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The 100 Best Pop Punk Bands

Because we all get nostalgic at times for Warped Tour, Hot Topic and Mountain Dew

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The Offspring, photo courtesy of the artist
The Offspring, photo courtesy of the artist

    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.

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    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?

    –Collin Brennan
    Associate Editor


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    100. Good Charlotte

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    There’s a slew of pop punk bands that are hard to applaud for creativity, but when their melodies come under scrutiny, it’s clear they were doing something right. That’s the deal with Good Charlotte: they knew how to write songs that not only stuck in your head but that you would remember the lyrics to over a decade later. After forming in 1995 during high school, the Madden brothers and the rest of Good Charlotte dropped their self-titled debut to underground success followed by 2002’s The Young and the Hopeless, their hit-stuffed full-length. They knew the key recipe for anthemic pop punk songs: uplifting chord progressions played with a bit of grit and a call to arms to those in need of a loser anthem. Be it the hilariously stereotypical gender dynamics of “Girls & Boys” or the income mockery of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, Good Charlotte always found complaints the community could sing about and their eyeliner could run to. –Nina Corcoran

    Essential Track: “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”


    99. Lit

    Lit

    Lit may best be known as the band responsible for “My Own Worst Enemy”, an anthemic earworm that blistered the charts in 1999, but remarkably they are still around to this day. Sure, after “Miserable”, another single off their certified platinum sophomore album, A Place in the Sun, there hasn’t been much mainstream success for the group, but maybe there doesn’t need to be. “My Own Worst Enemy” remains one of the signature pop punk songs of the late ’90s/early ’00s. For more proof, go no further than the nearest karaoke bar, millennial wedding, or high school reunion. The car may be sitting in the front yard, but Lit’s most iconic track is definitely still pumping through many a speaker. –Zack Ruskin

    Essential Track: “My Own Worst Enemy”


    98. Dopamines

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    The Dopamines are perhaps the most bubble-gum like batch of the bunch. Their sweet flavor of pop punk is normally upbeat and full of sarcastic social commentary. They’ll be the first to admit they never took themselves too seriously. Formed in 2006, the Cincinnati-based trio originally comprised drummer Matt Hemingway, guitarist/vocalist Jon Lewis, and bassist/vocalist Jon Weiner. After a dispute in 2008, however, Hemingway opted to quit the band. Most of the band’s recordings were done by The Queers’ drummer Matt Yonker, who would often fill in on drums once Hemingway left. The trio’s self-titled debut was released in 2008, and Expect the Worst followed two years later while their last record, Vices, came out in 2012. According the group’s Facebook page, the band is still alive and well. –Kyle Eustice

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    Essential Track: “Public Domain”


    97. Nerf Herder

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    Like Family Guy? You’ll probably like Nerf Herder, a band that’s 90% references. Hell, their name is a Star Wars callback, for Christ’s sake, and the rest of their catalog is equally nerdy. They found success early on with their 1996 self-titled debut and went on to score the theme to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Diminishing returns and a stubborn refusal to evolve led to a split in the early aughts, but their 2005 reunion has been fruitful, with a new album, Rockingham, released just a few months ago. It has songs about Weezer, Ghostbusters III, and even podcaster/@midnight social media producer Allie Goertz. She must be charmed? Their fans sure are; consistency certainly counts for something. –Randall Colburn

    Essential Track: “Van Halen”


    96. Good Riddance

    Good Riddance

    Good Riddance brought the progressive politics of ’80s hardcore into the pop punk realm, and the subgene is all the better for it. Formed in Santa Cruz in 1986, the band meshed an ear for melodic hardcore with frontman Russ Rankin’s principled lyrical bent, a combination that no doubt influenced future political pop punks (and eventual label mates) Rise Against and Against Me! Good Riddance released seven records on Fat Wreck Chords before splitting in 2007. The group reformed in 2012, releasing Peace in Our Time in 2015. –Ryan Bray

    Essential Track: “Dry Season”


    95. No Use For A Name

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    One of the keys to No Use for a Name’s protracted success was their focus on songwriting. Sure, their tunes are about as catchy and spirited as anything the mid-to-late-’90s punk era has to offer, but the late Tony Sly wrote songs that could stand on their own two feet when stripped down to an acoustic guitar and vocals. Sly died in 2012 and fans are still feeling the loss. Fortunately, No Use for a Name left behind eight records of air-tight pop punk jams for us all to feed off of. –Ryan Bray

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    Essential Track: “Soulmate”


    94. Gatsby’s American Dream

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    Before vocalist Nic Newsham and guitarist Bobby Darling went full pop rock in The Money Pit, they laced pop punk with The Strokes and mid-2000s blog rock for something that sounds like a sweet mix of Panic! At the Disco and Billy Joel. Sometimes serious, sometimes jokey, always enjoyable, almost any track by Gatsby’s American Dream has something worth humming along to. Touring troubles prevented them from taking over the world, but at least we’ll always have their three albums. Though they never broke up, they’ve been dormant for years; maybe a reunion is something to keep an eye out for. Listen to “Theatre” if you want to get a song stuck in your head or their cover of “Just Like Heaven” if you want to see how you can modernize The Cure by adding Ratatat-like guitar harmonies. –Dan Bogosian

    Essential Track: “Theatre”


    93. The Soviettes

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    Minneapolis-based group The Soviettes were formed after Annie “Sparrows” Holoien and Susy Sharp met Dillinger Four’s Bill Morrisette, who suggested they start a band with his girlfriend Maren “Sturgeon” Macosko. They eventually landed a deal with Fat Wreck Chords in 2004 after catching the label’s attention at a show in San Francisco. In 2003, they released their first full-length, the simply titled LP, and followed up with 2004’s LP II and LP III in 2005. Although they haven’t officially been a group since 2006, they’ve secured a dedicated fanbase thanks to opening slots for label mates Against Me! and Epoxies. The female-fronted group delivered catchy, in-your-face tunes in a way that ignited a wave of support. Too bad it didn’t last. –Kyle Eustice

    Essential Track: “Roller Girls”


    92. The Copyrights

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    Six albums and five EPs into their career, The Copyrights remain as reactionary as ever, adamantly refusing to acknowledge the fact that music didn’t actually begin with the Ramones and end with Screeching Weasel. Hell no, that’s not a criticism; not every punk band needs to start a revolution. On the contrary, the scene needs bands like The Copyrights to stomp around in the three-chord middle ground and remind us why we fell in love with this shit in the first place. You won’t find another band on this list that rocks harder or with a greater sense of urgency. This is beard punk for dudes who don’t have beards and haven’t yet drowned their aspirations in a pitcher of warm PBR. It’s lean, mean, and aimed straight for the jugular. –Collin Brennan

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    Essential Track: “Kids of the Black Hole”


    91. Rufio

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    Oh, Rufio. You just wanted to hold them. Set against Scott Sellers’ Muppet-like vocals, songs like “One Slowdance” and “Why Wait?” were almost unbearably earnest. What saved them from drowning in a sea of sugar was Mike Jimenez’s frantic, kit-crushing drum work, as well as a pair of guitarists who were heads and shoulders above many of their contemporaries. They released four albums before slowly splintering off in the late 2000s, but none coalesced quite like their 2001 debut, Perhaps, I Suppose, a sweet, adorably maudlin collection of songs that evokes an early, more spastic version of Saves the Day. –Randall Colburn

    Essential Track: “Still”


    90. Lemuria

    Lemuria2

    Buffalo, New York’s Lemuria is a pop punk band that blurs the line of indie rock, with front person Sheena Ozzella’s gentle, sugary vocals and drummer Alex Kerns’ dry harmonies as comfortable on bouncy, straight-ahead rock songs as they are in moodier waters. The band’s rise more firmly plants their pop punk roots; Paramore’s Haley Williams helped the trio connect with Bridge 9 records to release their second and third albums. With only three albums and a collection of early releases over the course of 12 years, Lemuria are just as comfortable sharing bills with The Queers as they are with The Thermals, prime examples of a genre that’s shed its Warped Tour skate punk reputation over the last decade. –Philip Cosores

    Essential Track: “Chihuly”


    89. Mixtapes

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    As of three years ago, Cincinnati, Ohio, band Mixtapes were still playing Warped Tour and seemingly destined for greatness. Vocalists/guitarists Maura Weaver and Ryan Rockwell had an undeniable charisma, and their bandmates, Paul Kupper and Boone Haley, didn’t seem to have any trouble keeping up. After three albums, including 2010’s Maps and 2013’s Ordinary Silence, the group called it quits, although it’s not clear whether or not that’s a permanent thing. –Kyle Eustice

    Essential Track: “I Accept That”


    88. Martha

    Martha

    Sometimes the places that need pop punk most are the areas where suburbia has yet to take over. DIY four-piece Martha formed in a tiny village of 6,000 people called Pity Me (Yes, really) in northeast England. Though their self-descriptions sound more in line with a hardcore lifestyle (“Vegan, straight edge, and anarchist”), they churn out the spirit of Weezer and Radiator Hospital, honing their sound into the type of hooks that wiggle their way into your brain. Sure, they may only have two albums out, but Martha know how to make songs like “Present, Tense” and “Dust, Juice, Bones and Hair” ring with their own style while tempting you to pick up a guitar and figure out the tabs. The non-American accents help, too. –Nina Corcoran

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    Essential Track: “Dust, Juice, Bones and Hair”


    87. Weston

    Weston

    Before Beach Slang’s James Alex Snyder became a dad and started writing the kind of lyrics that teenagers rush to get tattooed on their bodies, he played guitar in a little band from Bethlehem, PA, called Weston. With sing-along lyrics like, “You are so retarded/ I must be retarded too,” this is about as far from poetry as punk can get, but you’d be [insert politically correct term for retarded] to discount Weston as pop-punk also-rans. Their first album for Go Kart Records, 1996’s Got Beat Up, is a genuine overlooked classic of the genre and a perfect artifact for explaining how pop-punk went from Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy to Saves the Day’s Through Being Cool in a matter of five years. –Collin Brennan

    Essential Track: “Retarded”


    86. Armchair Martian

    armchair martian

    They hail from Colorado, not Minnesota, but Armchair Martian make a case for what Hüsker Dü may have gone on to sound like if Bob Mould never embarked on a solo career. In other words, their 1997 self-titled album could have been the Hüskers’ own version of Pleased to Meet Me — the can-opener guitars and rich vocals making the listener ask why these guys never made it onto the radio when Social Distortion did. Anyway, that’s one too many reference points for an act that’s in a class all their own, so just ignore the alienating band name and listen to these guys. –Dan Caffrey

    Essential Track: “Crestfallen”


    85. Monsula

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    Green Day may have blossomed into one of the biggest rock bands in the world, but the East Bay scene sprouted more than a few pop punk bands that never made waves in the mainstream. Monsula were staples at 924 Gilman Street in the mid-’90s heyday of Lookout! Records, but their sound was a little too rough around the edges (and eventually a little too indebted to Fugazi) to garner much attention beyond the West Coast. Still, the band’s Nickel 7-inch has become a bona fide collector’s item among pop punk diehards thanks to the sloppy, brokenhearted bliss of songs like “Razors” and “Firecracker”. –Collin Brennan

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    Essential Track: “Razors”


    84. Sugarcult

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    Sometimes the name really does say it all. Infinitely more pop than punk, Santa Barbara’s Sugarcult come across like the living, breathing, bouncing-off-the-walls embodiment of Jolt Cola. Few bands on this list sound more tailor-made for the Warped Tour stage, a fact that goes a long way in explaining Sugarcult’s biggest strength (they knew exactly what they were) and their fatal flaw (they lacked the distinctiveness of a Green Day or a Blink-182). Though they’ll probably remain a footnote in the greater history of pop punk, Sugarcult did everything they could to bring the genre closer to the mainstream. A case in point: The video for “Bouncing off the Walls”, which features Van Wilder star and future A-lister Ryan Reynolds (and Tara Reid, too!). –Collin Brennan

    Essential Track: “Bouncing Off the Walls”


    83. Dear Landlord

    Dear-Landlord

    While No Idea Records doesn’t have the same presence in the punk scene as it did in the late ’90s and early 2000s, bands like Dear Landlord are a reminder why the small Florida-based label is still important. From the glass-gargling vocals to the economic guitar solos, the Midwestern quartet recalls older No Idea acts like Gunmoll, albeit with a higher currency on melody. They’ve only released one full-length thus far — 2009’s Heartbroken Handshakes — so hopefully their success won’t be as short-lived as some of their forefathers. –Dan Caffrey

    Essential Track: “I Live in Hell”


    82. Midtown

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    Midtown felt phony. They cast themselves as emotive, cash-strapped artistes, but frontman Gabe Saporta was a Rutgers alum with well-documented business acumen, a quality that manifested when the band scored a cheesy intro video for the Real World Road Rules Challenge and took full advantage of its romantic proximity to a Real World cast member for screen time. There’s also Cobra Starship, the pandering cash machine he formed after Midtown. Set all that aside, though, and you’re still left with some pretty slick tunes. Their 2000 debut, Save the World Lose the Girl, opens with not only Midtown’s best songs, but also one of the best of that era: “Just Rock and Roll”, an infectious and meticulously crafted slice of teen angst. Their follow-ups weren’t half-bad, either, so long as you’re cool with listening to radio pop cloaked in punk’s clothing. I sure am. –Randall Colburn

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    Essential Track: “Just Rock and Roll”


    81. Banner Pilot

    Banner_Pilot_2_by_Katie_Hovland

    Of all the various subgenres that make up punk rock, pop punk seems the least interested in exploring the wide world beyond the status quo. Bands such as Minneapolis’ Banner Pilot show why this isn’t always such a bad thing. Hopelessly (some might say shamelessly) indebted to bands such as Jawbreaker, Dillinger Four, and The Lawrence Arms, these Midwestern beard punk acolytes have never tried to rewrite the book. Instead, they’re content to translate it into a slightly poppier text. Early EP Pass the Poison (2006) is a true ripper, but the band really rounded into form with 2009’s Collapser and the gruff melodies of songs like “Skeleton Key” and “Central Standard”. –Collin Brennan

    Essential Track: “Skeleton Key”


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