I’m not ashamed to say that maybe my emo phase was never a phase. And though I’ve matured in other ways, I am still listening to all the same bands I obsessed over in middle school. But most of the rock artists I idealized back then have changed.
Gone are the days I look forward to music from Fall Out Boy, Green Day, and Blink-182. Occasionally I’ll catch a glimpse of a recent song while scrolling through TikTok and quickly scroll away. Why? Because they’re all basic songs, devoid of meaning, hiding behind loud guitars and loud vocals to portray the complex musical structure they once had.
Many people think that selling out is when artists switch record labels from independent to major labels. The hand of capitalism finally catches up to the anti-establishment punk sound and leads them on the route of most marketability. Examples thrown around are Green Day moving to Reprise Records for their 1994 album Dookie. Or My Chemical Romance releasing Danger Days in 2010, showcasing more of a pop-punk sound compared to the emo-punk sounds of their previous albums.
There are also the fans that heavily gatekeep the alternative-rock and punk community who argue that just gaining popularity is an example of selling out. The album Enema of the State (1999), by Blink 182, was met with this criticism as three songs on the album became hit singles (“What’s my Age Again?”, “Adams Song,” “All the Small Things”).
Simply receiving mainstream recognition and popularity is not selling out. Music becomes popular because it’s good. And alternative music has always had one foot in the doorway of pop culture. Think back to Gerard Way on the cover of J-14 in the late 2000s.
To me, selling out is when artists change the style of their music in favor of what’s popular on the radio, therefore, reaching a wider audience with the sole purpose of making more money. Albums like Fall Out Boy’s American Beauty/American Psycho (2015), All Time Low’s Wake Up Sunshine (2020), Blink-182’s Nine (2019), and Green Day’s newest single “Here Comes The Shock” have been under fire for this. “Here Comes The Shock” is also the song I alluded to hearing on TikTok.
While I’m not a fan of the song or Green Day’s newer albums, I think speculating whether or not a band is selling out just based on their music is unfair. Artist’s change, and with that, their music changes. Artists need room to grow and develop their sound.
All of the artists mentioned have changed, grown, matured. Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy has a 6-year-old child, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day just turned 49, and Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low recently formed a new pop-rock duo with Blink-182 member Mark Hoppus. What I’m saying is that, of course, their music is going to change. They are not the same people they were when they were angsty 20-year-olds.
Maybe one day I’ll grow out of all of this. Maybe I won’t, since I discovered punk-emo music 8 years ago and I still find myself watching the “Helena” music video on YouTube… But if one thing is certain, it’s that music is constantly changing. And in the end, it’s up to you to decide if they’re sellouts, or just moving on.