Are we transcending the Y2K trend? Pop-punk makes a comeback

By Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse

It was inevitable. Thanks to the ever-revolving trend cycle, undoubtedly with some help from the incredibly public displays of affection flaunted by Travis Barker & Kourtney Kardashian and Meghan Fox & Machine Gun Kelly, noughties pop-punk is back in all its glory.

Avril Lavigne is releasing new music (or her double is depending on which conspiracies you believe), Willow Smith is out in all her punk force, and Miley Cyrus has added chunky black lowlights to her platinum blonde strands – the 14-year-old in all of us is screaming.

The noughties music fuelled trend saw many bright and alternative fashion statements made left, right and centre. Hair was flat ironed, boxed dyed, and teased to reach the gods. There were pierced eyebrows and studded everything. Teens were angsty and rebelling against the traditional notions of the day; the nuclear family image, the growing class divide, lacking mental health awareness, capitalism – the list goes on.

It’s no surprise that the fashions accompanying this rebellion reared their heads again in 2021. Angsty teen rebellion flooded the collective consciousness, and it was more than just the teens feeling it. A mere couple of years into the so-called roaring ’20s, we are experiencing a time of nightmarish politics, widespread trauma, and an overwhelming call for activism. Anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention has undoubtedly felt a tad of angst brewing in the pit of their stomachs as things we thought would be fixed appear even more broken than before.

It makes sense that this decade’s fashion is leaning into an alt-route. It’s natural to accompany the past years social, political, economical, and environmental impacts with an angsty soundtrack and the fashion that comes with the pop-punk genre. It has always been the teenager’s prerogative to live out their teen angst phase, but don’t we all want to throw a fit or two these days? Life on Earth is not always easy, and we all need to scream, growl and express our feelings – what better way to do so than stomp around to a shouty tune in a leather dominated outfit and some platforms?

Pop-punk gained mainstream popularity in the late ’90s and ’00s with bands like Green Day, Blink-182, Avril Lavigne, Paramore and Fall Out Boy. Emotionally charged lyrics, the more than occasional raspy scream, frantic tempos – the music reflected the frustration felt by many at their everyday existence. In the 2020s, musicians are again at the forefront of the comeback for the genre and its accompanying aesthetic; Halsey, Billie Eilish, Miley Cyrus, and Olivia Rodrigo, to name a few.

We saw pop-punk given a modern makeover when it came back last year, as happens with all recurring trends. It was a fresher image, utilising the bliss of hindsight to cherry-pick the better parts of the movement. While heavily distorted guitar chords, ‘talk singing’, and plaid remain, a more refined smudged liner replaces the heavy-duty eye makeup. The box dyed and teased hair has evolved into salon-worthy interpretations of noughties trends, and the t-shirt and tie combo seems to continue holding its own in the 2020s reinterpretation.

Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, who hasn’t given up on the pop-punk look since the ’90s, has done more for the renaissance than propose to a Kardashian. Not only does he rock leather, plaid and studs regularly, but he’s been fostering the reimagined sound through a new generation of musicians. Travis Barker works with young performers like Willow Smith, Machine Gun Kelly, Bebe Rexha, as well as TikTok personalities turned singers; Lil Huddy, Jxden (Jaden), and Nessa Barrett – bringing pop-punk to a generation inspired by the sounds of bands they were too young to appreciate while they were dominating the charts.

Pop-punk dwindled in mainstream popularity at the beginnings of the 2010s. Indie was all the rage, and pop-punk radio god ‘Kerrang!’ was taken off the air by mainstream outlets to ‘make way for some new people. Though the station continued online, it seemed to mark a sort of mainstream death for the genre.

Fast forward to 2021, and the sound bounced back into the mainstream charts and dominated the airwaves. The transition to 2022 hasn’t slowed down the resurgence; if anything, it’s transcended the style from trend to timeless.

Though some hardcore pop-punk fans may dismiss the fact, Olivia Rodrigo has greatly influenced the remodelling of pop-punk with her music and style. Her style is both sweet and sour, one day mixing a tweed Chanel suit with towering white platforms and the next a stunning prom gown with fishnets. Or appearing in a baby pink corset paired with black satin opera gloves as she stands in a burning childhood bedroom. Add the fact she dares to use the f word while under contract with Disney; she’s pretty f*cking punk.

Her fashion choices are eclectic, which fits with the nostalgic styling preferred by many genZers at the moment. Her punk influence is prevalent in her affinity for plaid, graphic tees, layering, chunky boots, and her choice of designer pieces, favouring designs by those who progressed the subculture, such as Vivienne Westwood and Marc Jacobs.

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What Rodrigo brings to this trend is the idea that you don’t have to be one thing all the time. We’re so often dominated by aesthetics, trying to fit ourselves into a style or genre that we love and feel we must dedicate to. In the current streaming world, we have access to all the music we could ever want. In the noughties, you could often only afford to buy the music of your favourite artists. You had to pay out for physical copies of music, and it was a safer bet to buy what you know you like than risk your money on something new. So if you liked pop-punk, you were pop-punk all the time. In the 2020s, we don’t have to be pop-punk all the time. We can stomp around in plaid and platforms at ten and be crying in a ballgown at twelve if we want. Hell, we can stomp around in plaid and platforms during track one and be crying in a ballgown by track two listening to Rodrigo.

This idea plays into what is predicted to be a huge fashion movement in the coming year – personal style. Pop-punk clothing is whatever you want it to be, which makes it attractive to so many. The whole style encourages mixing pieces from different eras, aesthetics, price brackets, and DIYing your clothing to make your overall look individual. This attitude of eclecticism and nonconformity has always given the punk style a youthful and fresh feel, ready and waiting to be adopted by the young people of the moment.

Even runways are going punk. Chanel sent fishnet stockings, fringe, leather collars, and graphic tees down its Cruise 2022 runway for Fall/Winter 2020. Monse paid homage with shredded denim, plenty of tartan, and clunky moto boots. Coach collaborated with the estate of Jean-Michael Basquiat, a famous punk artist, sending a collection down the runway while Debbi Harry and garage-punk band the Coathangers performed.

It’s not just the clothes going punk. This decade, many up-and-coming brands are creating with the spirit of punk in mind, removing the boundaries of gender to sizing, embracing sexual expression and political commentary, challenging the status quo. That’s what is at the heart of punk, not looking brilliantly cool but challenging the norm and daring to push out of it.

Y2K has managed to stick in the public consciousness for longer than anyone could have expected, but the pop-punk strain may outdo its long reign. The revivalist look is about more than just embracing its fashion. It’s about embracing a philosophy and preaching that philosophy to others. Feel what you feel, throw a tantrum or two, shout about what you want to shout about, just do it loud enough for everyone to hear.

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