OPINION: Punk rock has lost all meaning
My favorite Dead Kennedys song is “Chickenshit Conformist”. The song’s opening line, sung by icon Jello Biafra, has become more and more relevant over the years: “Punk ain’t dead, it just deserves to die / when it becomes another cartoon expired.
There hasn’t been a band since the 1980s that has embodied the true spirit of punk rock. There hasn’t been a group that fights for fairness in all aspects, that respects women, and that isn’t racist. It’s the bare minimum for any band but especially for punk rock. The three main tenants, besides this basic prerequisite, are DIY, community, and fun. Punk is made by people for people, providing community for those who don’t fit in.
I understand that’s a bold statement. Many people will probably disagree. However, punk rock has evolved beyond the punk rock label, morphing into riot grrrl, ska revival, grunge, nu metal, and more recently, hyperpop. These offshoots carried on the legacy of punk rock, with their radical beliefs and experimental sounds, better than those who claim the punk aesthetic for themselves and their mediocre albums. Yes, I’m talking about Machine Gun Kelly and Yungblud.
Let’s start with Machine Gun Kelly. I remember he was a really bad rapper in my pre-teens and later became a mediocre rock artist. The only thing adjacent to punk rock he’s ever done is work with former Aquabats drummer Travis Barker – one of my favorite ska revival bands. Machine Gun Kelly uses the punk rock aesthetic to cover up his horrible singing voice and lack of guitar skills. He’s been accused of not playing his guitar live, but he does, but not with a ton of talent.
His biggest statements include wearing the color pink, which is honestly a pretty outdated thing for male entertainers, and saying he wished he had a then-underage Kylie Jenner when he was 23. To his credit, he tries to align himself with the politics associated with punk rock by slapping a pink anarchist symbol on everything he touches and condemning racism when he comes across it online. Its merchandise seems to be heavily inspired by the Sex Pistols aesthetic, but in a much more clean and corporate way. He has none of the charm that comes with the do-it-yourself nature of punk rock because he’s signed to a major label, just like Yungblud.
I’d like to think of Yungblud as the UK version of Machine Gun Kelly – not a great singer and a cover using the punk likeness. He’s pretty much notorious for the absurd number of times he’s spat on fans, in the midst of a pandemic. He also seems to have a habit of trying to subvert the idea of masculinity by wearing skirts, even going so far as to sell one at his store in a ska-inspired checkerboard print.
Yungblud’s music is basically the same as Machine Gun Kelly’s. The only significant difference is that Yungblud seems to cater to a younger fanbase. For two people who seem to have a brand built on being radically different, these two are eerily similar.
Punk rock is not corporate. These two artists work for major labels (MGK for Interscope, Yungblud for Geffen) which is not common in the history of punk.
If you really want to see what punk is, go to a local show. It won’t be about image, I can almost guarantee that. It’s about not being a “shitty conformist like your parents,” as Jello Biafra and the rest of the Dead Kennedys so eloquently put it.
Charlotte Jones (they/she) is a second year student studying English and Journalism.