on pop-punk, misogyny + me

on pop-punk, misogyny + me

I’ve often found myself starting to write essays about the interplay between being a woman and being heavily influenced by emo and pop-punk. I’ve always shied away from doing it, though, because I never felt like I had anything to add.

The misogyny baked into those genres is egregious. It’s obvious. It’s talked and joked about to death. The experiences young women have as fans and as industry workers is even worse. It’s well documented and has been for a long time. What do I have to add?

I could tell little stories about being at Subterranean at 15 and the bassist for a pop-punk band I loved trying to get me to go into their van. Or about a man groping me while tabling at Riot Fest with an organization dedicated to fighting sexual harassment and assault in music spaces. Or about the girl younger than me who told me she hates emo because she slept with a member of a long defunct band I listed in my submission to an alt-weekly’s Best of the Decade critic’s poll.

I could talk about those things and how they make me angry and scared. I could talk about how I’m lucky my dad always came to pick me up from shows when I was in high school. I’m even lucky, in some regards, that I was always so anxious that I never had the confidence to approach any musician I ever liked.

While those things are true and have impacted me, my experience as a teenage girl (and indeed a woman in my early 20s now) involved in the culture around emo and pop-punk is a lot more complex than those stories. It’s easy to be angry, it’s hard to unpack the more subtle negative underpinnings of even the things I remember fondly.

Fan culture and experience is all but summarily dismissed within a discussion about how exclusionary pop-punk and emo really are. You can talk about how the violent lyrics might make girls feel, but it took me a long time to be like “oh this is misogynistic” and not just think “this fucking rules” while listening to a violent Taking Back Sunday song. Took me longer to settle on the idea that, well, it’s both.

What I find more frustrating is that there’s this narrative of like, “your tour needs to be more inclusive because seeing yourself onstage is important” and that’s a valid angle, but music is more than people onstage. Inclusive tours are important, but things like the pervasive idea that non-men in the industry are expected to not be outward fans isn’t rooted in not seeing enough non-men on stage. It’s rooted in fan culture and the way fans are discussed. The idea that men have an inherently rational reason for liking things or, worse, have been deified for having no fucking idea beyond just a feeling. (Reader, this is what the rock industrial complex calls “genius.”)

When I was growing up there was sort of two different angles you could be bullied through music taste. One was liking “music for girls” and the other is liking music by girls. These things can be the same, but in my experience they’re often not.

When I was first getting into pop-punk it was pretty pervasive that it was For Girls. For context, I had just turned 10 when So Wrong, It’s Right by All Time Low was released. I knew what Blink-182 was when I was in middle school, but mostly because of the radio and because All Time Low talked about them in interviews. Neon pop-punk was deeply my thing. I loved it. I loved The Maine and Forever the Sickest Kids and Mayday Parade. If the band had five men with deeply side swept hair, I was there and I was having fun. I also loved Owl City, which wasn’t pop-punk but certainly felt similar in aesthetic and vibe.

I also loved Mitchell Davis who I’ve spoken about on several different occasions as the reason I discovered Death Cab For Cutie, but he encapsulated the vibe of everything I thought was cool. The neon pop punk aesthetic was just the mens section of American Apparel and like.. shutter shades. You could probably buy those at American Apparel, too.

But all of these things felt, and continue to feel, like they’re disparaged for being Music For Girls. I knew that at the time. It’s not a retrospective misogyny. I knew it at 12 that it was kind of embarrassingly girly to love All Time Low. The rhetoric of 2009-2012 surrounding those bands was simultaneously wrapped up in homophobia and an idea that girls only liked them because they were cute boys. It’s boyband rhetoric. The misogyny of the music was underlying (it would take me a few years to cringe at the Weightless video), but the way fans were treated online especially was overt.

But when I look back on being a Big Fan of that band, I don’t remember being embarrassed. I think there’s a few ways to react to being dubbed a Band For Girls and most bands do it poorly. Some of my warmest and most positive memories with other women come out of talking about All Time Low. And it’s because they managed to cultivate what felt like an intentionally warm environment for their obviously young, obviously mostly female fans.

I recognize that the existence of the fan club and the way they went about being a band was definitely impacted by the reality that teen girls are a goldmine for merch sales, but it never felt exploitative. Everybody I know who has been a part of the fan club has nothing but good things to say about it. I think the way the band conducted themselves as these massive, almost embarrassing fans of stupid things made it feel okay to be a massive, almost embarrassing fan of them. If Jack Barakat can have a massive Jack Skellington tattoo on his chest and they can make Home Alone and Blink their entire personalities for years then who gives a fuck?

Then I got a little older and got into pop-punk and emo/pop-punk crossover stuff. With it I experienced bands themselves making me feel bad for liking that kind of music for the first time. (One notable example is, coincidentally, also named after a New Found Glory song.) So many of the pop punk bands that got a lot of hype were actively and publicly so disparaging of their fanbases. Not in a fun way, just full thinly veiled misogyny. I’m sure it comes from a level of self deprecation, but nobody wants to hear about how you think it’s embarrassing people like your work.

It created this whole ecosystem of music that was still made fun of as being For Girls, but this time I always felt so much pressure to also make fun of it because, well, what kind of stupid girl likes this shit?

People should be allowed to make fun of themselves, but on their terms not as a necessary defense mechanism to not be seen as embarrassing or cringey.

On the flipside of my musical experiences is in looking at music made by women. Both Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae and Friday by Rebecca Black dropped when I was in middle school and from that moment my head gave an obvious split to what music by women was okay to like and what was worthy of relentless bullying.

I know we all experienced the evisceration of both songs, but that unfiltered misogyny coming from the mouths of the meanest people in the world (12 year old boys) was unlike anything I think I’ve experienced since. And you had to make fun of it. There wasn’t a choice but to make fun of it. It doesn’t help that our middle school played Friday over the intercom, but that’s beside the point.

Watching the (deserved) mass critical flip on Carly Rae felt uniquely bizarre to me. Finally, she crossed the aisle into women it was so cool to love that you weren’t allowed to not like her. She was an awful embarrassment, but now she’s a critical darling. Whether you suck or you’re cool as a non-man is a switch, not a dimmer. You’re a laughingstock or you’re an icon and that’s decided by a collection of dudes.

The more recent reinventing of Rebecca Black is something even more strange as her viral, highly mocked song and video were literally created by a man. It was all packaged for her and she bore the brunt of the criticism. It’s really wonderful to see she’s been able to come into her own. Rebecca Black is about a month and a half older than me and I know for a fact I would not have survived that level of public ridicule.

There was a possibility to feel safe and unbothered when liking Music For Girls, there wasn’t so much that for music made by women. For alt music, there was a few at a time. There was Paramore, of course. And Paramore was the cool one. There was We Are the In Crowd. Tonight Alive. But those bands were diminutive to larger bands which is sort of the blueprint of how I experienced bands with non-male members for a long time.

When I was in high school, it was very cool to be into Tigers Jaw and Pity Sex, but that’s it. You could like Cayetana and Hop Along. Lemuria’s a big one. Maybe people would talk about The Anniversary and Rainer Maria. But they never got to be contextualized together or fairly in the way male bands were able to be.

You also couldn’t talk about them without this pervasive feeling that some dude was actually just telling you, “oh yeah there’s girls in the bands, but they’re great and they know Balance and Composure and Title Fight.” That forced contextualization of bands with feminine vocals (or more often, dual vocals) within an all male scene only fuels the compulsive justification. Not even to mention how much is predicated on dudes thinking the women in those bands are attractive.

As a fan it was easy to recede into being embarrassed to like anything. Even the cool bands to like weren’t cool for girls to like. I never wanted to talk to the people making the music (in retrospect, again, probably good). But I also never wanted to really know more people who loved the same stuff I did. Shows became something internal. Even the good ones and the music I loved felt so bogged down by years of this forced embarrassment it stopped being fun. Most of the music I liked in high school is still a point of embarrassment for people, including close friends of mine. I find that so exhausting.

Now I look back on my experiences and they’re all tinged with this embarrassment that I have to actively unpack.

Eventually I ended up being able to look at the dynamics between fans and artists within emo and pop-punk as not only upsetting but totally strange and not universal to how music scenes have to be. The cool people don’t have to be like that. This stuff doesn’t have to be presented as something to be embarrassed of. But I had to come to that through a falling out with the thing that defined me for a long time and through the way I filled the gap.

My relationship to fashion is extremely fraught as an interest in models was more or less just thinspo out in the open, but it brought me to two things that fundamentally changed my relationship with music. The first was Tavi Gevinson. And the second is Frankie Cosmos.

For those who don’t know, Tavi Gevinson was a like protégé fashion blogger. She had a huge fashion blog at like 12 and got to go to fashion week and stuff super young. She also founded and edited Rookie Mag. I think I found her through my rabid obsession with Alexa Chung, whose attitude toward It Girls and Rock n’ Roll™ is embarrassing.

I find Tavi Gevinson charming, but Rookie really changed something in me. It felt warm and unabashedly feminine. It also felt achievable, or at least imitable. Most women who get to be cool and around art and fashion don’t feel that way. They feel impossibly effortless and beautiful. The stuff at Rookie felt accessible and wonderful. It was also fun in a way music I liked, and music I still like, just usually is not.

The only stuff allowed to be fun, even now sometimes, is such Dude’s Rock bullshit. I used to read weird Dan Ozzi Vice pieces just to get a semblance of music adjacent fun. That’s why I am the way I am. God, someone owes me money.. But I digress.

I recently spoke about how the Frankie Cosmos bandcamp page is one of the places on the internet I feel safest, but learning about Greta Kline and the people around her was the first time I really found myself into music that was helmed mostly by non-men. I thought it was so cool and fun to see the collaborative stuff they’d do. It also didn’t feel like it had this huge barrier to entry as far as being interested. It was fun to seek out related bands and learn who was in what band in a way I never felt before.

Not that I wasn’t aware of, like, riot grrrl. That just felt like it came with this huge barrier to entry just to be a fan of. It also felt like it required a level of interest in anger I never possessed.

So this thing found me and I didn’t have to have an actual presence in it. It could just be something I liked for me. I didn’t have to go to shows that caused me unbearable anxiety. I could listen to a collaborative songwriting exercise on a tumblr account. And it felt fun and low stress and far from the music that defined my self hatred.

After that I could develop a love for Charly Bliss and Remember Sports when I needed that most. It inspired me to make things just because I could and it didn’t matter. It made me feel like creativity wasn’t this thing that had to be ridiculed to death on every even microscopic level. That’s what I needed in that moment.

I think sometimes that’s what I still need.

Now I see bands with ever increasing amounts of women, trans people, queer people, and people of color who are getting deserved hype and it feels like such a far cry from what I could look to as a teenager. Not that the fight against white male dominated music and media is anywhere near over, but it’s really cool to be able to easily identify scenes and bands who have contextualized themselves together.

Tokenism remains a huge problem. The preference given to white male bands is still present. I don’t want to make it sound like hooray we’ve solved misogyny and racism in music, but I just hope kids can look at these bands and feel like they’re not being made fun of by dudes who would spitefully kick them in the face if they could. That’s all I want.

I’ve been wanting to talk about Minneapolis emo tinged indie pop band, Bugsy, for a little while so I’m going to do that here. I find them to be the most charming, fun, cool band in DIY right now.

I find their visual aesthetic of cut & paste and craft glue and foam letters really endearing. It drew me into them immediately. As did their hometown. I’m generally a fan of Minneapolis, but especially now as there seems to be tons of really awesome young bands coming out of there. Between them and VIAL and Allergen and Double Grave (and a bunch of other sick bands I’m forgetting like the bad music writer slash fan I am) there is so so so much cool stuff coming out of Minnesota right now!

Bugsy have a new song out in a few days that I’ll punish everyone on twitter about, I’m sure.

bugsy @bugsybandhello friends! we are releasing a new song/music video on february 13 2021! presave it now if u want to!! I am so so so pumped to finally release this song into the world <3 (photo credit to @evv_music) distrokid.com/hyperfollow/bu…

January 13th 202126 Retweets91 Likes

But their EP from last year, Teratoma, I’ve found myself returning to over and over. Their particular brand of high energy, hooky, fuzzy indie rock is endlessly fun to listen to. They also make all their own music videos which I love.

Anyway, my favorite song of theirs is Hard to Breathe. It rules. Please check it out and go presave their new song and make them big rockstars.

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Miranda Reinert is a music adjacent writer, zine maker, and law student based in Philadelphia. Follow me on Twitter for more on music and other things like when I get to be on the Endless Scroll Podcast: @mirandareinert. I also opened up a paid tier of this newsletter which for $5 a month (or $40 a year! what a deal!) you’ll get free zines as I make them and one upon sign up! Wow! But as always, thanks for reading!