Culture

The Women Artists Reinventing Pop-Punk For Themselves

The pop princess is a thing of the past: Gen-Z stars WILLOW and Olivia Rodrigo are leading the pop-punk revival with emotionally charged music that holds nothing back

By Sasha Mills

28 July 2021
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here was a time in the 2010s where pop-princesses were the darlings of the music industry and the shining beacons of their labels. Taylor Swift appeared in a never-ending cycle of spangled bodysuits, armed with a sharp red lip. Ariana Grande’s carefully refined Instagram aesthetic was mimicked by hundreds of teenage girls and dominated Pinterest boards.

These pristinely polished pop teens ruled every major stage across the globe. Women could be found singing on a range of acceptable topics approved by domineering record labels: love, heartbreak, female empowerment (censored by male-owned labels), and occasionally, if they were permitted, sex.

“pop-punk is arguably the perfect genre to convey the strangeness of the intersection between feeling like the world is yours, but also feeling that you have very little control over much at all.”

Now, things are changing. Today’s rising stars are refusing to abide by industry norms, and are starting to produce pop-punk records that sound somewhat like the end credits of a noughties teen rom-com starring Chad Michael Murray.

Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album Sour spent a month at the top of the UK charts. WILLOW’s brand new offering lately I feel EVERYTHING has been met with wide-reaching critical acclaim, meanwhile Beabadoobee’s new EP Our Extended Play hints at there being more pop-punk to come. The pop-punk revival is here, and Gen-Z women are leading it.

These stars are taking a formerly male-dominated genre and bending the rules to fit them. When pop-punk peaked in the 90s, bands like Green Day and Blink-182 led the surge, and the sound trickled through to pop-led iterations by Busted and McFly at the dawn of the 00s. Yes, there were women in pop-punk – Avril Lavigne and Hayley Williams are evidence – but they were few and far between.

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Beabadoobee

Gen-Z are perhaps all too familiar with the kind of existential angst that characterises pop-punk at its core. We’ve grown up on reports of the climate crisis and coming of age during a pandemic that none of us had ever imagined happening. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like the future is resoundingly bleak. The women at the front of the new wave of pop-punk are all Gen-Z stars, and they feel that bleakness too, holding nothing back in their lyrics.

The raw emotion of pop-punk is arguably the perfect genre to convey the strangeness of the intersection between feeling like the world is yours but also feeling that you have very little control over much at all.

Women have long been branded as overly emotional and irrational - ‘hysterical’ is a historically charged, sexist descriptor. Through their appropriation of the pop-punk genre, young artists are leaning into their feelings, not away. Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour confronts, head on, the tsunami of conflicting thoughts that accompany break-ups.

WILLOW’s track naïve takes on the contradictory state of being a young Black woman right now, singing “I need you to tell me when I'm being naïve / 'Cause I know I can be”, alongside descriptions of violence at protests. Polished pop stars are a thing of the past.

“Olivia Rodrigo’s 'Sour' confronts, head on, the tsunami of conflicting thoughts that accompany break-ups.”

Teenage girls have been at the centre of pop culture for a long, long time and have been manipulated by male authorities along the way and are left with very little agency – just look at the case of Britney Spears. The next generation of young women musicians are carving out a new space for themselves; refusing to fit an antiquated mould and using pop-punk as their escape route.

The Short Stack

Gen-Z are drawing inspiration from the noughties with their reinvention of pop-punk, this time with women at its head.

By Sasha Mills

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