December 7, 2021

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‘Punk Goes Pop’ Set Up This Era’s Hybrid Sound

“We’re sitting here in the studio everyday making this music, and knowing that we’re changing pop,” says Hossler while zooming in from sunny L.A. The 20-year-old has spent the last year working on his forthcoming debut album with Barker and producer Andrew Goldstein (who’s gone from producing Punk Goes Pop covers to writing for the likes of Britney Spears and blackbear), and he’s ecstatic about making a festival-ready pop album that’s directly inspired by Taking Back Sunday. “I tell Travis, ‘I don’t want to get too pop,’ and he’s like, ‘Bro, you’re making pop. We’re renaming what pop is.’”

To see someone like jxdn, who fell in love with genre-smashing rappers like xxxtentacion and Juice WRLD in high-school long before he found traditional pop-punk, namecheck former Punk Goes contributors All Time Low as a reference is wild. That’s mostly because the series originated as a tool for Fearless artists to reach for the mainstream crossover potential that jxdn already has, as an artist who signed to Elektra Records after his fourth song.

The first one was 2000’s Punk Goes Metal, which featured bands like AFI, New Found Glory, and The Ataris covering classic hair/thrash metal songs. By the end of the ’00s, the comps became dominated by metalcore, post-hardcore, pop-punk, and Myspace-born alt-pop acts — the same trajectory that Warped Tour and Fearless’ competitors took throughout the decade. By 2006, the Punk Goes series had cracked the Billboard 200 albums chart, but 2008’s Punk Goes Crunk was the first significant splash (peaking at No. 86 on the Top 200) and it marked a distinct pivot from nostalgic themes (‘80s, ‘90s, older metal staples) to covers of present-day radio hits. 

However, the very existence of Punk Goes Crunk highlights the stark generational distinctions between pop-punk of then and now. Its Pen & Pixel-style cover art depicts a hooded white dude decked out in bling, and despite its title referencing a specific breed of Southern hip-hop, the compilation was a melting pot of myriad rap, R&B, and pop songs covered almost unanimously by white pop-punk and metalcore bands. Say Anything’s dry cover of ODB’s “Got Your Money” attempts humor in the quickly dated subgenre of “well-spoken white guy reciting rap lyrics like stuffy poetry,” and most of the songs on the comp hinge on similarly condescending tropes.

It feels both sonically and culturally archaic to hear after the last decade; an era when emo-rap facilitated a mutually beneficial crossover between traditionally “black” and “white” genres. Mainstream rappers like Lil Uzi Vert and Juice WRLD embraced pop-punk vocals and won over alt communities, while Mac Miller graduated from fratboy whisperer to genuine auteur, and figures like Post Malone and Jack Harlow became comfortably embraced by mainstream pop and hip-hop fans alike, in a way Macklemore ultimately wasn’t. 

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