely, the Ramones have performed many songs about love and not that many about politics. The Clash (the greatest punk band ever IMHO) did not sound very punk at all by the time they got to London Calling.
Maybe it’s the lifestyle. Maybe you have to stay destitute and angry to be called punk. This is probably the aspect I can understand the most as this shows some commitment to the punk ethos but not every band that puts a bit of pop in their music is going to make money and buy a mansion in Beverley Hills. And if they do, as long as they are not pretending to still be street ragamuffins and singing about fighting ‘the man’, then I don’t really see what the problem is. I can’t think of any successful punk bands who are living a Kardashian lifestyle, they may just be more comfortable than they were before. And if there is one aspect of punk I have always firmly believed in, then it is the Dropkick Murphys-esque commitment to self-improvement. And sometimes self-improvement leads to wallet-size-improvement.
Basically, if a band want to call themselves punk then good for them. And so what if they have catchy choruses and sing about high school? And if an individual wants to call themselves punk then go for it. It’s a good thing. And if you are still adamant you are punk when someone with a ‘Stooges 1971’ tour t-shirt and a plectrum once touched by Sid Vicious tells you you’re not then, fuck, that makes you even more punk.
Unless you’re Donny Tourette from Towers of London. Then you’re probably just a bit of an arse.