Editor’s Notes: This feature initially ran in July 2016. It’s being revisited this week as The Offspring return with their brand-new album, Let the Bad Times Roll. So, sit back as we sift through the slush pile to pinpoint the 100 best pop punk bands of all time.
Punk has always thought of itself as radically progressive, but that’s not really true. Go all the way back to the Sex Pistols and their theatrical rejection of mainstream culture, and you’ll find something that’s a lot more reactionary than people give it credit for. (Malcolm McLaren was a clothes designer who stumbled on a new product and found a new way to package it — nothing revolutionary about that.) Sure, punk became a genuine movement with genuine ethics once bands like Crass and Black Flag and Fugazi came around, but the genre as a whole was never the antithesis of pop culture, no matter how many studs and safety pins it stuck in its thrift-store leather jacket.
All of this is to preemptively silence those readers who might see a list of the “100 Best Pop Punk Bands” and immediately cry foul at the premise of the thing. Whatever kind of scene flag you’re so intent on waving, get it out of our faces right now. Pop punk is a legitimate (though admittedly very messy) subgenre that has birthed hundreds of bands since it first came into existence. It’s also an undeniable product of its time and place. Arriving 15 years or so after punk’s initial heyday, pop punk owes its existence to the changes that swept across America in the 1980s and necessitated a different kind of rebellion (or pseudo-rebellion, as it were). Malls sprouted across suburbia, skateboard culture gave jocks and weirdos a common reference point, and that capitalist sentiment that ran roughshod over everything in the Reagan era taught corporations the same lesson that McLaren had learned years earlier: Punk sells.
And boy, did it ever sell. Vans Warped Tour, Hot Topic, Mountain Dew, Famous Stars & Straps — all of these names eventually became as tied up in pop punk as names like Green Day and Blink-182. Not every pop punk band participated in corporate culture, with some as adamant about maintaining their DIY ethics as Fugazi and the Dischord crew were in the ‘80s. Still, it’s impossible to divorce the genre entirely from its commodification.
It’s also hard, as we found, to figure out what exactly “pop punk” really means. Is Operation Ivy a pop punk band, despite their obvious debt to ska? (Yes, we suppose.) What about Bad Religion, who grew up in the suburbs but maintained close ties to hardcore throughout their long career? (No, we guess.) The best we could do was come up with a sort of gut test: If the band seems more pop punk than anything else, they get to stay. This obviously led to a lot of tough cuts (and a lot of arguing), but rest assured that we don’t consider Bad Religion the 101st best pop punk band ever.
Otherwise, if you don’t find your favorite band on this list, it’s probably because they suck or never made it outside your rinky-dink hometown. That’s fine. Just post a link to their Bandcamp in the comments section and let people figure it out for themselves. DIY or die, right?