I believe my first introduction to mall punk was in August of 2000. Nevermind Alvin and the Chipmunks covering new wave songs in the '80s and nevermind the mainstream's exposure to Green Day and the Offspring in the mid-'90s, I'm talking a youth culture that was raised with poppy punk rock rooted in the '90s than the '70s and '80s. This culture grew up knowing the way to look "punk rock" was to go to Gadzooks or Hot Topic in the mall (hence the title) and buy some loose clothes (including baggy pants and shirt along with the option of a baseball cap intended to be worn backwards). My introduction came from a band called A New Found Glory.
At the time, I was a street-team member for Vagrant Records and had to show up early to certain shows in order to pass out whatever promotional material I had. face to face, one of my all-time favorites, was playing at Deep Ellum Live on a tour sponsored by Napster, and I was so thrilled to see them play again. I showed up to the venue early to see face to face soundchecking and noticed a number of band members from the other bands on the bill just sitting around. I briefly talked with Dan and Mike from Alkaline Trio and they were incredibly cordial. Then I noticed a couple of guys who looked like they just came from the mall wearing stuff like baseball caps (on backwards of course), shorts longer than average shorts but not long as pants and a wide assortment of piercing on their faces. I would introduce myself to them and found out they were A New Found Glory. I only really talked to a couple of them (I think it was Chad and Cyrus) and thought they were really nice guys. Despite their niceness, I didn't like their band.
A New Found Glory was up first on the bill and they proceeded to play what I think of now as "cliches and chords." Every single stage move (especially the jumps during pauses in the songs), guitar riff, drum beat and fill and backing vocal looked and sounded incredibly familiar. These were things that were immensely popular with bands on Fat Wreck Chords and Lookout! Records back in the mid-'90s, but this time, there was a large percentage of this being watered-down and played out for me. Jordan Pundik's vocals in particular were grating as he sang more through his nose than his throat. I thought this was some kind of joke. A few months later, I realized the joke was not a joke at all.
Dropping the 'a' in their name, New Found Glory's second record was released on Drive-Thru/MCA Records later that fall. A hit with younger fans, I, for many years, couldn't understand why younger people actually thought this was good music. I still really liked blink-182, but seeing the floodgates open on this version of mall punk was a little crazy. Things haven't been the same since with the majority of pop-punk.
I argue that up until this time, pop-punk was a really fun genre. It was something for younger people and older people for a number of different reasons. Sure, the songs' lyrics may be about high school-like relationships, but the songs were incredibly tuneful. Yet when Drive-Thru Records came in, a shallow, fast food-only culture overshadowed everything else. Predominant immaturity from their label owners in print and with their bands, Drive-Thru was not something I could get into at the time. Yeah, a band like blink-182 was funny and tuneful, but Drive-Thru seemed to represent a bastard child of pop-punk. The annoying thing was that younger people bought it and more kept coming.
Drive-Thru these days has an expanded roster, but a roster of fast food versions of gourmet food. Whether it's emo-punk or folky pop, there is no band on their label that I think is worth my time. As far as New Found Glory, well, a recent article had the headline of "New Found Glory Guitarist Reassures Fans That Next LP Will Not Be Mature." How timely.
I don't think I'm alone here with sentiments about good and bad pop-punk. I know at least my fellow blogging friends Eric and Amy remember good pop-punk and know it when they hear it a modern band. Seeing Eric's write-up on the Loved Ones and his multi-part, "incomplete history of Chicago punk rock" posts are nice reminders of how good this music can be. I'm not really sure people who currently like New Found Glory will say the same in ten years.