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Hannah Dr. David Fisher and Dr.

Francine Navakas English 125-1 November 6, 2011

Dystopias from the Perspective of Pop Punk Music

For over a thousand years, music has served the purpose of both entertaining and informing people. It is capable of making someone's foot tap, but also of opening people's eyes to things they have not noticed. Pop punk is one genre of music that does both of these things very well. As Sasha Brodskoy wrote in her essay "Punk and Aesthetics of American Dystopia", it ".. exposes problems in the most modern language and expresses violent frustration about its in ability to do anything about them." In this essay, I will observe two pop punk bands: Green Day and My Chemical Romance. I will take a closer look at their lyrics and what they suggest about dystopias in modern society. Green Day, formed in 1987 in East Bay, California, has a very interesting story to tell. The band was started by two elementary school friends: Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead vocalist and guitarist, and Mike Dirnt, the bassist and backing vocalist. Three years later, Armstrong and Dirnt replaced the band's original drummer, John Kiffmeyer, with a goofy man who went by the name Tre Cool. This line-up remains the same today. Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool were all born in working class families, which helped developed their view of the world and society. Armstrong,

who writes the lyrics for Green Day, references his upbringing in the first verse of a song called 21st Century Breakdown from the band's most recent album of the same name: "Born into Nixon I was raised in hell/A welfare child/Where the teamsters dwelled/The last one born/The first one to run/My town was blind from refinery sun." Green Day was a major part of the underground punk scene in California. Inspired by bands such as The Who, The Clash, and Cheap Trick, they were greatly received. But that all changed in February of 1994, when they released their third studio album, Dookie. The band had just signed with a fairly popular label before the release of Dookie, which caused the punk scene to immediately turn on them. After Dookie became a huge commercial success, and three of the songs on the album were granted extreme amounts of MTV airtime, no self-respecting punk enjoyed Green Day's music. Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool were stamped as sell-outs, and the exfans moved on to the next soon-to-be-mainstream band. Green Day's progression to the pop punk genre continued with their fourth album, Insomniac, and varied a little with their fifth, titled Nimrod. In their sixth album, Warning, a specific song reminded fans that Green Day still had not lost their punk roots. "Minority" is easily the punk song. It's all about being rebellious and rejecting authority. I want to be the minority I don't need your authority Down with the moral majority 'Cause I want to be the minority I pledge allegiance to the underworld One nation under dark

There of which I stand alone A face in the crowd Unsung, against the mold Without a doubt Singled out The only way I know 'Cause I want to be the minority I don't need your authority Down with the moral majority 'Cause I want to be the minority Stepped out of the line Like a sheep runs from the herd Marching out of time To my own beat now The only way I know One light, one mind Flashing in the dark Blinded by the silence of a thousand broken hearts "For crying out loud", she screamed unto me A free for all Fuck 'em all You are your own sight

When Green Day played this exact song live at the Milton Keynes National Bowl in the United Kingdom in 2005, Billie Joe Armstrong shouted, "Remember one thing: Regardless of who the powers that be are, the people that you elect, the people that I elect into office, remember: You have the fucking power. We're the fucking leaders. Don't let those bastards dictate your life or try to tell you what to do. Alright?" That is a pretty punk thing to hear from a band that was supposedly no longer punk. It was almost like Green Day was sticking their tongue out at the punk fanbase they lost years ago, and their new pop punk fans ate it up. There were not many spikes in Green Day's career until the debut of their seventh album, American Idiot, in 2004. American Idiot rocked the world with its throwback-to-punk lyrics mixed with extremely catchy beats. In the song "American Idiot", which is about the presidency of George W. Bush, Billie Joe Armstrong projected a strong message: Don't want to be an American idiot One nation controlled by the media Information age of hysteria It's calling out to idiot America Welcome to a new kind of tension All across the alien nation Where everything isn't meant to be okay Television dreams of tomorrow We're not the ones who're meant to follow For that's enough to argue

The song "American Idiot", though, also begged to be played at full volume in earphones of teenagers around the world. It was the perfect combination of pop and punk. Even though Green Day had strayed from their intended audience years before, their new music's target audience embraced American Idiot and were proud to call it their own. "A song like that is so vulnerable, and in a way, that's sort of what punk is," Armstrong once said. "Instead of throwing your insecurities into a closet somewhere and keeping your guard up all the time, it's like celebrating it." And even though "American Idiot" was about a recent presidency, Armstrong lays down the dystopian vibe very strongly. He was obviously suggesting that today's society may be even worse than it seems. In 2009, Green Day released the album 21st Century Breakdown. Whereas American Idiot was meant to show how punk rock Green Day still was, 21st Century Breakdown showed the world how pop Green Day was. Set in a barely over-dramatized version of today's society, 21st Century Breakdown groans about how bad dystopias really are. Because the album is about modern society, it is hard to call it too far-fetched. The song "The Static Age", in particular, is not far-fetched at all: Can you hear the sound of the static noise Blasting out in stereo? Cater to the class and the paranoid Music to my nervous system Advertising love and religion Murder on the airwaves

Slogans on the brink of corruption Visions of blasphemy, war and peace Screaming at you All I want to know Is a God-damned thing Not what's in the medicine All I want to do is I want to breathe Batteries are not included

"The Static Age" starts out with a pop beat, then gets more raw as it goes on. The last verse hits the listener very hard, and one cannot help but connect with what Armstrong is belting out. After listening to this song a couple times, the realization comes: This is our society. Green Day is relating a dystopia to our society, and that is something that everyone needs to understand. Finally, the end of the song "21st Century Breakdown" wraps it all up: I praise liberty The "freedom to obey" Is the song that strangles me Well don't cross the line Oh dream, America, dream I can't even sleep From the light's early dawn

Oh scream, America, scream Believe what you see From heroes and cons

My Chemical Romance, a band from New Jersey, was pop punk from the start. Their heavy, almost-goth songs at the beginning of their career gradually got lighter and lighter as it went on: forming the prime example of pop punk music. My Chemical Romance consists of Gerard Way, the band's lead vocalist, Mikey Way, Gerard Way's younger brother and the bassist, Ray Toro, the guitarist, and Frank Iero, the other guitarist. MCR was started by Gerard Way in 2001, who intended to be both the lead singer and guitarist, and Matt Pelissier, who was the band's drummer at the time. A short while later, Ray Toro was recruited because Gerard Way could not play the guitar and sing at the same time. After the band showed Gerard's younger brother Mikey Way their demo, he dropped out of college and became My Chemical Romance's bassist. The band met Frank Iero, a man with an impossible amount of tattoos, when he was guitarist for Pencey Prep, a band MCR met through the record label they were signed with at the time. When Pencey Prep disbanded, Iero became My Chemical Romance's second guitarist. Only three months after the formation of the band, their first album, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love was released. The band pumped up their popularity by offering up some of their songs for free on websites like MySpace, where loads of

pop-punk-lovers dwell. In 2004, their second album, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, was released. Gerard Way's angsty voice combined with ingenious lyrics and fantastic beats was a hit, and the album went platinum in just over a year. Inspired by bands such as Queen, Black Flag, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, MCR had a penchant for addictive anthems with hard-hitting messages, and there was nothing that the pop punk crowd wanted more. In July of 2004, the band's original drummer was replaced with Bob Bryar. In 2005, pop-punk-lovers across the world rejoiced as it was announced that My Chemical Romance was going to open for Green Day on their American Idiot tour. There could not have been a better pairing! The band's fifth album, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, was punk pop perfection. Set in a post-apocalyptic and dystopian California, the album tells a story about "The Fabulous Killjoys", who are basically My Chemical Romance's alter egos. The Killjoys are a group of outlaws who are battling against an evil corporation called Better Living Industries (also referred to as BL/ind). On the album, there are a few tracks meant to sound like radio broadcasts. A character called Dr. Death Defying DJ's a pirate radio station that the Killjoys listen to as they go about rebelling against BL/ind. In the song "S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W", the band sets the scene and tone for the rest of the album: "Blow a kiss at the methane skies/See the rust through your playground eyes/We’re all in love tonight/Leave the dream where the fallout lies/ Watch it grow where the tear stain dries." One of the most catchy and popular songs on the album, "Sing", has a dark message that is easy to sing along to: Cleaned up corporation progress Dying in the process, Children that can talk about it

Living on the webways, People moving sideways Sell it till your last days Buy yourself the motivation Generation nothing Nothing but a dead scene Product of a white dream

The last few lines of the above verse are extremely powerful, and you can hear it in Gerard Way's voice. There is no reading between the lines in this case. Even though this album is supposedly about the year 2019, one can understand how this clearly relates to the current time. The song "Destroya" holds another powerful message: Don't believe what they say We're dead flies in the summertime They leave us all behind With duct tape scars on my honey They don't like who you are You won't like where we'll go Brother, protect me now With blood they wash in the money You don't believe in God I don't believe in luck

They don't believe in us But I believe we're the enemy

The foot-stomping beat of "Destroya" is no match for its not-so-hidden agenda. The aforementioned "they" is obviously authority in general: from the government to parents. In a dystopian world where authority has complete control over your actions, My Chemical Romance encourages you to fight back, while simultaneously jamming out to their songs. This theme is carried into the much slower and more meaningful song, "The Kids of Yesterday." "Well now this could be the last of all the rides we take/So hold on tight and don't look back/We don't care about the message/Or the rules they make/I'll find you when the sun goes black." In Danger Days: The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys, My Chemical Romance is pointing out what is wrong about today's society, but makes it less obvious by setting the scene in post-apocalyptic 2019. Ultimately, pop punk music from bands such as Green Day and My Chemical Romance suggest that modern society is right on the brink of being a dystopia, and that some aspects, such as government, authority, fame, and money, are slowly destroying us. These bands do not quite suggest a change that would help the current situation we are in, but instead serve the purpose of opening our eyes to this horror, while simultaneously encouraging us to sing along.