Best Pop-Punk/Emo Bands of the Late ’90s & Early 2000s
Is it punk or is it pop? Is it emo or does it just suck? Regardless, that sweet decade between the late ’90s and early 2000s brought us some of the catchiest songs in recent rock n’ roll history. Who stood out amongst the sea of Hurley-wearing, black nail polish-painted musicians? Find out below.
Alien Ant Farm
Straight up, Alien Ant Farm is one of the most underrated bands of the pop-punk movement. Granted, they always had a rockier edge, but I still stand by the fact that Anthology is one of the best albums of all time. Forget about their cover of “Smooth Criminal,” that album has so much more than that: “Movies”; “Stranded”; “Sticks and Stones”–I could go on. The California rockers are currently working on Always and Forever, their first release since 2006.
Alkaline Trio is one of those bands that you instantly connect with, even though most of their lyrics circle around deep depression, alcoholism, and ill-fated love. I guess as a 16-year-old in a small town everything kind of feels sh*tty, so maybe the attraction to songs like “’97,” “Cooking Wine” and “This Could Be Love” make sense. But imagine my surprise upon my 27-year-old self listening to “My Little Needle” and finally realizing it was about heroin. For the record, I still stand by the fact that Good Mourning is one of the best albums in rock n’ roll history. I also still stand by the fact that Matt Skiba is sexy as hell.
Most people who were around for the height of The Ataris‘ fame know them for their hit cover of Don Henley’s classic, “The Boys of Summer.” But real fans of the Midwestern alt-rock group know them for songs like “I Won’t Spend Another Night Alone,” “How I Sent My Summer Vacation,” and that snippet of audio during Blue Skies, Broken Hearts… that introduced us all to the movie A Bronx Tale.
There was no way I was going to make a list about best pop-punk bands of the ’90s and not include Blink. I refer to them on a first name basis because we kind of have a thing going… I mean, I do have their punk bunny sitting permanently on my left shoulder. For as much flak from the punk community that this band has taken, they’ve also had just as much praise. Responsible for ushering in a new blend of pop-punk, and for introducing me and countless other young teens to a new world of music other than N’Sync and BSB, it’s safe to say that Mark, Tom and Travis have earned their keep in music history books.
Two words: Jesse. Lacey. This Long Island-based band is still alive and kicking, recently rebooting their career by performing some of their classic albums in their entirety, plus B-sides (i.e. Moshi Moshi) live. The Brand New vs. Taking Back Sunday beef was absolutely enthralling for me at a young age, and spawned some of the best rock revenge songs… ever. For old time’s sake I put on Your Favorite Weapon to listen to while working, and got so distracted by how good the songs were that I had to stop what I was doing and listen to the whole thing one time through.
One of the early bands of Drive-Thru Records, Fenix TX always seemed to be right on the cusp of big success. The closest they came to it was with their 2001 song “Phoebe Cates,” featured on their album Lechuza and in the film American Pie 2. However, their 1999 self-titled release will always hold a special place in fans’ hearts.
The Get Up Kids
Known as the “second-wave” of emo music, The Get Up Kids penned one of the most popular pop-punk albums of the late ’90s, Something To Write Home About. The band went on to serve as a launching pad for spinoff projects like Reggie and the Full Effect and The New Amsterdams, both well-respected bands in their own right. While none of The Get Up Kids’ future releases ever topped the popularity of 1999’s Something…, their post-reunion 2011 album, There Are Rules, did peak at number 33 on the Billboard Rock Chart.
Let’s get this out on the table now: Good Charlotte from 2000-2002 = good. Good Charlotte from 2004-present = terrible. I know everybody merrily hopped on the Good Charlotte-is-the-worst-thing-to-happen-to-punk-music bandwagon years ago, but have those people even listened to their 2000 self-titled album? Because if so they would know how epic it is, with songs like “Little Things,” “I Heard You,” “Screamer” and basically every other track on there. Not even going to front and pretend like I haven’t seem them live, because I did and they put on a damn good show, OK? So lay off!
Jimmy Eat World
Jimmy Eat World was emo before being emo was considered an insult. After seven years of underground success, the four-piece band eventually broke through with their album Bleed American. (Looking at the track list right now–dear God, it’s a masterpiece.) They followed up with another classic, Futures, but their more recent music has been a bit lackluster. Regardless, we should never forget that this band provided us with 10 years of pop-punk perfection.
Formed in 1990, and devout members of Fat Wreck Chords (founded by Fat Mike from NOFX), Lagwagon was not the type of band I would bring home to mom and dad. They smoked too many cigarettes, drank too much, were a little more punk, a lot less pop. They penned one of the greatest breakup songs in history, “Razor Burn,” and taught me what ecstasy was through their song “E Dagger.” Another SoCal band (this will be a trend in throughout the article), they came up on the scene with Rancid, Green Day and The Offspring. If punk rock had a family tree, this group would be the cool uncle to many of the bands you see on this list.
It’s rare for a pop-punk band to chart in the Billboard 200, let alone hit number one in the Christian Albums category. But MXPX did both of those things–several times–while still cultivating a strong following in the alternative scene. Of course, that alternative cred may have evaporated once the band covered the song “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” for the film’s 2002 soundtrack. Oh well, gotta’ pay the bills.
New Found Glory
Proteges of Blink, New Found Glory gained popularity through their amazing cover songs (“Glory of Love” anyone?) and their “I paint my nails black but you can still introduce me to grandma” image. If there was one person that almost rivaled my love of Mark Hoppus, it was NFG guitarist Chad Gilbert. While the band is still performing and putting out new music, nothing can really top those heart-wrenching anthemic tunes from their early career. I guess nothing gold really can’t stay.
Saves the Day
This band had lyrics so gripping, at age 13 I wasn’t even sure what they were talking about but I just felt it so hard it hurt. It wasn’t until I was older that I was like, “Wait a second, I think this guy [singer Chris Conley] is talking about being in love with another dude.” The Saves the Day discography began with the fast, driving and poetic Can’t Slow Down, and slowly morphed into more melodic and structured tunes found on Through Being Cool and Stay What You Are–arguably two of the best pop-punk albums of all time. Naturally, as bands of this genre tend to do, their most recent efforts are more than lackluster. But we can still all sing along to “At Your Funeral” and think back to simpler times.
Something Corporate always had the ability to stand out from the rest of the pop-punk bands of the late ’90s, early ’00s. This is likely due to the fact that frontman Andrew McMahon chose to wail on a piano rather than an electric guitar, and he actually has a decent voice (no offense, half the bands on this list). Of course they had their super poppy hits like “If U C Jordan” and “Punk Rock Princess,” but nothing made the crowd go more wild than a good ol’ “Konstantine” ballad.
The Starting Line
The Starting Line is yet another pop-punk band that began their career with Drive-Thru Records. And perhaps it should’ve stayed that way. After releasing two well-received EPs with the label, they earned heavy rotation on MTV for their hit, “The Best of Me,” which was a track on their first full-length album. But after signing with major label Geffen they began to receive pressure to become more radio friendly. This led to 2005’s mediocre follow-up, Based on a True Story.
Sugarcult is one of those bands that you forget existed, then randomly pops into your head one day and you call your friend and say, “hey remember when I refused to let you burn Wrap Me Up in Plastic because I was only 15 felt that CD piracy was wrong?” and then forget about for another five years. I don’t know why these dudes didn’t get more love: from Southern California, cute, wrote songs about breakups and railing against “the man.” And their songs were good. Like, poppy and catchy for sure, but had their own uniqueness to them that made the band stand out. I really have no knowledge base to say this, but I feel like Fountains of Wayne is a poor man’s Sugarcult. Maybe I’ll revisit one of their albums right now… or I’ll forget about them for another couple years.
Sum 41 is like the Canadian, illegitimate love-child of Blink 182. They had powerhouse pop-punk hits, but their version of pop was always a little grosser and a little bit more aggressive. While they’re technically still together, I feel like everybody kind of stopped caring after 2002’s Does This Look Infected? And I don’t think frontman Deryck Whibley relationship with poseur Avril Lavigne helped their image much. Speaking of Deryck, have you seen him lately?
Taking Back Sunday
You knew this was coming next. Adam Lazzara, the frontman that everybody loved to hate for stealing Jesse Lacey’s girlfriend and then writing one of the most epic albums ever about it. I’m referring to Tell All Your Friends of course, which featured lyrics like: “Best friends means I pull the trigger / Best friends means you get what you deserve.” What did he deserve?! Why!? Hours upon hours spent with my cousin dissecting the gripping lyrics to the seminal record, ultimately coming to the conclusion that Adam Lazzara was kind of a dick, but was one hell of a songwriter. While still active, the band suffered a major lineup change in 2003 and their follow-up attempts could never quite achieve their initial success. The good news? We got Straylight Run out of it.
All I remember about The Used was that Bert McCracken used to sing so hard that he’d make himself throw up onstage, and he had a few appearances on MTV’s The Osbournes as Kelly’s boyfriend. A product of the pop-punk resurgence in the late ’90s, The Used began making waves in the early 2000s as one of the few “post-hardcore” bands amongst a see of generic pop-punk groups (*cough* Simple Plan *cough cough*). I would even go out in a limb to say that they helped to usher in the whole screamo movement, for better or worse depending on your tastes.
I know, I know, The Vandals formed in the ’80s. But it wasn’t until the ’90s, with albums like Fear of a Punk Planet and Hitler Bad, Vandals Good, that they garnered more attention for themselves. I think of The Vandals as a more grown-up, edgier version of Blink 182. Instead of making your classic dick and fart jokes, they offered up more practical advice like: “Never think she’s perfect ’til you talk to her first / Never fall in love ’til you go through her purse” (“But Then She Spoke“), and tips on handling a breakup by just telling everybody your girlfriend died. While technically still “active,” the SoCal rockers haven’t had an album out since 2004.
Nothing says “punk rock” like the violin. Well, at least the members of Yellowcard seem to think so, as the Florida band has been rocking the instrument non-stop since forming in 1997. After three full-length albums, they finally broke through to mainstream in 2001 with their first major-label release, Ocean Avenue. They’ve consistently recorded albums thereafter, and in 2013 tried to cash in on the success of Ocean Avenue by releasing an acoustic version. Can’t blame a band for trying.