Kay B is a college student and small business owner who doubles as a freelance writer.
The history of pop-punk cannot be neatly explained and packaged into a tight little box. It's complicated, messy, and spills over into multiple genres among fusing with others. It's not easy to understand unless you're someone with deep roots and a serious interest in the scene, but it's manageable. This article will do its best to lay out the history of pop-punk music from its inception up until recent times as clearly as possible.
Like all history lessons, it's important to start from the very beginning with an adequate amount of background knowledge. Let's begin!
Origins: Early 1970s to Late '80s
Punk Rock and New Wave
The best place to start would be with the punk rock and new wave scene of the late 1960s and '70s, although with more of a focus on the latter. Bands such as The Ramones, The Jam, Toy Dolls, The 101ers (Joe Strummer pre-Clash), Generation X, and many others would lay the groundwork for what would become pop-punk music later on. Bands like these set themselves aside from many others of their time because of their upbeat, loud, and melodic music.
Hardcore Punk Music Steps In
The 1980s saw the dawning of a new music scene that would later spawn the well-known straight edge movement. Coming from the underground scenes in mainly California, Washington D.C., New York, and the most notable place, Boston, New Jersey where the scene continues to flourish the most. Hardcore music could be classified by its loud, often angry sounding vocals, distorted guitars and breakdowns. Catchy upbeat chorus lines and a clean, defined sound were rarely heard here, if ever.
It's worth noting that hardcore has two certain subcategories that aren't spoken of much but play a bit of a role in the influence of pop-punk: Youth crew and what is often called "tough guy hardcore" (or beatdown, or moshcore). Youth crew bands are the ones that started the straight edge movement and are most associated it with. These bands, along with the just generally classified hardcore bands, are the main hardcore influences pop-punk (Minor Threat, Youth of Today, Agnostic Front). Together, they make up the bulk of hardcore music. Tough guy hardcore can be identified as being more geared toward the idea of moshing and is often a lot more violent and more hateful in lyrics (Hatebreed, Terror, Bury Your Dead). These bands are more recent (1995–present) and have more of a metalcore sound to them. Most traditional hardcore bands (or newer ones that stick to their traditional roots) don't associate with them.
In between hardcore punk and punk rock sat a few bands that were considered to be of the hardcore genre, but didn't match all of the same characteristics. Bands like Bad Religion and Descendents mixed punk rock and hardcore even more so together. These bands would play huge roles in defining pop-punk later on, as well as what would later be considered alternative punk.
Hardcore music never became a mainstream success like punk rock did, but it was a major scene and continues to be to this day and a few of it's early bands have become some of the most well known names in rock music (Specifically Black Flag, which is considered to be the godfathers of hardcore music and still influences many musicians today. Minor Threat is another well known name).
1990s: Pop-Punk Breaks Through
What was officially known as the first wave of pop-punk started to show up in the early 1990s. The genre wasn't a commercial success and most bands had a DIY approach to their music like their hardcore punk counterparts, but a lot of independent record labels began to spring up during this period, two notable ones being Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph Records, who would see huge success later on.
In the mid-1990s, pop-punk music began to find itself becoming more and more popular. Green Day released their first album on a major record label, and other bands such as The Offspring and MxPx did the same. With many of these songs being played over and over on radio stations and MTV, there was an interest in punk music again from major record labels. Punk bands were offered lucrative contracts, and they often would tour with pop-punk bands. Worth noting, ska-punk began to rise in the early to mid-'90s. Since it shared many characteristics with pop-punk, these bands would also tour together.
Pop-Punk Goes Mainstream
The late 1990s to early 2000s was when pop-punk completely hit the surface, becoming absolutely huge. Bands such as Sum 41, New Found Glory, and Simple Plan were among the most played artists on the radio, and Blink-182 was a major success and highly revered with their breakthrough album Enema of the State (1999). Even Avril Lavigne found success in the scene, known as the "pop-punk princess" (though in recent years, she's completely changed her sound and isn't considered as such anymore, but it's acknowledged that at one point she was). It was around this time when the theme of friendship began to show up more and more frequently, but not so much as it would later on.
Mid 2000s to Present: Emergence of New Bands
During the mid-2000s, the lines that defined pop-punk genre began to become more and more obscured due to the rise of many new bands with a unique blend of sound. Bands such as The Used, Taking Back Sunday, and My Chemical Romance began to take the scene by storm, showing many pop-punk characteristics but spouting a darker and more depressing tone.
Many people have created a whole separate sub-genre for bands such as these, which they would call "emo." This is what created the rise of the emo scene during this time, where many teens young people would wear mostly black and have a depressing tone to them (later on this scene would evolve into what we call "scene" today where instead of mostly black, they'd incorporate many bright colors and crazy hairstyles). A lot of people didn't appreciate these bands being called emo. Whichever way people wanted to cut it, these bands could be seeing touring with many pop-punk bands regularly because of their similarity, and would cause a bit of confusion.
On the other side of all of this happening, the hardcore punk genre somehow spouted off many long-distance sub-genres, most notably screamo (it's worth noting that almost every hardcore band hates being called screamo, and it's not often either of these genres associate with each other). The traditional hardcore punk scene saw itself being reborn and a little redefined with bands such as Stick to Your Guns and Have Heart.
Similar to previous original hardcore bands in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, the only thing notably different was that the sound was more defined and cleaner and less of it just being "noise". Though just like its early hardcore punk roots, never saw commercial success.
Late 2000s to Now
Because of the previous obscurity of what defined it, the pop-punk genre began to fall in prominence, though still stayed a large scene. During this time, the genre underwent a few changes and its fans and musicians did what could be called "taking back the sound". While notable pop-punk bands such as Green Day and Blink-182 had moved on to a new sound long ago with their massive success, others such as New Found Glory and newer bands like The Wonder Years began to recreate it.
This was a success, seeing as a whole plethora of new pop-punk bands began to litter the scene, where they had a few new characteristics to their sound: Friendship and unity became a staple theme in the music. as well as perseverance. Pop-punk bands also began to fuse their sound with newer traditional hardcore bands, attempting to pay homage to their hardcore roots. Many pop-punk bands of this time showcase double bass drums, breakdowns, and even occasional shouting. Bands that incorporate these have also found themselves often placed in a newer sub-genre of pop-punk called "easycore", which is just pop-punk with the added hardcore influences (Four Year Strong, Set Your Goals, The Story so Far, etc). There are also some bands that blend pop-punk and hardcore even more so together, making them hard to define.
With all of that said, that's basically a surface view of the whole history of pop-punk music up until now. Whether or not it'll go under any more changes within the next decade or so is unknown, so all we can do is sit back and watch it transform once again.
John Jagusch on July 04, 2017:
Pop-punk didn't start in the 90s it started in the 70s with the Buzz Cocks
Collin on January 07, 2017:
The mid-2000's is not where emo started, and the bands mentioned (with the exception of TBS) are not actually part of the genre. Emo has a history almost as long as pop punk does, but it's much less understood.
Tink on August 24, 2015:
Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on April 20, 2012:
I love your hubs on pop-punk and related fields. I have been a huge punk fan all my life, and as a teen was into hardcore as well. (Bad Religion is still one of my favorites today!) I think you've done a great job with this overview, and it's given me some ideas for music to check out today. (As a mom of kids in elementary school, I'm not exactly hopping off to clubs every night.) Voted up and awesome.