Like many people drawn to rock music, I never really felt out of place. I grew up in four different countries – the UK, Pakistan, the US, and Kenya – and to this day I have struggled to put my cultural identity into words. For me, pop punk has become my culture and my community, my home. I’ve never felt a greater sense of belonging than when I bounced back in time with a group of strangers at an All Time Low show. Maybe naively, or maybe because rock music didn’t have the same echo in Kenya, I never felt it wasn’t for me. I was so removed from the rock scene growing up that most of my sense of community was found online through Tumblr, where I interacted with fans like me – young women my age who loved pop. punk – from all over the world. I thought the amazing thing about music was that it connected people from very different backgrounds. I connected with the pop punk themes of friendships, betrayal, and even wanting to leave your hometown, even though I didn’t really have a hometown in the typical sense.
Over the past few years, I have seen more groups with women and queer members, and over the past year, I have seen more POCs at the forefront of rock music, by so much. more than pop punk exploded and is reintegrated into the mainstream. .
I find it hard to talk about these changes every time I write about the current pop punk scene. Even though I am proud of the progress that has been made and feel that they need to be recognized, it is difficult to do so without immediately categorizing these artists according to their identity. It feels like drawing attention to people and altering them for who they are instead of being inclusive and normalizing seeing people from all walks of life. It sounds like symbolism, but it’s just as wrong not to talk about it. And unfortunately I have no answers.
After the murder of George Floyd, support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased and conversations around race and diversity came to the fore. One of the main goals of some conversations was how to best support black art and art created by people of color. As a result, many black artists began to gain popularity. But while they were receiving the kind of attention that they had worked hard for and that many artists dream of, they found themselves in a difficult position. Their careers and success were now linked to such a shocking event – the gruesome murder of an innocent man and a reminder of ingrained racial violence.
Often classified according to their race or identity, the work of many artists has been discussed in a way that centers on their identity rather than their music. They are constantly asked to talk about their identity, the discrimination they have suffered – which it is sometimes quite traumatic to talk about – and diversity in general, in a way that their peers from more advantaged backgrounds do not. are not. Even media coverage can sometimes focus on the difficult experiences these artists have had because of their background rather than their music. Artists from marginalized backgrounds are also under great pressure.
“Especially because we’re a POC band that a lot of people are starting to admire, I really hope they don’t expect this extravagant band that just came out of nowhere to be one of the torchbearers. “Paul Vallejo said of punk band Pinkshift.
Rock music has always been made by and for people of color. In fact, most people trace the invention of rock to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a queer black woman, whose guitar playing defined the model of modern rock. Punk in particular was meant to speak out against oppression and raise marginalized voices. These values didn’t always come out when he entered the mainstream as pop punk. Even when it came to riot grrrl, a radical feminist punk movement, it failed to include non-white women.
Fanbases have always been diverse, but this diversity was rarely reflected in the artists on stage until recently. Many people with marginalized identities relate to that feeling of being such an intrinsic stranger to pop punk – of not being enough, of not fitting in – not just as teenagers, but maybe even their entire population. life, in a world that is set up to serve a very specific group of people.
While this current moment shows that huge strides have been made in representation, it’s hard to separate where that turns into symbolic. The narrative surrounding these changes also rules out the progress that remains to be made.
“There were times when I felt like we were the symbolic ‘girl band’ at a show and I personally faced a specter of sexism,” said Lily Cormack, singer of the Better Now punk band. “I will say that although efforts have been made to make our musical stages safer,” she adds. “There is still a lot of work to be done to make them more inclusive for women, POCs and LGBTQIA + people. ”
Many people feel unwelcome in alternative spaces because of their race, sex, gender identity, sexuality, or other aspects of their identity, primarily due to men and whites seeking to keep those who are different from them. Many fans have experienced racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination from other fans in scenes whose fashion was built from standards of white beauty (slicked back hair, by example) and Western culture in general. On the flip side, a lot of people, like me, have been told by people in our communities (in my case, my peers who were women of color) not to listen to rock music because it doesn’t. was not for us.
I too am a woman of color in pop punk at a time when women of color are thriving in the genre. I too have taken advantage of the rise of the genre by getting opportunities to write about it that I never would have thought of. But I hope we find better ways to discuss the changes taking place in diversity. We already have some important talk about race, gender, and sexuality in rock, but we don’t talk enough about ableism or classism.
Part of the problem with this narrative that we have suddenly entered a more diverse era of rock music is that it flattens the advancements that have taken place and have yet to happen, and erases people of color and people from other marginalized backgrounds who have long been a part of the genre and even an integral part of the genre that has often had its identity whitewashed, like Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy or Ray Toro from My Chemical Romance. FeFe Dobson has suffered a lot of racism during his career, and his work and impact is rarely mentioned or discussed. Travie McCoy was not only a popular alternative artist of color at a time when the genre was predominantly white, and therefore was a figure many fans and artists admired, but he also set the model for combining rock and hip. hop in a way that has influenced music today. Seeing Jess Bowen, the drummer for The Summer Set, was really important to me when I was a teenager. When I discovered groups like Meet Me @ the Altar and CHERYM last year, I felt a lot less alone. In fact, it was when I discovered other women journalists of color who wrote about rock music that I felt like I could do it too.
“I never thought I could do something like this because that’s usually what white boys do,” said Myron Houngbedji of Pinkshift. “With more people of color and more women, in these bands and on stages, it makes people want to maybe try and do stuff like that.
This increase in diversity must be accompanied by greater standardization, especially in a scene that has always sought to be representative.
“I also just want to be a band,” said Lauren Denitzio of rock band Worriers. “There is no need for an adjective in front of us. We are just a group. And we were lucky with the tours that we were able to book, the tours that we were able to be supported on. I never felt symbolized at all by the bands that took us on tour. But I think it happens in the way we are written and how we are contextualized elsewhere. ”
Artists want the music to speak for itself. And most artists are grateful for any attention given to them, even if it is tied to their identity. Fortunately, this is an intermediate step that is only temporary and as the stage expands performers will not feel different or have to talk about their identities unless they do. want it.
“We’re doing this because we want to and it’s fun,” said Ashrita Kumar of Pinkshift. “We did not come here with the intention of representing all minorities.