The date is October 4, 2009: Blink-182 has recently reunited. They’re finishing up a massive tour with Fall Out Boy opening for them at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Before FOB launch into their signature closer, “Saturday,” Pete Wentz declares, “This is the death of the emo haircut,” before handing his bass to a stagehand. Mark Hoppus enters the stage. Wentz sits down, and Hoppus shaves his head. Wentz jumps up at his cue, and screams his parts in “Saturday” like he always does. You could say this is the moment that everything went wrong. You could say Blink-182’s original breakup was the moment it all went wrong. You could also say Green Day’s American Idiot was, or even Dookie, or New Found Glory releasing “It’s Not Your Fault,” but for the sake of argument, Mark Hoppus shaving Pete Wentz’s black locks was the moment that ruined it all.
You see, Blink and Fall Out Boy are two prime examples of bands that have aged gracelessly in pop-punk. Let’s start with Blink. Despite being a major force in pop-punk and early 2000’s mainstream rock, Blink’s 2005 split was messy at best, but that happens. Bands break up, and it’s often ugly. During the hiatus, Tom Delonge started Angels and Airwaves, Travis Barker became a major force in the hip-hop world, and Mark Hoppus became Fuse’s Jimmy Fallon. When Blink reunited four years later, they banked on the nostalgia and excitement, and 2011’s Neighborhoods was exactly the type of fine comeback album expected. What hurt Blink was 2015’s split. Delonge has seemingly been losing it: disinterest in new music, aliens, and young adult lit. The split was embarrassing in the worst way. Delonge claimed to still be part of the band, and Hoppus and Barker recruited Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio to fill his place. The interviews that took place as the band recorded California summoned cringes from anyone who was looking for new fart and wiener jokes. When the album came out, the response ranged from thinking the album was fine to a tired attempt at capturing the days of Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. The following tour with A Day to Remember, All Time Low, and The All-American Rejects seemed to be better received. Nonetheless, the bad taste was already left in the mouths of fans that were excited about a new album only to see a favorite band torch their legacy. Even though the chemistry seems rekindled, it’s impossible to forget what preceded it, and it’s impossible to truly capture what it’s like to hear Tom Delonge sing, “Where are you? And I’m so sorry.”
Even though Blink’s crash and burn was mostly related to internal conflict and disastrous coverage, Fall Out Boy’s downfall is based solely on their music. Following the hiatus that followed Wentz’s haircut, Patrick Stump went R&B, Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley went metal, and Wentz started a band with Bebe Rexha. When FOB reunited in 2013, Stump and Wentz’s influences shined through the most, and Save Rock and Roll was fine. It seemed like the logical next step in FOB’s discography: catchy pop-rock with some furious emotion shining through. Save Rock and Roll really wasn’t all that bad. The electronic additions only complimented FOB’s new songs like “Alone Together” or “Miss Missing You,” and songs like “Young Volcanoes” and the title track were simple rock songs that you’d expect. They started to step further away from rock music with the mediocre American Beauty/American Psycho, which brings us to M A N I A. “Young and Menace” wasn’t really a shock. That’s exactly the type of song you’d expect to hear from FOB since they started leaning more towards a pop-oriented sound on AB/AP. Stump’s voice is perfectly crafted for crossing into pop-music, but “Young and Menace” is lazy in every respect. The band subs effort for electronics, samples and faux-poetic lyrics with a cool Motley Crue reference. Even the title is just verbal diarrhea: the type of bullshit some teenager would have on his jacket in a bad indie rom-com. The music resembles the alt-pop of Halsey with about half the effort put forward. This isn’t some biting criticism of a rock band gone pop. Panic! At The Disco transitioned just fine, but there’s no connection with the root of what Fall Out Boy once was. It’s already awkward to hear “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” alongside “Saturday,” and now, it’s sure to be even more stunted sounding.
That brings us to Fall Out Boy’s former tourmates, Paramore. Like Blink and FOB, Paramore has evolved. “Ain’t it Fun” was a massive summer hit in 2013 in rock and pop markets. Hayley Williams and company have slowly been embracing a more pop-oriented sound than their sugary, sweet pop-punk on Riot, but the slow evolution has still shown a lot of promise for the band. Williams even made a guest appearance on a New Found Glory song in 2015. Even if Paramore isn’t so much a pop-punk band anymore, she still retains a connection to the scene, even if it is just with her husband’s band. Paramore’s two singles to generate buzz for After Laughter show the band being influenced (seemingly) by mid-aughts blog-rock. There certainly is a Black Kids feel to both “Hard Times” and “Told You So,” but the dance-rock feel doesn’t feel unwelcomed, like FOB’s electronica. Even Williams’ delivery of “Hard Times” is a little reminiscent of the Talking Heads. If the Talking Heads were post-punk, Paramore has found the way to make post-pop-punk in the best way possible. Even though the pop-punk cliché is to run away from where you started, you better not forget your roots.
This case-study via three of the biggest names in pop-punk may be in vain. There’s so many shitty pop-punk bands making terrible fusions of Blink-182 with The Wonder Years. A lot of smaller bands do evolve at a good pace, but The Wonder Years’ or Have Mercy’s evolutions aren’t drastic enough to warrant the type of growth that Fall Out Boy, Blink or Paramore make for better or worse. Whether the new albums from (soon-to-be) legacy acts are worth listening to remains to be seen, but we’ll always have Enema of the State, and, let’s hope, we’ll always have Paramore.