Sick of This Town! The Complicated Nostalgia of the Pop-Punk Anniversary Tour

Still from Simple Plan's 'Perfect' music video (2002).

Still from Simple Plan's 'Perfect' music video (2002).

Words by Ruby Pivet

A few weeks back, I saw Simple Plan perform at Melbourne’s Forum Theatre. The gig was the first of two sold-out shows at the venue, and was a part of a much larger world tour in celebration of the 15th anniversary of their debut album, 2002’s No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls. Under luminous red lighting, Simple Plan emerged, with front man, Pierre Bouvier, letting out an animated “What’s up, Melbourne!”, before launching into album opener “I’d Do Anything”. The crowd shrieked with glee.

Pop-punk is enjoying a kind of renaissance right now. Type ‘nostalgic’ and ‘pop-punk’ into the Spotify search bar and you’ll come across dozens of fan-created playlists. This March, Download Festival made its way to Australia, featuring lineup that indulged in the former glory days pop-punk, with Good Charlotte, NOFX and Suicidal Tendencies all included on the bill. This cultural moment has beckoned the arrival of the pop-punk anniversary tour. New Found Glory, The Used, Taking Back Sunday, We The Kings and Motion City Soundtrack are just a few of the many bands that have marked their 10th or 20th anniversaries with an expansive world tour. When it comes to these tours, the cynic in me thinks it has something to do with sentimentality, and a lot to do with money. Those of us who were once teenage fans are now adults with disposable incomes and are more than willing to shell out a pricey fee to see the bands who scored the emotional turmoil of our youth.

From the moment they step onto the Forum's stage, it’s obvious Simple Plan follow a tightly, well-rehearsed script when performing. And while the show lacks spontaneity, it doesn’t make the whole affair any less joyous. They clearly still love the teenage anthems they wrote years ago, and their genuine excitement and energy while performing them is infectious. They are down one member (bassist David Desrosiers rarely tours) and their uniform of cargo shorts has been replaced by skinny jeans, but they sound just as they do on the 2002 record.

The set captures their giddy, playful antics perfectly. It’s definitely amusing that a bunch of men nearing their forties are performing songs called “I’m Just A Kid” and “Grow Up”, but somehow it works. The band have seemingly unending energy: high jumps and kicks and spins are the norm, as is their excitable chatter between one another and the audience. The crowd is equally unabashed in their determination to leave the venue shaking. “Perfect” sends the audience into sing-along mode, phones transforming the venue into a planetarium. At one point, they launch a bunch of beach balls into the crowd. Watching Simple Plan play their debut album, it sounds like adolescence encased in amber: mischievous, gummy songs that rip apart relations with authority figures, touch on conformist anxieties and are fueled by escapism.
But amongst all this wistful romanticism, it's hard for me to not feel pangs of discomfort. Since my teenage years, I’ve reckoned with the reality that pop-punk has major issues when it comes to race and women. In her essay, Where The Girls Aren't, critic Jessica Hopper discusses how young women are written about often, but rarely included, in emo. In Where is Your Boy Tonight?”: Misogyny in Pop Punk, Erica West gives these male pop-punk songwriters a name: The Nice Guys. Core characteristics include “putting girls on a pedestal, watching said girl from afar and obsessing over her, and reacting intensely negatively when she rejects or ignores you.”

So many of the bands Hopper and West discuss have recently gone on anniversary tours. Last year, Mayday Parade celebrated the 10th anniversary of their album, A Lesson In Romantics, with a reissue of the record and a tour. Often considered their greatest offering, it featured “When I Get Home You’re So Dead”, with the lyrics “I hope he’s leaving you empty, baby/This is just a fix for such a simple little whore.” I begged my mum for this album and kept it on high rotation for at least a year. In 2010, Pete Wentz acknowledged the misogyny of his old lyrics, to only come out two years later with Fall Out Boy’s “Death Valley”, a song that includes the line “So put the “D” in dirt now baby, baby/Let’s get you wasted and alone”. It’s likely that Fall Out Boy will embark on some sort of anniversary tour or show for their debut album, Take This To Your Grave, which turned 15 this year.

Given this rhetoric, it's not surprising that in the wake of #metoo, many male pop-punks artists have found serious abuse allegations levelled against them - including Brand New’s Jesse Lacy and PWR BTTM’s Ben Hopkins. When Jessica Hopper says these bands prefer women “on a pedestal or on our backs. Muses as best. Cum rags or invisible at worst", she highlights how the degrading ways in which women are written about in these songs seeps into real life.

The only band who have seemed to reckon with their past questionable lyrics is Paramore. In Melbourne earlier this year, Hayley Williams made a clear disclaimer to the audience before launching into “Misery Business”, a song which includes the line “a whore/you’re nothing more”. As she’s mentioned many times before, she spoke about the ways in which she and the band have grown since they released the song.

And while Simple Plan’s music is void of the entitlement, violence and vindication of other bands of the genre, there are some aspects of the band’s debut that give pause to the celebration. In the video clip for “I’d Do Anything”, Simple Plan have their namesake scrawled on a naked girl’s back. The No Pads... album cover itself features the band in a hotel room with a bunch of miscellaneous women that appear like props. You also have to wonder if women in their forties would be similarly celebrated for parading around stage and singing about being a petulant teenager.
Simple-Plan-No-Pads-,-No-Helmets-.-.-.-Just-Balls (1).JPG
"Part of me wonders whether some of this nostalgia for male pop-punk bands of yesteryear stems from a longing for a time when questionable lyrics, bad behaviour and the complete centrism of men’s pain went unchallenged."
Nostalgia feels good, especially when it relates to teenagedom, when emotions are high, and songs can feel transformative. But some part of me wonders whether some of this nostalgia for male pop-punk bands of yesteryear stems from a longing for a time when questionable lyrics, bad behaviour and the complete centrism of men’s pain went unchallenged.

It’s a good sign that both of Simple Plan’s support acts tonight — Stateside and Eat Your Heart Out — are lead by women. They are punchy and emphatic and later, during the encore, Simple Plan bring out Stateside’s Erin Reus for a duet on “Jet Lag.” Yet, it's in the banter between songs where I realise that Simple Plan haven't really grown up at all. Pausing during “I’m Just A Kid”, Bouvier builds a crowd sing-along with a tongue-in-cheek comment: “you get harder and harder… till you explode.” Later, to illustrate just how old the album they’re playing for us tonight is, they point out that it’s been around longer than “Facebook, MySpace, YouTube… RedTube”, the kind of joke you’d expect perhaps from a 13-year-old. The innuendo shtick feels very well worn.

But later, a suggestion of their former (pre)teen fans pleasuring themselves to posters of the band tips things well and truly into creepy territory. After all these years, discussing onstage their then (pre)teen fans’ presumed sexual awakening to the band (who were then in their mid-twenties and are now in their late-thirties), makes a show that was meant to be all about jubilant reminiscence, just feel icky.

If the anniversary tour celebrates everything fun and goofy about the early 2000s era of pop-punk, then it also serves as a reminder of how toxic and exclusionary these scenes can be. As I exit The Forum, part of me is elated, giddy and buzzing from singing along to the songs that meant so much to me as a teen. The other part feels deeply uncomfortable - it’s the feeling of reckoning with a piece of pop culture that feels both cherished and tarnished. How do we reconcile the way our hearts swell to the sounds of power chords, with the knowledge we now have that the songs and the scene isn’t nearly as inclusive nor safe as we once presumed? There is a shift that’s been occurring with new waves of emo and pop punk. It is one that has begun with hindsight, accountability and visibility, but there is still a ways to go. These tours are a celebration, but they also highlight a need for a change — one that is needed more than a relishing in nostalgia. ■