Amped up: Sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, pop-punk finds a new generation on TikTok

Tiktok pop punk star flicking off the viewer
(Jenny Park • The Student Life)

“Have you ever wondered what ‘betty’ from ‘folklore’ would sound like if it was a pop-punk song?” TikTok user @1cabeau asks in a video he posted on Dec. 14, 2020. “Yeah, me too,” he says, before the video cuts to a clip of him in a flannel and a bandana, belting an impassioned and upbeat cover of Taylor Swift’s original song, complete with added drums and electric guitar riffs.

The video accumulated over 270,000 likes and 1.3 million views: TikTok users, 69 percent of which are ages 13-24, answered his question with a resounding “Yes.” But the proliferation of pop-punk covers on TikTok is only one part of the genre’s widespread resurgence on the app. The hashtag #poppunk has over half a billion views, and early 2000s pop-punk hits like All Time Low’s “Dear Maria, Count Me In” and Paramore’s “All I Wanted” have become the soundtracks of popular TikTok trends. Additionally, teenage TikTok stars venturing into music like Lil Huddy, Jxdn and Nessa Barrett are releasing decidedly pop-punk inspired songs

TikTok is like a pressure cooker of teenage emotion, condensing and intensifying it, channeling both its constructive and destructive energy. The resurgence of pop-punk on TikTok both sheds light on the collective mental state of teenagers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and provides an avenue for coping with the isolating nature of the pandemic. 

Pop-punk, with its bratty connotations and woe-is-me lyrics, grants permission to be self-absorbed, which can help teenagers grieve the normalcy of their pre-pandemic lives and process the unprecedented conditions in which they are currently living. It refuses to be contextualized within the metaphorical grand scheme of things, bringing intensity and awareness to problems big and small. The self-absorption that teenagers — and, by extension, their interests — are so often lambasted for is repurposed by pop-punk as a meaningful way of processing.

Common themes and topics of pop-punk songs are angst, feelings of being trapped, mental anguish and self-deprecation, so the genre has been historically popular with teenagers. But this renewed resonance with the themes of the genre is due to the pandemic, in which the common pop-punk lamentation of being trapped in one’s hometown becomes even more strict. Due to social distancing, teenagers are not only trapped in their hometowns but in their bedrooms. Additionally, teenage mental health has suffered because of the pandemic, making themes of emotional distress and angst all the more relatable.

Lil Huddy and Jxdn (Chase Hudson and Jaden Hossler, respectively) are two of the most prominent TikTokers-turned-pop-punk-musicians. Because sustained TikTok fame depends on the creator’s ability to tap into teenage emotions and desire to keep the attention of a teenage audience, it’s no surprise they’ve capitalized on the pop-punk resurgence and incorporated it into their aesthetics and music. The surprise is that their music is good and feels surprisingly genuine.

On “The Eulogy of You and Me,” Hudson mourns a just-ended relationship with typical pop-punk melodrama. “I guess the last kiss was the kiss of death,” he muses over punchy drums and rowdy guitar riffs. His debut single, “21st Century Vampire,” uses a similar soundscape and touches on the common pop-punk theme of self-hatred. “I guess I’m just meant to be sleepin’ all day / I don’t got no fucking life,” he sings. 

While Hudson’s music is a convincing first endeavor, Hossler’s is even more impressive. On his debut single, “Comatose,” his powerful voice has a rasp that intensifies and complements the emotional distress he sings about. He, too, makes use of traditional pop-punk instrumentation but also incorporates the notorious “pop-punk accent” into his delivery; “comatose” sounds like “comateuwse.” His pop-punk cover of “drivers license” by Olivia Rodrigo is a stunning example of his vocal prowess, his ragged voice ascendent as the heavy drums crank up the lyrical angst. 

In an interview with Variety, Hossler predicted that his forthcoming album, “Tell Me About Tomorrow,” will have a massive impact on the music industry: “‘Tell Me About Tomorrow’ is going to be a groundbreaking experience, as movie critics would say. The energy I put in this album is like I’ve made timeless music for people to listen to 100 years from now and it would still feel just as relevant. This is gonna blow people away. This is going to be like, a shift in culture.”

Hossler’s hyperbolic confidence is hilarious and also a perfect demonstration of what pop-punk does on a macro level, which is getting down to the base emotional desire by forgoing self-awareness. I initially approached both Hudson’s and Hossler’s music ironically, thinking it would be cringey and corny and part of the endless catalog of material that influencers provide us to laugh at. But after a few songs, I forgot my affection for the music was supposed to be ironic. My pretensions fell away, and I just honestly enjoyed it, free from the confines of self-awareness that make me feel guilty for feeling sorry for myself at a time when so many people are suffering. I reveled in the minute emotional dramas of my life without judging their validity.

The collective trauma of the pandemic is heavy and ongoing, making it difficult for teenagers –– and everyone else –– to find space to grieve smaller problems such as missed birthdays or graduations. Pop-punk’s meteoric rise on TikTok throughout the course of the pandemic helps create this space by encouraging you to indulge in your own problems –– however small –– without dismissing them as frivolous. 

Mirabella Miller SC ’23 is TSL’s music columnist and an English major from Portland, Oregon. She shows up to most events drinking a Yerba Mate.

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