What's my genre again?
With a reunion and new album in the works, I think about how Blink-182's power pop tendencies put them a cut above other 2000s pop punk acts.
Blink-182 recently announced that Tom DeLonge would be re-joining Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker in the pop-punk group as they prepare another album and tour. The peak “Blink-182 as prominent group” era was when I was growing up/coming of age so they’re a group for which I have a great deal of nostalgic affinity. But I think it goes beyond that and I wanted to identify why.
I don’t have a ton of nostalgic feelings for the “rock” music I listened to when I was coming of age. As I got older and my tastes became a bit more refined, I realized the music I didn’t know about at the time was so much better and that’s what I associate with that time period now. Yet I still have a real affinity for Blink-182, try as I might to rid myself of it.
Then it hit me—Blink-182 is at their best and can really be understood as a modern day power pop group and that explains why I still enjoy them and think they’re a cut above other groups of the same time and playing in a similar style.
One of the biggest pieces of evidence in favor of this reading is Blink 182’s decision to cover The Only Ones “Another Girl, Another Planet” for their greatest hits album. “Another Girl, Another Planet” is one of the definitive power pop songs. The simplicity of the feelings and emotions expressed, the driving energy, the catchiness of the hook, it checks all those boxes of what makes a power pop song.
That Blink-182 was able to pretty easily and convincingly cover this song, with it sounding so natural, shows that they can be at home in that genre; thus, it encourages us to go back and look at their output through the lens of power pop.
Most of the really massive Blink-182 songs (“All the Small Things,” “The Rock Show,” “First Date,” “Going Away to College”) sound like they belong as much on a Yellow Pills compilation or Poptopia! as on some punk rock playlist. Even the earliest stuff on Cheshire Cat and Dude Ranch, while being much more entrenched in skater/pop punk, has power pop inflections.
“First Date” is the one that really jumps out to be as being essentially a power pop track (and that’s probably why it’s a Blink song I really enjoy). The simplicity of the lyrics and the feelings expressed along with the catchiness of the chorus that allows it to get stuck in your head are all very power pop. It sounds like a stripped down/slightly less bombastic version of a Raspberries song.
In an essay on Big Star co-founder Chris Bell, John Jerimiah Sullivan writes:
That’s why pop music is the art for our time: It’s an art of crap. And not in a self-conscious sense, not like a sculpture made of garbage and shown at the Whitney, which is only a way of saying that "low" materials can be made to serve the demands of "high" art. No, pop music really is crap. It’s about transcending through crap. It’s about standing there with your stupid guitar, and your stupid words, and your stupid band, and not being stupid.
I think a lot about that when it comes to Blink-182 and a song like “First Date.” It’s pretty inane stuff, simple and direct. But for power pop, that’s the art. On something like “First Date,” whether it’s the re-listen ability or one’s ability to understand what DeLonge is expressing through the most rudimentary musical construction, you hear that happening.
There are other elements at play with Blink in terms of their classification. For example, their juvenile humor and imagery feels like a more extreme version of the Ramones’ Mad Magazine-influenced tendencies (one could also make the argument that the Ramones are more power pop and than punk, but I digress). There’s also a strong new wave influence on their 2003 self-titled album and in a more recent song like “She’s Out of her Mind” (“She got a black shirt, black skirt, and Bauhaus stuck in her head”). But the notion that Blink could be understood as inhabiting the power pop tradition seems to be under-considered.
The circles of power pop and pop punk, the genre with which Blink-182 is more closely identified, definitely overlap, but there are some real distinctions. Some of those later pop punk groups, that came following the supremacy of Blink-182, feel so much more disposable and slight in a way that keeps them from having that association with power pop, a genre that has a lineage that goes back well before the advent of pop punk.
Bands like Blink-182, Green Day, Jimmy Eat World, and Weezer, all of whom hit the peak of their mainstream popularity at roughly the same time, can all be seen as following in the power pop tradition. Weezer has been understood as being power pop for so many years, I won’t waste our time going over that. Green Day has been pretty straight forward when it comes to bearing its power pop indebtedness both on record and in their conversations about influences. Jimmy Eat World’s “The Authority Song,” more than pop punk or emo or alternative, is power pop.
These are also groups that got the “sellout” label or that they weren’t “actually” punk or alternative or what have you. This is why the power pop label is so useful as it sidesteps those conversations about punk and what is or isn’t punk. The melodies and catchiness is the point and to be expected, not something that has to be explained away or justified. A lot of angst about enjoying and appreciating their music could be spared if we just understood them as, above all, power pop.
I listened to the first single for this upcoming Blink-182 album with DeLonge back in the fold with Hoppus and Barker and I wasn’t really a fan.
Hopefully on the other tracks on this album they’ll get closer to that power pop sound that has served them well and produced their best (and most lasting) songs.
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I was talking with a friend the other day about what makes a "good" pop-punk song. We tossed around all the usuals; good hook, fast, chorus you can sing along to (or at least a good dose of "oozing ahs", and angst.
To your point, most of those over lap with power pop, and Blink-182 checks 'em all. For fans of hardcore/alternative/punk dating people that might not like it, this was a band where you found common ground. I know it was in my case.
And most of all, it was relatable; they looked like us, dressed like us, and sang about the same things we were all going through. And that clearly left a mark. I have been very surprised to see my social media feeds filled with friends genuinely excited to see the original lineup return/tour.
P.S. Regarding "selling out." I think they came at just the right time. People were getting over the weird late 80s/early 90s orthodoxy about what success looked like, and I think Blink-182 didn't pay any of that much mind, anyway.
P.P.S. The Replacement's version of "Another Girl, Another Planet" is fantastic!