It was 1999, a particularly hot summer in San Antonio, Texas. I remember walking into a Wal-Mart, away from my mom to wander the vast CD racks for something new and exciting. It was a big time for pop music. The cover of Millennium, by the then inauthentic-feeling boy band, the Backstreet Boys, showed five distinct personas in all white suits, standing before a bluish-purple power-point background. In America, it still holds the record for the most album shipments in one year–11 million orders. Good thing Burger King had begun giving away two or three song demos for free, or I might have bought it. Zayne Riggins, my albino 3rd grade significant othe,r had recently introduced me to the magic of palm muted power chords. I wasn’t looking for Backstreet Boys anymore–I was looking for Blink-182.
See also: Win Tickets to Blink 182’s Show at Music Hall of Williamsburg!
There the cover sat. Porn star Janine Lindemulder sensually grinning, forcing a blue latex glove on her right hand, enormous boobs exposed in an intricate red bra covered only slightly by a fetish nurse costume. This was Enema of the State, the third studio album from So-Cal pop punkers Blink-182. With a cover so taboo, and a Parental Advisory–I gave my cash to a mall punk to pick up the album for me–it was, perhaps inevitably, my first CD purchase ever.
This was the record that scored Blink Top 40 radio play: “All The Small Things,” became a No. 1 hit on the Modern Rock chart, later peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The video itself parodied the prevalent boy band culture of the time, directly mocking the Backstreet Boys video for “I Want It That Way.” How did three 20-something delinquent wannabe punks succeed in mainstream music, potty mouths in tow, while the world was still largely ruled by Britneys, Chistianas, Nicks, and Justins? It’s pretty simple: Blink-182 is the most important band of the ’90s, dick jokes and all.
And not just in pop punk. The obvious argument is for Green Day, but while Billie Joe and crew spent most of their energy politicizing their suburban experience, Blink 182 sought to enjoy it. That was the merit in their debauchery: teen angst was fun again.
Much different from the obvious ’90s alternative: Nirvana, whose accessible coolness was never targeted towards the youthful angst that “paid off well” when they struck it anyway, Blink-182 never took itself seriously. Their celebrity was transparent. Nirvana found success in a self-seriousness that was, and still is, mythologized.
Unlike punk and hardcore, which prides itself on exclusivity, Blink-182 were digestible. A safe rebellion. Like the 924 Gilman scene that birthed Green Day, there was little violence-surrounding Blink. No drug use. There was drinking, but not in dangerous amounts. (In fact, when booze came to be an issue with Blink’s first drummer, Scott Raynor, they kicked him out.) As far as extremes go, the band was pretty tame. But it didn’t feel that way.
There is a huge generational gap in finding the staying power of an act like Blink 182–I’m in my early 20s, those in their early 20s were adolescents in the late ’90s/early to mid-00s, a time where the “alternative” to mainstream pop and rock was pop-punk and emo, not indie rock or grunge. But like those in their early-30s, the appreciation of the music from their youth is free of irony, even if those critics and music obsesses can’t see the validity of Blink-182, or write them off as too goofy fluff. (They’re missing out.)
There’s a pretty obvious resurgence of pop-punk happening these days, those who were in their 20s playing music inspired by their teens: boy slackers Japandroids and intelligent songstress Waxahatchee come to mind, as well as indie couple Wavves and Best Coast. Outside of the U.S., London’s Male Bonding riff on the band (albeit, with loads more distortion,) and even Grimes cites the band as a major influence (pulling a live DVD in her Amoeba Records “What’s In My Bag?” episode.) Apart from the sound, Blink’s ideology has been popularized: their delinquency one of the reasons the current mega-successful boy band One Direction can succeed–their attractive controlled chaos, playful anarchic behavior borrowed from our so-cal heroes. Blink-182’s presence is everywhere.
There are infinite reasons to love the band, and for some, it’s the relatable desperation in their lyrics. There’s little ambiguity and fewer romantic successes. They were comfortable being awkward. Case in point: “The Rock Show,” with the chorus, “I fell in love with the girl at the rock show / She said “What?” and I told her that I didn’t know.” It’s a frustration that, more often than not, is girl-shaped and simultaneously internal: the sort of teenage heartbreak bullshit that continues throughout young adulthood… they were the ones who made it OK to say, “If we’re fucked up, you’re to blame.” It’s the reason my first band ever was an all-girl Blink cover band called Dumpweed. It’s the reason, in 5th grade, I impersonated bassist Mark Hoppus on “Dress Like Your Hero Day,” and it’s reason I hung onto their every word of every Blink-182 song and interview and learned to celebrate youth.
Everyone grows out of obsessions. Some things are just phases. But some are more formative than most, the marginalization of teenage desire cloaks greatness. Eventually the critical world will get it, and hopefully it won’t come in the form of a Metropolitan Museum of Art “Pop Punk” exhibit in 30 years. Until then…
Blink-182 perform Wednesday night at Music Hall of Williamsburg.