Not many genres have a definition as slippery and contentious as pop-punk.
For some, pop-punk is a fluid spectrum of sound that has been rebooted and revamped just as many times as any masthead genre has. For others, it’s solely associated with the sound and form it took in their own teenage years — a time when such a genre tends to speak directly to such a demographic. There are even those who are militant in their denial that the thing even exists — even using the two words next to one another is paradoxical.
Regardless, the trajectory of pop-punk has been fascinating — particularly in countries outside of the US, where it remains somewhat of a unique anomaly. In terms of the movement in Australia, it ties back to punk itself breaking in the mid-to-late ’70s — entirely isolated from its American and British roots.
Australian pop-punk, by extension, has always been somewhat alien. Over the years it’s branched off into hardcore, indie, alt-rock, grunge, two different waves of emo and — of course — pub-rock. It’s just as tied to skate parks and extreme sports montages as it is to MySpace profiles and GHD straighteners. One might look at a list like this and not be able to make a connection between each song beyond the nationality, and yet it all ties back in one way or another to this curious musical movement.
From authentic Australian accents to nasal and accentuated American put-ons, there is a lot to be taken from the music that’s come out of this country that falls beneath pop-punk’s wide banner.
Across these 30 songs, we’re looking at origin and influence, right up to the genre’s boom period from the late 90s into the 2000s. From there, we’re looking at what shape it’s taken in the 2010s – acknowledging everything that has come before in order to establish where we are right now.
#1. The Saints — ‘(I’m) Stranded’ (1976)
In order to understand how pop-punk broke in Australia, you have to understand how punk itself broke in Australia. The Saints arrived at a time where tensions in their native Brisbane were considerably high — police would often break up shows, and punk music served as a major ‘fuck you’ to authorities at large.
Although not given their due at the time, this band and this song have gone on to serve as the blueprint for how Australians typically approach the genre. There’s a strong underlying sense of melody here, too. While John Lydon and Iggy Pop would often just howl and squawk, Chris Bailey knew how to get his hooks in. By doing so, he created one of the most famous choruses in Australian rock history, in turn paving the way for pop-punk.
#2. Radio Birdman — ‘Aloha Steve & Danno’ (1978)
While The Saints were creating their music almost entirely unaware of punk’s impact globally, Radio Birdman were making theirs directly under the influence of it.
Named after a misheard Stooges lyric (a band they would also cover on their debut LP) and inspired by the kicked-out jams of MC5, Birdman used this as fuel for the fire that turned them into one of the most beloved underground rock bands of the 70s.
Again, the band’s use of melody and precise, upbeat rhythm played a huge part in how Australian pop-punk would later take form — consider them somewhat of a grandfather in the proverbial family tree. Plus, who could say no to a track all about obsessively watching Hawaii 5-0.
#3. Hard-Ons — ‘Don’t Wanna See You Cry’ (1989)
Much like the argument can be made for Black Sabbath being the first heavy-metal band, there’s an argument to be made for the Hard-Ons being the first Australian pop-punk band.
Although they’d likely reject the term itself, and their catalogue has gone on to blend a myriad of genres, their first few albums particularly put the focus on big, fuzzy power chords and the kind of choruses that you can flagrantly pump your index finger to while singing along.
‘Don’t Wanna See You Cry’ is the standout example of this, charging out of the gates with its rumbling guitars and splashing drums to create something with its own unbridled force of energy. Who knows where the genre may have ended up were it not for these three miscreants from Punchbowl?
#4. Exploding White Mice — ‘I Just Want My Fun’ (1990)
Hailing from Adelaide, Exploding White Mice were one of the true unsung heroes insofar as Australian punk was concerned. This much continues to be true to this day – you can’t find most of their material on streaming services, and none of the successive projects of the band went on to any particular notoriety either.
Even so, revisiting this from the band’s self-titled sophomore album at the start of the 90s gives you a strong idea of where the genre was headed locally – still very much in tune with the likes of the Ramones and the Buzzcocks, but differentiating just enough to be able to start moulding its own identity.
#5. The Meanies — ‘10% Weird’ (1994)
In 93 seconds, The Meanies delivered a rollicking, thrashing and joyful thesis statement for Australian pop-punk that would assist in shaping how the genre would adapt and evolve over the next decade. Knowing them, it would have been entirely by accident too.
Picked as one of the best Australian songs of the 90s, Double J wrote that the song served as the bridge between the Hard-Ons and Frenzal Rhomb. While true, The Meanies also deserve credit for forging their own path at a time when such a sound wasn’t particularly user-friendly nor particularly cool. In turn, ‘10% Weird’ 100 percent satisfied.
#6. Spiderbait — ‘Calypso’ (1996)
You might wonder why we’re stopping off here specifically, given Finlay’s finest were never particularly punk per se. Scattered across their greatest hits, however, are songs that are indebted to it — and, in turn, songs that helped to establish the dynamics and melody that have long since become defining traits of what pop-punk is now.
‘Calypso’ is one such instance — its main verse riff is essentially ‘Blitzkreig Bop’ with a J Mascis makeover, while Janet English’s code-switching vocals add a rousing sense of joy to proceedings. While Australian pop-punk may not be the house that Spiderbait built, they certainly still helped to put bricks in the wall.
#7. Jebediah — ‘Leaving Home’ (1997)
Another gateway drug for the genre’s movements in the 2000s, it’s safe to say that there’d be no Kisschasy, Gyroscope or After the Fall without bands like Jebediah laying out the groundwork with an album like Slightly Odway.
The band borrowed from their love of grunge and indie-rock, while mining their own everyday twentysomething lives for lyrical content. The end result was something inherently relatable and unfathomably catchy, setting off pogo-bouncing moshes across the country. It remains the band’s signature song, and for very good reason — it’s propulsive, memorable and anthemic for anyone who’s ever felt young and dumb, even if they were old enough to know better.
#8. Grinspoon — ‘Just Ace’ (1998)
The last of our ’90s building blocks comes in the form of this two-minute wonder, straight outta Lismore. A tried-and-true festival favourite, ‘Just Ace’ found its home on plenty of extreme sports and skating montages in its time — and can you really blame video makers for pairing the two?
Indebted to the likes of the Hard-Ons with its sugar-rush melody and pedal-stomping guitar, it’s a moment of pure reckless abandon and exuberance — calling cards of pop-punk if there ever were ones. Phil Jamieson officially passed the torch of this song when he sang it with Dune Rats and Violent Soho’s James Tidswell at Splendour in 2017 — may it live on in a whole new generation of cop-hating burnouts.
#9. Frenzal Rhomb — ‘Never Had So Much Fun’ (1999)
Imagine writing a song so memorable you don’t even need to sing the first verse. Jay Whalley probably hasn’t sung more than three words of ‘Never Had So Much Fun”s intro for almost 20 years — and really, there’s never been any need to.
Propelled by Gordy Forman’s precision D-beat drumming, plus Lindsay McDougall’s simultaneous guitar thrash and vocal harmony, there’s a good reason this has remained at the top of the Frenzal food-chain. It may not have won them an ARIA, but you can bet that there’s a hundred bands out there that started because of hearing this song.
#10. Bodyjar — ‘Not the Same’ (2000)
We kick off the 21st century with a song that, like ‘Never Had,’ would go on to shape the genre in huge ways. Consider ‘Not the Same’ as the song that launched a thousand kickflips — both in real life and in the virtual world, given its inclusion on the Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 soundtrack.
It’s a reflection on a simpler time, and the conviction with which the chorus is delivered makes it a one-size-fits-all for any relationships that have fallen by the wayside in your life. Besides everything else, though… cop that lead break! It’s so goddamn catchy.
#11. Blueline Medic — ‘Making the Nouveau Riche’ (2001)
Although Blueline isn’t a household name, theirs is one revered within punk circles across Australia — so much so that they even warranted their own tribute album back in 2012, Shuffle & Scrape.
‘Nouveau’ is the band’s most beloved track, scoring a respectable place in the 2001 Hottest 100 and showcasing the band’s distinctive and wordy take on the pop-punk sound. Far from properly appreciated in their time, their approach to the sounds and structure of the genre would go on to hold substantial weight.
Donnie Dureau still stands as one of the more distinctive vocalists of the era, matching his laconic and accented style to Adrian Lombardi’s urgent and insistent guitar work to establish himself as a real working-class hero.
#12. One Dollar Short – ‘Is This the Part?’ (2002)
As a new wave of American pop-punk — blink-182, New Found Glory etc — was going absolutely gangbusters, it made sense that Australia would end up developing its own responses to the genre’s international shifts.
Sure, Central Coast five-piece One Dollar Short would never quite escape the shadows of their biggest influence — their name is a reworked lyric from ‘Dammit’, while the chorus of their biggest single was a slightly rejigged version of the chorus from ‘First Date.’ Having said that, they were still an entirely serviceable outfit that — if only for a moment — were able to level up from the confines of their local PCYC and capture attention nationally. For that alone, ODS deserve their due.
#13. Skulker — ‘Day After Yesterday’ (2003)
You may have noticed by now that there have only been two other acts featuring a female artist in this list. The reality was, unfortunately, that the genre was almost entirely male-dominated for a long time. Skulker was a game-changer in that respect, scoring slots on the Big Day Out and in the Hottest 100. They even got to tour with Pink – before she was ginormous, but still.
‘Yesterday’ comes from their crucially-underrated second album The Double Life, which in hindsight really did deserve to dominate the radio with its bouncy, hooky take on pop-punk and power-pop. It also gave us one of the best pop-punk choruses produced this decade: “Is this growing up?/’Cause you can have it back.”
#14. Gyroscope — ‘Take This for Granted’ (2004)
With the release of 2004’s Sound Shattering Sound, Perth’s Gyroscope essentially became the new standard-bearers of Australia’s pop-punk …ahem, sound. Less Americanised and more driven by a love of homegrown alternative rock, the band would spend the rest of the decade turning in consistent records with a freshness and vitality driving each of them.
That being said, there’s something about Sound Shattering that still gets the blood pumping some 15 years after its release. The steady ascent to ‘Granted”s massive chorus is accentuated by the big-swinging drums and churning guitars, while its swaying bridge detour is a prime example of Gyroscope’s knack for inventive songwriting beyond the verse-chorus-verse formula.
#15. Kisschasy — ‘Do-Do’s and Woah-Oh’s’ (2005)
Back on the east coast, Kisschasy were barely out of high school when they wrote and recorded their debut LP United Paper People. Even so, their lead single (and easily best-known song) is the kind of cynical takedown one could easily mistake for an industry veteran passive-aggressively venting.
The funniest part? By writing a song satirising how easy they think it is to write catchy pop songs, they wrote one of the catchiest pop songs of the decade. One that could light up the dancefloor of any indie/alternative club night to this very day. The call was coming from inside the house the entire time.
#16. Trial Kennedy — ‘Knife Light’ (2005)
Of all the pop-punk voices that Australia generated in the mid-2000s, Tim Morrison was arguably the strongest from a vocal standpoint — after all, he did end up as a contestant on The Voice. Did pretty well for himself, too.
Back in 2005, however, he was just another Melbourne frontman screaming to get heard. ‘Knife Light’ scored Short.Fast.Loud. attention and even some Blunt Magazine love (remember Blunt?), but it’s sadly not remembered nearly as fondly as it should be. With its tidal wave of a chorus and its sharp, driving musical arrangements, it’s a key reminder of just how good things got in this era.
#17. Something with Numbers — ‘Apple of the Eye (Lay Me Down)’ (2006)
In the wake of One Dollar Short, a bunch more bands from the beloved “Cenny Coast” started gaining attention — among them After the Fall, In the Grey and Something with Numbers.
Business truly picked up for the latter with the release of their second album, 2006’s Perfect Distraction, an album that saw them not only refine the sound established on its predecessor, but expand upon it.
‘Apple of the Eye’ took the band from the youthie to the dancefloor, pumping up a disco beat to go up against Jake Grigg’s bounding vocal histrionics and tumbling guitars. The end result felt like an unstoppable force hitting an immovable object.
#18. The Hot Lies — ‘Emergency! Emergency!’ (2007)
By this stage of the 2000s, pop-punk had moved away from skate parks and onto the steps of Town Hall (both in Sydney and Melbourne, funnily enough). A band that took full advantage of that was The Hot Lies, rewiring their take on the genre with more than a little chemical romance in the mix just in time to score national airplay and a spot on Rove Live.
They didn’t get out unscathed, however — Jay & The Doctor roasted them for the lyric “I need a kiss to untie me”, conducting an out-of-studio challenge in which members were figuratively tied up and the others had to free them using only their mouths. It went about as well as you’d expect.
#19. The Getaway Plan — ‘Where the City Meets the Sea’ (2008)
In terms of letting an audience carry an intro, “If I’ve learned…” is to Matthew Wright what “I smoked a…” is to Jay Whalley. Neither belongs to them anymore — to two separate generations, they’re coming-of-age anthems.
Of course, the similarities end there. The Getaway Plan were always more inclined to flirt with the post-hardcore and mall-emo world, sending flicked fringes into a frenzy everywhere they went. In a way, that’s kind of the point — that two completely different songs could hold the same resonance and still hold an audience entirely captive right now.
This was as good as things got for the Melbourne natives, peaking within the ARIA top 40 and scoring commercial radio play in the meantime. Even so, they made their moment in the sun entirely count.
#20. Short Stack — ‘Sway, Sway Baby!’ (2009)
We’re back on the central coast now — Budgewoi, to be precise. This went a little differently, however — by the time Short Stack hit the scene, they’d built up a cult following through the magic of the dearly-missed MySpace.
Essentially a pastiche of Panic! At The Disco’s debut and the scene-kid trends of the time, Short Stack made the kind of pervasive choruses that were so catchy you never stopped to question how fundamentally fucked they were (“Kill your boyfriend/We can be together”).
Despite being one of the most hated bands in the country, they still scored three top-10 hits, a Rolling Stone cover and a headlining show at the Opera House. Trust us, it was a whole thing.
#21. Heroes for Hire — ‘Bright Lights in Paradise’ (2010)
As the new decade began, the tide had again changed in Australian pop-punk. Reacting to bands like Man Overboard, Fireworks and The Wonder Years, we ushered in yet another tonal and dynamic shift for the genre as a whole.
Western Sydney’s Heroes for Hire were among the first on the bandwagon, taking Fauxmerican accents to dizzying new heights with their boppy, bouncy post-MySpace sound. Taken from their debut album, ‘Bright Lights’ remains the catchiest track they ever wrote. If you were rocking any Famous Stars & Straps at the time — hell, even if you knew what Famous Stars & Straps was — then this was the band for you.
#22. Tonight Alive — ‘Breaking and Entering’ (2011)
At a time where women and girls at shows were more often than not treated like cloakrooms, bands like Tonight Alive mattered. Frontwoman Jenna McDougall asserted her dominance as a performer, outshining her male peers and contemporaries at every single show.
With the release of their debut LP What Are You So Scared Of?, the band made their long-awaited ascent to headliner status with ease. ‘Breaking and Entering’ was the key that unlocked it for them — a striking, all-guns blazing track that got its hooks in early and kept them there. A song that made a splash like a majestic dolphin — and still makes an impact now.
The band continued to adapt and evolve throughout the rest of the decade. Even daytime triple j eventually got on board after they had stayed solely a Short.Fast.Loud. staple for years.
#23. Up & Atom — ‘Clarity’ (2012)
In terms of pop-punk bands that deserved far better than they got, Up & Atom has to rank towards the top. Although only around for two-and-a-bit years and a couple of EPs, they showed a lot of initiative and musical creativity.
Borrowing more from the Piebald and Lifetime school of pop-punk, the band made full use of dual vocalists and well thought-out dynamics. One need look no further than the opener to their self-titled debut EP for proof of this, which waltzes across crunching guitars and a D-beat drum switch-up that keeps the whole listening process completely invigorated. Jimminy jellickers!
#24. Violent Soho — ‘In the Aisle’ (2013)
Legend goes that if Violent Soho didn’t get any bites with their third album Hungry Ghost, they’d call it a day and go back to their day jobs. In 2013, they didn’t so much get a few bites as they got consumed whole — within a year, they were selling out national tours; within five, they’d won an ARIA and headlined festivals across the country.
Tracks like the propulsive, visceral ‘In the Aisle’ were instrumental in the band’s success. Although they’re definitely considered more a post-grunge or alternative rock band now, ‘Aisle’ saw the band toying with the fundamentals of the pop-punk with which they’d grown up — guitarist James Tidswell is still probably the biggest blink-182 fan you’ll meet.
#25. 5 Seconds of Summer — ‘She Looks So Perfect’ (2014)
Throughout the early-to-mid 2010s, there were dozens upon dozens of pop-punk youngsters playing matinees at the Annandale Hotel and the Blacktown Masonic Hall every other weekend. Only one band out of them all, however, ended up elevated to arena status and in international demand.
Thanks in no small part to latching onto this new fandangled thing called YouTube, as well as some smart management, 5SOS were quickly poised to become the successor to One Direction’s boy-band throne. The key difference? They came wielding their guitars — and, with them, churned out a cock-rock pastiche that would eclipse everything they released right up to last year.
#26. Endless Heights — ‘Haunt Me’ (2015)
Emerging from their local hardcore scene as Your Ghost Is A Gift, Sydney kids Endless Heights evolved at a rapid rate throughout the 2010s. Their focus shifted from melodic hardcore in the spirit of Break Even or Miles Away to a clean-vocal sound that could figuratively be described as post-hardcore.
With the release of the Teach You How to Leave EP in 2015, the band once again adapted and reinvented, this time embracing a darker side that recalled the likes of Basement, Citizen and late-era Title Fight. It worked — they would go even further down the rabbit hole on 2017’s Pray I Fade EP and last year’s Vicious Pleasure, recalibrating and redefining their own story with each release.
#27. Ceres — ‘Roll Ur Eyes’ (2016)
When the emo revival rolled out in the second half of the 2010s, it wasn’t throwing back to the days of MCR and The Used. Instead, a new generation was drawing from the likes of Jimmy Eat World, The Get-Up Kids and Sunny Day Real Estate to create something direct, autobiographical and heartfelt.
Ceres set the bar with their second studio album, Drag It Down on You, and it remains the strongest LP in their catalogue by a considerable margin. The emotional stakes are high as Tom Lanyon’s voice quivers beneath lines like “Love is such a fucked word” and “I think you might have saved my life,” creating a lasting impact in the process.
#28. Jacob — ‘How Long Until You’re Next to Me?’ (2017)
The stereotype of pop-punk would have you believe that a good chunk of songs under the umbrella of the genre feature men venting about an ex who done did ’em wrong. What’s not often talked about, however, is the romantic side of the genre — and that’s where Jacob come in.
The lead-off to their 2018 album Show Me Some Passion is quite possibly the best love song the genre has produced this decade. Its bright, jangling guitars feel as fresh and promising as the first day of spring, while vocalist Ruari Burns pleads his case in the most sweetly melodic manner imaginable. In the end, the titular answer? Not long. Not long at all.
#29. Luca Brasi — ‘Let It Slip’ (2018)
When writing about American DIY punk legend Jeff Rosenstock, British comedian James Acaster observed that “Pop-punk has grown up with the people that grew up with it.”
He’s not wrong, either: After four albums that documented the throes of their 20s, Luca Brasi started feeling every last one of their years. “This would hurt less if I were 23,” Tyler Richardson observes on ‘Let It Slip,’ before adding: “Not 29, on the bathroom floor/Trying to get clean.”
As the genre expands and recontextualises itself, so too do its merchants — and if there’s one thing Luca Brasi are good at, it’s keeping the bastards honest.
#30. Eat Your Heart Out — ‘Carousel’ (2019)
Keep travelling up north from the central coast and you might just land yourself in Musswellbrook, where the members of the now-Newcastle-based Eat Your Heart Out first met. Their alt-rock-tinged take on pop-punk has quickly found global attention — they’ve toured with State Champs and Simple Plan, and even scored an international deal with Hopeless Records.
Being this list’s most recent entry, one may ask if they paint a picture of the future of pop-punk on an Australian front. You’d certainly hope so: ‘Carousel’ is an impeccably-constructed pop song with an undeniable sting in the tail and an underlying conviction that cuts through the production finesse.
Eat Your Heart Out are prodigious — if you’re at all interested in the genre’s current state then their debut Florescence is essential listening.
David James Young is a writer and podcaster who grew up hating his hometown and loving punk-jumps. He was always going to write 4000 words on fucking pop-punk. Find out more at www.davidjamesyoung.com – and get in touch if you have any leads on whatever happened to Skulker or Up & Atom. He’d also love to hear about what songs you would have picked.