When Punk Goes Full Pop
by Cole Schoneman
Photography courtesy of PunkGoes.com
Released in 2009, one brave Fearless Records intern presumably showed up to work and nervously pitched the idea of having crabcore juggernauts Attack Attack! cover “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry. Much to this fictional employee’s surprise, the label ran with his idea and the Punk Goes… series was born.
Fearless Records has released 18 albums in this series, including seven Punk Goes Pop albums. According to the record company, the “series has sold over 2.5 million albums and is the top selling compilation in the alternative genre.” What started as an ironic effort to add some levity to the hardcore punk scene has now turned into an annual staple in alternative music.
While many prolific bands are featured on the albums, some seem to rely, in part, on the albums for exposure. All but four of the 13 bands featured on the popular Punk Goes Pop Volume 4, for example, have had their covers featured on their top five most-played tracks on Spotify. Considering this album came out in 2011, it reveals not only the popularity of the Punk Goes… series but its greater popularity in comparison to much of the artists’ own music.
Pop covers make up a majority of many artists’ Spotify plays and are key staples of their live performances. We Came As Romans have four original albums that have entered the Billboard Top 100, yet still perform “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift regularly on tour. I can personally attest to easy-core band Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!’s crowd losing their minds over a mostly unchanged cover of “All Star” by Smash Mouth.
It’s not a stretch to say that some of these bands’ very existences are due, in part, to the pop songs they covered. I Prevail entered the scene with a post-hardcore cover of “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift in 2014, and they’re now headlining tours over long-time giants like Escape the Fate. Our Last Night built a career on YouTube off of alternative metal renditions of pop songs, most notably “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry.
Understandably, many longtime alternative metal fans see this as a cheapening of the genre. Few scene bands in 2018 make enough money to support a decent living, and it must be hard seeing Our Last Night scream “Havana hoo na na” and enjoy modest success.
Punk and metal scenes owe their existence to a rejection of mainstream music. An overreliance on autotune, lip-synched live performances or simplistic lyrics that appeal to the masses used to be death sentences for a band trying to ‘make it’ in the scene. Now they’re integral to many bands’ sounds and isolating longtime fans as a result.
As one Reddit user wrote in Metalcore:
“When I was younger the whole reason I got into this scene was to escape the generic-ness of pop music [...]. I went out of the way to find something I MYSELF liked and stuck with it no matter what anyone told me. In the last four or five years though [...] the pop scene has become a huge part of metalcore/hardcore and I hate that so f*cking much.”
It seems that as the traditional scene music declines in popularity, many bands are drawing inspiration from the very music they should be rejecting. Pop covers punctuated by a few screams and guitar solos might make teenagers feel like they’re supporting something exciting and new; instead, the scene’s identity and function are becoming less clear and the fans who supported it for years are dropping as quickly as the next punk-tinged pop hit.