Good 4 U: How Pop-Punk Screamed Itself Back Into The Mainstream

No, you haven't gone back in time – pop-punk has just come back to the charts in a big, big way.

olivia rodrigo machine gun kelly photo

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Over the last year, TikTok has set the stage for the mounting generational tensions between millennials and Gen Z. On one side, we have side parts, skinny jeans, and Harry Potter fans, while on the other lies the new reigning cool kids that are creating trends rather than following them.

But the release of Olivia Rodrigo’s album SOUR has offered some common ground, thanks to its callbacks to 2000s pop-punk. If you haven’t yet heard the Disney star’s debut album, you’re missing out. From the moody acoustic ballads (‘enough for you’) to the undulating irreverence of opener ‘brutal’, Rodrigo superbly taps into the shitstorm that is being a teenager — ultimately revealing that it’s a ubiquitous experience, filled with rollercoaster experiences of love, lust, and rage.

Rodrigo’s electrified tracks have subsequently garnered comparisons to pop-punk. Though, some of the most cerebral critiques of her album are on TikTok. Millennial users are behind one of the most nostalgic trends on the app, which compares the album’s breakout hit ‘good 4 u’ to Paramore’s 2007 hit ‘Misery Business’.

In these TikToks, users are dressed casually, lip-syncing to ‘good 4 u’ with on-screen text that reads “Why do Millennials like ‘good 4 u’ so much?” Then, the song switches over to ‘Misery Business’, and with a hair flip, they transition to the vintage camcorder filter and into an outfit change. Some don the Avril Lavigne special — a tie worn over a t-shirt and tartan skirt — while others show off their old side parts and the thick black chokers that they’ve dug out of their closets. To date, the ‘misery 4 u’ mashup has spawned over 23,700 TikToks.

This initial comparison has opened up the floodgates to more 2007 nostalgia, a longing for pop-punk, and what seems like a resurgence of the genre back into the mainstream.

Tickets To A Revival

Machine Gun Kelly’s 2020 record, Tickets To My Downfall, saw the artist depart from his almost eight-year hip-hop career to pursue a Blink-182-inspired manifesto about the pitfalls of fame. Underscored by booming 808s, the emo lyrics wax on loneliness and disillusionment — sparking the interest of many pop-punk fans.

MGK leaving behind hip-hop also reflects the bittersweet cyclical nature of pop music. Over the last 10 to 15 years, millennials have witness the birth, death, and resurgence of genres like EDM, hip-hop, and now pop-punk. This is likely why so many of us — especially former emo kids, pop-punk fans, and Avril die-hards — feel so energised by its return.

While the popularity of pop-punk began to wane by 2010, its golden years spanned from 2005 to 2009 during most millennials’ formative years. From Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco to Taking Back Sunday and My Chemical Romance, these emo/pop-punk outfits dominated the charts. Whether you were a fan of Metro Station’s ‘Shake It’ (which peaked at #10 on the Billboard charts) or Plain White T’s ‘Hey There Delilah’ (which peaked at #1 on the Billboard 100), pop-punk was the pop du jour for almost half a decade.

“Trends come and go, but history does tend to repeat itself,” Avril Lavigne told Beatrice Hazlehurst for i-D. “I think a lot of people have been having similar feelings of rebellion, but also people are more open and honest about their emotions and mental health, so I think the rawness in the emo music that we’re hearing today is really relatable for so many.”

Blink And You’ll Miss It

And if you look back at the history of pop-punk, its genesis isn’t in 2007 but goes much further back.

The opening song on Rodrigo’s album, ‘brutal’, gained its fair share of comparisons to Liz Phair’s debut album, Exile In Guyville. The Chicago legend, who rose to fame in 1993 thanks to her stark meditations on love and heartbreak, emerged during a time when men dominated rock. Today Phair is credited with laying down the blueprint for acts like Soccer Mommy, Phoebe Bridgers, and Snail Mail.

It seems that pop-punk has been lovingly iterated since the ‘70s by new generations of artists, who learn from the legends to inspire a slew of new fans. In 2011, Jon Caramanica wrote for the New York Times that “no punk band of the 1990s has been more influential than Blink-182.”

Since their breakthrough in 1999, Blink-182 have been at the forefront of pop-punk, which has continued into today’s revival. Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker’s fingerprints are all over today’s pop-punk as he’s become something of a mentor for emerging rock stars, alt-rock artists, and pop-punk singers.

He’s known MGK since he was 19, with the two first working together on ‘I Think I’m OKAY’ in 2019. Barker followed this by producing almost every song on MGK’s pop-punk debut, Tickets to My Downfall Barker also produced and co-wrote most of Trippie Redd’s 2021 foray into rock, Neon Shark Vs Pegasus.

Then there’s his recent work with Willow Smith, and TikTok rapper-turned-rocker Sueco’s new song ‘SOS‘. You can even find Barker on The Veronicas’ most recent album, GODZILLA, which sees the Australian pop darlings experiment with pop-punk and metal.

Unsurprisingly, pop-punk’s return also means a reprise in Y2K and punk-inspired fashion. The virality of pop-punk aesthetics on TikTok has seen an increase in mullets — or “wolf” haircuts — coloured hair, plaid dresses, and platform heels. But for many millennials, the most exciting thing about this resurgence isn’t that they can dust off their old Creepers for a night out, but the inevitable slew of albums we’re about to get.

In February, Lavigne revealed that she’s set to release a pop-punk album in 2021. In response to a fan’s comment, Lavigne wrote: ​“It’s done! Music coming soon. For sure summer.” A month earlier, she gave fans a taste of what’s to come on her collaboration with Mod Sun, titled ‘FLAMES‘. Over the last few months, Lavigne has been pictured working in the studio with John Feldmann, Mod Sun, and Machine Gun Kelly.

Meanwhile, Hayley Williams shared on Twitter in February that she’s ready to get the band back together. “I’m ready for the next Paramore album. lets [sic] go.”

Similarly, in an interview with NME, rock legend, Phair admitted that her return to music with Soberish — her first album since 2010 — was inspired by the new generation of pop-punk rockers. “They pulled me out of retirement,” she told El Hunt. “This group of young women just made it feel like the music business should’ve been when I was coming up.”

And that’s exactly what makes this moment in music so exciting. If the dizzying joy that ‘good 4 u’ inspires is enough for intergenerational camaraderie amongst legends and breakthrough artists, maybe it’s also enough to encourage a momentary ceasefire between millennials and Gen Z TikTokers.

Kish Lal is a writer and critic based in New York City. She is on Twitter.