With roots dating back to the mid-1970s, pop punk has cracked its own mold as a rock subgenre between catchy lyrics, energized breakdowns and upbeat chord progressions. However, during the 00s, the genre entered the mainstream with music videos on MTV, rankings on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and even photo shoots for major magazines.
This decade birthed some acts that now define the genre. Over the years mentioned, we can also compare the different sounds between traditional rock beats, such as adding electro-pop synthesizers and utilizing powerful breakdowns. There’s also a more literary component compared to punk lyrics, which makes pop-punk similar to emo, but not quite. With these introductory hit records, we can understand how prominent bands like Brand New, Fall Out Boy and Panic At the Disco have developed and evolved since.
The records below provide a quick introduction, but not at all an exhaustive list, to what pop punk sounded like at the turn of the millennium.
It’s difficult to believe ...Is a Real Boy was exclusively a one-man-show, but it’s true. Vocalist Max Bemis fully orchestrated the instrumental backdrops and sing-song vocal progressions. It’s no coincidence he literally dropped out of college to record it. Despite the album’s release in 2004, its two major singles, “Alive With the Glory of Love” and “Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too,” weren’t released to radio until 2007. Despite the delay, Say Anything soon made themselves known in the genre with this album.
Paramore was already on the scene on Pete Wentz’s Fueled By Ramen roster when Riot! was released. However, it was the classic hit “Misery Business” that made the band a household name. Vocalist Hayley Williams explains the album’s title stems from the wide range of emotional outbursts the band experienced collectively during the writing process. As a result, every track has a kick with a different tone. “Misery Business” tackles jealousy through a mean-girl-from-high-school archetype. “Hallelujah” preaches happiness and wanting desperately to latch onto it. “Crushcrushcrush” rants about two people wanting more for each other, but doing nothing about it. “That’s What You Get” examines the feeling of acting on your emotions too quickly or often.
Contrary to the current political climate, “Let’s Get Fucked Up and Die” came out in 2005, not 2016. The song discusses frontman Justin Pierre’s alcohol addiction, which Noisey reported even lead him to attend AA meetings during the writing process, but that isn’t the only track about mental health. The band’s signature hit, the “Everything Is Alright” music video follows Pierre through a therapy appointment—sitting in the waiting room, laying down on the recliner in his therapist’s office, discussing medication. The lyrics, “I'm sick of the things I do when I'm nervous/Like cleaning the oven or checking my tires/Or counting the number of tiles in the ceiling..,” recounts symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder.
Compared to previous releases, the band’s fourth record express far more grunge and punk lyrics. Their definitive hit “The Middle” is redemptive and inspiring: “Don't write yourself off yet / It's only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.” That’s because the band was dropped from Capitol Records and re-signed to a smaller label. Additionally, the post-9/11 cultural climate contributed to revising the album’s original name from Bleed American to a self-titled Jimmy Eat World. Additionally, the song “Bleed American” was changed to “Salt Sweat Sugar.”
The band’s third full-length record introduced frontman Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s inner lyricist. Based off Allen Ginsberg’s “America,” Soupy envisions himself as a modern day version of the Beatnik poet in “I’ve Give You All” and “And Now I’m Nothing,” switching from soft acoustic to nitty-gritty breakdowns. Compared to the Upsides, the prose particularly adds a new emotional layer we hadn't seen before. However, many pop punk fans know the release from its emotionally-cathartic headbangers “Woke Up Older,” “Came Out Swinging,” “Local Man Ruins Everything” and “Don’t Let Me Cave In.”
Fall Out Boy’s second release features songs written exclusively by bassist Pete Wentz, including “Sugar We’re Goin’ Down” and “Dance, Dance.” This isn’t completely a coincidence, though. For Wentz, the record was a sign of redemption. While recording Under the Cork Tree, Wentz took a sudden but necessary hiatus. He sank into a deep spell of anxiety and depression from a serious break-up, eventually attempting suicide. He quickly bounded back and returned, but we can hear his pain. In “Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner,” vocalist Patrick Stump hums, “Drink down that gin and kerosene / And come spit on bridges with me just to keep us warm / Then light a match to leave me be.” In “XO,” the singer recites “Love never wanted me, but I took it anyway / Put your ear to the speaker and choose love or sympathy / But never both, love never wanted me.”
Back when they still used an exclamation point, many of us knew Panic! At the Disco from their online demos, especially on MySpace. That’s how they caught the attention of Pete Wentz, who later signed them to his record label. The debut separates into two distinct parts, divided by a processional “Intermission” track. The first highlights electro-emo, dance-infused synth melodies as heard in “Time to Dance” and “Lying Is Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off.” The second introduces more traditional instrumentation with organs and accordions as heard in “But It’s Better If You Do” and the chart-topping “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies.”
Taking Back Sunday’s history starts well before their debut release, because Jesse Lacey originally formed the band in 1999. After guitarist John Nolan hooked up with Lacey’s girlfriend, Lacey left to form Brand New. This led Nolan’s recruitment of Adam Lazzara, which then birthed a long-lasting rivalry between the frontmen. After touring with Lazzara for a few months, the band wrote and recorded a five-song demo in a rented apartment. Later that year, Victory Records recruited them to record Tell All Your Friends.
Fans rejoice with classics like “You’re So Last Summer” and “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team)“ Notably, in “There’s No ‘I’ in Team,” lines like “Take the time to talk about it / Think a lot and live without it / Don't believe me when I tell you / It's something unforgivable“ jab at Nolan’s former significant other. Of course, Lazzara was never directly involved with the controversy, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t willing to add fuel to the fire.
Every Brand New fan can admit Your Favorite Weapon is key to understanding the band’s musical development and evolution. The power-chord-heavy debut album kickstarts Brand New’s energy as spontaneous and energetic. Inspired by his rivalry with TBS’s Nolan, “Seventy Times Seven” discusses a faded friendship without censoring the hard feelings. The release’s only single, “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad” talks about an ex-girlfriend that got the frontman into “Jude Law and that whole English thing.”
Enema of the State didn’t make the cut on this list since it was released in 1999. However, the record helped pave the way for the upcoming decade. Following Enema of the State, their 2003 self-titled further solidified their influence on pop punk. The 80s-inspired “Always” employed new-wave synthesizers with four different bass playing simultaneously. Interestingly enough, Blink-182 also employed an experimental songwriting strategy for their self-titled work. Guitarist Tom DeLonge and vocalist/bassist Mark Hoppus wrote separate verses to the same song independently and then brought them together. The two used this technique on the classic sad-boy ballad “I Miss You,” packed with references to Tim Burton’s classic animated film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. The duo also wrote “Feeling This” in two different rooms, but still (of course) ended up writing a song about sex.