Impact’s Music Essentials: Modern Pop Punk

Gemma Cockrell

Impact’s new series ‘Impact’s Music Essentials’ will introduce our readers to ten songs from a particular genre, in order to provide a starting place for those who are unfamiliar with the genre but would like to broaden their musical horizons. In the first installment of the series, Gemma Cockrell chose ten songs that she would recommend to someone who is new to the modern pop punk genre.

Pop punk is such a broad genre, with the first wave originating back in the 90s and rising to popularity when bands like Blink-182 and Green Day broke onto the scene. However, in order to narrow this list down a bit, I have decided to focus on the second wave of pop punk – that is, any pop punk songs that were released from 2010 onwards.

Gold Steps – Neck Deep

Possibly my favourite modern pop punk album of all time is ‘Life’s Not Out To Get You’ by Neck Deep. Released back in 2015, it soundtracked a particularly memorable summer for me. However, if I had to pick one song from the album that I would recommend, it would be Gold Steps. Whilst pop punk was originated as an angsty genre, with lyrics about hating your hometown, Gold Steps flips this on its head, as perhaps the most positive pop punk tune I have ever heard. It features reassuring lyrics such as “Life’s not out to get you / Despite the things you’ve been through” – things that 14-year-old me probably needed to hear at the time. That being said, the song is still incredibly enjoyable to this day. However, if you are looking for a more angsty “I hate this town” pop punk moment, Can’t Kick Up The Roots from the same album will hit the spot.

21 Questions – Waterparks

Next on the list is Waterparks’ 21 Questions. The Houston trio have always leant more towards the pop side of the pop punk genre, but nevertheless, they are still pop punk in my eyes. I am a sucker for a song that starts off slow, and builds up to an explosive, surprising crescendo towards the end (so you can gather that I was delighted when Billie Eilish released the track Happier Than Ever last month) and 21 Questions does just that. It starts off as a slow-paced, acoustic tune, before building up to an explosive pop punk chorus about 3-minutes into the song. It is a heartfelt moment on the band’s 2016 album ‘Double Dare’ where lead vocalist Awsten Knight worries that his lover will betray him, since she betrayed someone else in favour of him – the lyric “Am I in his position now?” is one that stands out.

fake friend – nothing,nowhere.

Emo-rapper turned pop punk master nothing,nowhere. released the best track of his career earlier this year, titled fake friend. The album that it belongs to, ‘Trauma Factory’, is an eclectic mixture of his emo rap tendencies and pop punk experiments, but it is on his pop punk moments that he truly shines. fake friend is drenched in emotion, as he yells “Where the hell have you been? / I don’t need a fake friend”. The moment of realisation that someone isn’t truly there for you is something that everyone has been through at some point, and nothing,nowhere.’s earnest take on the topic is undeniably one of the highlights of the modern pop punk genre in recent years, despite the song having only been released a mere six months ago.

la di die – Nessa Barrett feat. jxdn

You may be surprised to see these two TikTok musicians on my list. But la di die by Nessa Barrett and Jaden Hossler is one of those songs that hooks you, and before you realise it, you are humming it to yourself non-stop. It is interesting to hear two LA-based artists who were thrown into the social media spotlight at a young age speaking honestly about their experiences in the music industry, from references to the 27 club to acknowledging the darker side of fame. And even the pop punk legend himself Travis Barker approves of both artists, performing live with them on Jimmy Kimmel and even signing jxdn to his DTA record label. Barrett’s latest track i hope ur miserable until ur dead also channels pop punk energy, and is definitely a worthwhile listen if you like what you hear on la di die.

good 4 u – Olivia Rodrigo

You may be less surprised to see this one on my list. good 4 u truly brought pop punk back to mainstream radio, and I am thankful for it. Whilst Olivia Rodrigo did rise to fame with her more emotional ballads, it didn’t take her long to show her pop punk side – something which was revealed again on her album ‘SOUR’ with the opening track brutal. Whilst good 4 u definitely does lean more towards the pop side of the genre, this results in an irresistibly catchy tune about a bitter breakup – presumably the same one that Rodrigo speaks about on the majority of the tracks on ‘SOUR’. It’s refreshing to see a young, female artist crafting her own version of the pop punk genre.

She Looks So Perfect – 5 Seconds Of Summer

I can already hear people shouting that 5 Seconds Of Summer are pop, not pop punk. And yes, to some extent, I do agree – especially in terms of their most recent releases. However, back in 2014, they truly had the pop punk image (ripped black jeans, flannel shirts, and facial piercings) and they had a raw guitar-driven sound to match this. Without this song, I would probably NEVER have fallen in love with pop punk –  or else, it would have taken me a lot longer to. Hearing this song was my gateway into the genre, and even though I can barely listen to the song without cringing now because I overplayed it so much, I will forever be thankful to 5sos.

If These Sheets Were The States – All Time Low

Just after I started listening to 5sos, a friend from school showed me All Time Low, and my world changed. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but I really was obsessed with these four boys from Baltimore for the majority of my teenage years. Whilst this is by no means their biggest song, it was the first song I heard by them so it will always remain close to my heart. I could have picked so many songs by All Time Low, but I limited myself to just one. So, I will mention Weightless, Kids In The Dark, and Something’s Gotta Give as some very deserved honourable mentions.

Elevated – State Champs

Another band that I discovered pretty early on in my pop punk journey were State Champs, since they toured with 5sos in their early days. The opening track of their debut album ‘The Finer Things’, Elevated, remains one of my favourites by the pop punk band to this day, with hard-hitting staccato verses and a soaring sing-along chorus. Originally, as I’m sure many fans did, I used to think it was just about a relationship that the lead singer Derek DiScanio had with a girl. Years later, I found out that it was actually about him trying to convince fellow band member Tyler Szalkowski to stay in the band during a period of time where he was questioning whether the lifestyle was right for him.

She’s My Religion – Pale Waves

Pale Waves’ sophomore album ‘Who Am I?’ saw them take major inspiration from Avril Lavigne, even with the album cover. However, what really intrigued me about this song at first was the lyrical content. It is perhaps one of the first times that I have heard a pop punk song with a female vocalist singing about her relationship with another woman, and its refreshing to hear. And not only that, but Heather Baron-Gracie approaches this song from an interesting stance – yes, she sings about the beauty within their relationship, but she highlights the qualities of her partner that may be considered undesirable or flawed, and makes them desirable. It is a beautiful depiction of an LGBTQ+ relationship.

t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l – WILLOW feat. Travis Barker

Before 2021, many only knew WILLOW for her 2015 track Wait a Minute! that became a viral sound on TikTok, or even from 2010’s Whip My Hair. This year, she reinvented herself into one of the most exciting newcomers to the pop punk scene, and with Travis Barker by her side on the drums, she released the song t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l. It unsurprisingly became another TikTok hit for WILLOW, with many users of the social media app recording themselves lip-syncing to the first verse of the track. The track is raw and rough-around-the edges, but it demonstrates WILLOW’s natural talent for the genre, which she continued to demonstrate on her most recent album ‘lately I feel EVERYTHING’.

Listen to these songs (plus more!) on this playlist:

Gemma Cockrell

Featured image courtesy of Chloe Muro via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article videos courtesy of Neck Deep, Waterparks, nothing,nowhere., Nessa Barrett, Olivia Rodrigo, 5sos, All Time Low, State Champs, Pale Waves and WILLOW via youtube.com. No changes made to these videos.

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