Few genres are as beloved by music critics as punk rock. While the genre has always shifted in and out of the underground, the 90s were a time of great commercial appeal for punk rockers. A select few crop of bands sold a colossal amount of records. Others, rarely the same groups, garnered magnificent reviews. Today we look at the bands that brought the genre into the mainstream limelight during the punk rock 1990s era and at the way that music critics reacted to their success the critics.
No Doubt – Ska celebrity punk
Not often associated with alternative/punk rock today, No Doubt, during the 1990s, were a little ska-unit, that were about to hit the big time with their album Tragic Kingdom. Hit singles and a life as a pop star for lead singer Gwen Stefani would follow. But, in 1995, and for a brief while afterward, No Doubt looked like Sublime on commercial steroids.
Tragic Kigdom would go on to sell over 16 million copies worldwide on the strength of singles like Don’t Speak and Just a Girl. But, music fans unconvinced of their punk rock credentials would get plenty of material to use in their complaints in subsequent years. The group reemerged during the early 2000s with a pop-reggae sound that made them even bigger stars, while distancing themselves from many of their original fans. The band’s current output has been more subdued, but they still sell out stadiums on the occasion that they perform together.
What happened to pop-punk?
Pop-punk enjoyed a tremendous amount of commercial popularity throughout the 1990s and early 2000s when bands like Green Day, The Offspring, or Blink-182 all had platinum-selling albums. While its popularity has decreased, its influence can be felt on styles like indie, emo and power pop.
The Offspring – Bro punk
Many Californian punk bands with an ear for catchy melodies emerged during the 90s. A lot of them looked like contenders for the mainstream appreciation medal. Few would have banked of the Offspring though. But, success is just what they did.
In fact, the Offspring seemed perpetually present in the charts during the decade. Four of their albums charted in the US Top 10, with the group selling over 25 million albums worldwide. The pop-punk sound wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the Offspring have posses staying power, continuing to make records and to tour until the present day.
What’s the difference between pop punk and punk rock?
Punk rock appeared as a genre during the mid-1970s. Its intention was to return rock music to its roots. The genre was characterized by shorter songs, faster tempos, lack of instrumental solos. Pop-punk looked to combine the more commercial aspects of pop music with those of punk rock.
Blink-182 – Humor punk
A pop punk band seemingly designed for mainstream devastation, Blink-182 followed in the steps of Green Day and NOFX, mixing punk rock rhythms, crude humor, and catchy melodies. Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus wrote the songs and played up the group’s image. In Travis Barker the group had one of the best drummers of his generation. Blink 182 were an A&R man’s wet dream.
The band was inescapable on the radio, kitschy teenager comedies and MTV’s TRL during the 1990s. Cleverly, the group began experimenting with their sound afterward, earning a good deal of critical respect as a bonus. Blink 182 has sold over 50 million records during its career, with the 90s proving to be their most successful period.
Grunge may have defined the shift in musical tastes during the early part 90s, but it was Green Day that took many of the most recognizable elements of punk rock and brought crashing into middle America’s living room.
Punk luminaries such as Johnny Rotten may have decried Green Day for being nothing more that a bland copy of the real deal. Regardless of what you believe their artistic merit to be, few, if any bands, have had the mainstream impact of this Californian punk pop outfit. Their 1994 album Dookie has alone sold over 20 million albums. (Of course, that was mainly back in a day when physical sales were a thing). They have continued enjoying a good deal of success, remaining one of the few globally recognizable rock bands regardless of how the fashion may have changed.
Is punk rock dead?
Far from it! While punk rock and pop-punk enjoyed their commercial peak during the late 1970s and early part of the 1990s, numerous punk bands have appeared in recent years that enjoy national or, even, international popularity. Also, punk has remained one of the most critically beloved music genres.
Nirvana – Grunge Punk
Ok, now. A distinction between grunge and punk may exist if we’re really looking to draw a firm line in the sand. But, in Nirvana, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic looked to create a punk rock – pop hybrid that in its sound was not vastly dissimilar from groups like Green Day or Weezer.
The lyrical subject matter was, however, an entirely different affair. While the California punk bands were crude and funny, for the most part Nirvana delved into darkness and gallows humor. No band was as successful playing punk rock as Nirvana during the 90s. And, for many, Kurt Cobain was the last rock star, the last remnant a quickly of a dying age. The band has sold over 75 million records worldwide, with every piece of merchandise branded with the Nirvana name marketed heavily in all corners of the world.
The 90s were a very successful time for melodic punk rock music. Alas, while this could not last, most of the bands active than are still making music today. While critics never entirely embraced this more palatable version of punk rock, some have been turned around to appreciating it. Perhaps it’s a matter of nostalgia for a time when guitars could frequently be held on the radio. Or, perhaps it is an acceptance of punk rock’s numerous facets. Either way, the pop punk bands if the 90s could not be ignored for long.