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State Press Play: Why is pop punk thriving on TikTok?

Is TikTok bringing back your emo phase, too? Here’s how new and old favorites are using the platform to thrive despite the pandemic

"State Press Play." Illustration published on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.

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Kirsten Dorman:

Hang on a second! Stop scrolling! I want to talk to you about something. Recently, a growing community on TikTok has set out to prove that: It was never a phase, mom!

It's safe to say that a lot of new things came out of 2020. One of them was that TikTok is now a place where budding musicians can get their start. Some have even launched their careers to near-instant stardom from their time on the platform. Doja Cat, Lil Nas X and more recently, Olivia Rodrigo, are all notable examples of artists who saw their music become cultural phenomenon because audiences on TikTo took such a liking to them.

According to an article Elias Leight wrote for Rolling Stone, TikTok has benefited from greater resources, an algorithm that enhances social mobility and targeted outreach efforts that ensure popular users are up on the latest trends. TikTok's algorithm specifically tends to be central to the conversation about how creators get their content out there and how more viewers will see and hopefully interact with it.

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Royalties, one of the more relevant elements of all this algorithm talk for musicians. Those get paid through posts, John Strauss, CEO of Create Music Group, parent company of Flighthouse, a brand with over 18 million fans on TikTok told Leight. When it comes to royalties being paid out, new videos being created with a musician sound are what will do the trick over views.

Views still mean something, though. According to Leight's reporting, when videos perform well enough, TikTok can become involved in boosting sounds through various means. 

However, when vying for the algorithm's blessing, there are risks. Mainly, becoming a one hit wonder. Just like any artist or group that wants to stay in the limelight for longer than their initial 15 minutes of fame, TikTok musicians are tasked with building a following that will stick with them even when they don't put out hit after hit. 

The pop punk scene, which has seen a resurgence partially thanks to TikTok, is no exception to this. So how are artists and groups in the pop punk genre tackling this challenge? I sat down with members of the band Arrows in Action to get their take.   

And before anything else I had to ask, why pop punk over any other genre? 

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Victor Viramontes-Pattison:

There's this very specific film. It's called "Straight to DVD" that All Time Low put out. It's like a live concert story. Jesse and I both watched that religiously when we started getting into pop punk, independent of each other before we even knew each other. 

I know it's kind of silly, but I watched that video over so many times, and it kind of decided for me what kind of band I wanted to be in and how I wanted to act on stage and stuff. So pop punk has always been a big influence for me and just something to kind of gravitate towards — specifically pop punk and not just rock music.

Kirsten Dorman:

With so many other groups and artists on the rise, how do you stand out? 

Victor Viramontes-Pattison:

Something that I think we focus on a lot, regardless of vocals or anything, is that like, something that kind of bummed me out about some bands was that I feel like the parts could be cool, then the melodies were lacking or the melodies were awesome and that the parts were lacking.

So I think that's kind of a cool "middle of the road" that we get to sit in. It's that we get to have interesting parts while the melodies are also a very important part of the song.

Matt Fowler: 

Oh, I also want to say, as far as like things that make us stand out. I feel like in any collection of songs — so whether it's the 2020 songs or the EP before that — everything sounds pretty different. Which could maybe come with some drawbacks, you know?

But I think that fans that we do have right now really like that. And I think we like that from a performance standpoint too, to not just play a bunch of double-time pop punk songs, we play a lot of different stuff. 

Kirsten Dorman:

The band's Discord has become a great place for fans to congregate, hang out and even occasionally interact with group members.

They say it's part of their effort to build a community around their music and around them. It's a great way for them to get to know their fans and vice versa in lieu of regular live performances. 

Matt Fowler:

I just think we want to have a fan base that is just really welcoming and kind of exists on its own as this friendly community.

It's really cool in our little Discord channel to see friend groups forming of people that have never met each other before that only know each other through the band. And that's the most important thing I think that we can do, is to build a community that's safe for people, friendly for people. That's just really important to us, and then communicating with people and remembering as many names and everything or usernames as humanly possible is also important to us.  

Looking at bands like The Main, they don't really charge for meet-and-greets, they're always taking pictures with people, you know, they remember fans' names. And, you know, I just think that's really special — trying to be as appreciative of these people as we can, as we're growing, because they're the only reason we get to do it.

Kirsten Dorman:

The oldest TikTok on the Arrows in Action account is from November of 2019, but it wouldn't be until October of 2020 when they'd strike gold with a video that currently sits at over 41,000 views. And that video would be quickly followed up by another posted the same day, which sits currently at over 62,000 views.


pls halp. come along with us on our musical journey :) #poppunk #ShowUpShowOff #boyband #originalsound

♬ This Time - Arrows in Action

Jesse Frimmel:

It started out — in the very early days we did these skits that were not at all part of true TikTok culture. They were just things that we made. And then I just posted one of our music videos, just cropped for vertical. And that first one just blew up. I was like, "Oh, OK. We should do that."

It just sort of turned into a no-brainer to start posting on TikTok. And it worked incredibly well, beyond really anything we were expecting from TikTok.

Victor Viramontes-Pattison:

I feel like this year specifically has been a completely — well, 2020 specifically has been a complete shift for us because we've gone from being a band that — not that we're not this type of band anymore, but we've gone from being a band that it's like, OK, we're playing these venues. We're booking this show. We're going to be doing these things live.  

We can't do that as much anymore, and TikTok has made me feel more connected with everyone in the world than, more than anything else has, and I think that the whole community aspect of it comes from the fact that we can just meet new people all the time through TikTok and through Twitter and everything.

Before we were on TikTok, we might have someone find us on Twitter and they would be excited about it. But the response we've gotten from TikTok has been so overwhelmingly positive that it's just unlike anything we've experienced before. 

Kirsten Dorman:

What about the pop punk aspect of your identity as a band? And how does that play into your presence on TikTok? 

Victor Viramontes-Pattison:

We have definitely dug into the emo pop punk side of TikTok. That is definitely where we shine the best, because we can put out a cover of a Dominic Fike song and it might get 600 views. But if we cover "Face Down" by the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, it's going to do 10 times better because we've already embedded ourselves in this “pop punk TikTok.”   

Matt Fowler:

Even if our songs don't really sound like that, as far as where our sense of humor lies — like the fake Fall Out Boy song videos or whatever, that did better than anything. We didn't plan it, that was actually improvised. And it was so stupid, but it actually got like 300,000 views. 

Kirsten Dorman:

Aside from just posting content, the band also regularly goes live on their account. Which not only gives existing fans a reason to stick around and stay engaged but can also give new fans a reason to do the same.

Matt Fowler:

Going live has been the biggest thing for us.

So yes, as cool as it is to get a bunch of views on one video every once in a while, which is true, we'll go for weeks without having one take off, and then sometimes one will take off and it's great. We get a few bucks and a whole bunch of comments and new followers, and that's amazing. But the most important thing then is going live soon after so that all those new people get to hop in and hang out with us. 

We answer questions, even if it's some of the same questions, engage those people. We'll talk to them, play songs for them. And that is what drives traffic to the page.

Victor Viramontes-Pattison:  

And we'll sign merch on live, we'll take requests for songs, make them feel heard.

Jesse Frimmel:

It’s very organic, which is fun for us, but I think it's fun for the people watching, too. Cause they're like, "Oh, you guys aren't putting on an act. I'm with them, meeting them and getting to know them as they are."

Kirsten Dorman:

Like many others, pop punk is a genre that's constantly evolving.

Artists are constantly experimenting with new things to incorporate into their sound and constantly pushing boundaries of what defines it. Combine that with the suddenly brand-new environment the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust artists into, and you end up with some tough challenges to tackle.

I sat down with the band, Not My Weekend, whose name is inspired by an All Time Low lyric to talk about their approach.

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Patrick Gilchrist:

If I had to give an elevator pitch, I would say we're like a really, really cheesy, poppy, pop punk band that kind of deconstructs a lot of things about the scene, and we're really happy. And I want people to listen to it. I grew up listening to Warped Tour bands and going to Warped Tour.

And, you know, there's so many phases of what punk rock and the alternative scene is, and it changes so quickly. Crabcore was the biggest thing in all of rock music for like six months and then immediately, it just became a big joke.

And right now pop punk is having a big moment and MGK is really taking off, but I can totally see in two years everyone just looking back on that and thinking, "That was silly."

Kirsten Dorman:

In much the same way the music itself goes through cycles of change, so too can the industry and the forces that make hits. Forces which even pop punk may find itself subject to. 

Patrick Gilchrist:

TikTok is really interesting. I was thinking about this the other day. I feel like every couple of years, something will happen where music is kind of taken control of by the masses and by the listeners through some new medium, and then somehow the industry takes it back a couple of years later and they just go back and forth between those two things forever.

When we were young, MySpace decided what bands got played on the radio. That went away and Spotify came up, and Spotify decided who was on the radio by what playlist they put music on. And now TikTok has come up and it's so much bigger than everything else, and it's so user based that TikTok decides what's on the radio.

TikTok's amazing, and I think every five years pop punk kind of has a new moment, and I think it's having one now. Just because music lives on TikTok, that's happening on TikTok, also. 

Kirsten Dorman:

In the past few months, a trend where users shout that it was "never a phase, mom," and sing the lyrics to All Time Low's "Dear Maria, Count Me In" has taken hold. 

It was seemingly kick-started by user yungricepatty when he did exactly that in a video posted December of 2020, which currently sits at around 8.9 million views. This January, the 2007 hit saw this renewed surge in popularity represented in it peaking at No. 5 on the rock streaming songs chart, according to reporting by Gab Ginsberg for Billboard.

Like many other groups and artists on the scene, All Time Low's newer material also received support from fans enjoying the wave of nostalgia TikTok's algorithm has delivered to their screens. Even before "Dear Maria's" resurgence in April of 2020, the band released their latest album, titled "Wake Up, Sunshine."  

By September a single from the album titled "Monsters" would reach the number one spot on the Alternative Air playlist and spend 18 non-consecutive weeks there. And, according to Ginsburg's reporting, was now tied with Foo Fighters' "The Pretender" for third longest reign in the list's 32 years of existence. 

Two months later, a remix of the track featuring Demi Lovato and Blackbear was released. And as of mid-February, it's peaked at No. 21 on Billboard's Pop Air playlist. 

All Time Low's recent and arguably TikTok-related spike in success is reflected in how the platform has influenced listeners' nostalgia for older hits and love for new music from other groups and artists. 

Simple Plan's iconic hit "I'm Just a Kid" has been used by about 4 million people, including Will Smith, as part of another trend, according to reporting by Eloise Bulmer for Kerrang. So has Paramore's "All I Wanted" with at least 40,000 clips using the track for singing challenges and showing off relationships.

Artists like Machine Gun Kelly and YUNGBLUD have seen their 2020 releases do exceptionally well. Both seeing one track each debut at the number one spot on Billboard's Hot 100 — Machine Gun Kelly taking that spot in the U.S. and YUNGBLUD nabbing it in the UK. 

Patrick Gilchrist:

It's a weird world where more when we were growing up, there was this situation where if you were a band, you had to develop a social media presence.

Now it's kind of like, if you want to be a band, you better develop a social media presence first. Everyone that still does it, and everyone that has successfully traversed being a band for a long time and successful for years has been really, really good at adopting whatever's coming next.

They were on TikTok. As soon as it came up, I signed up for it. I'm signed up for dozens of social medias that just never take off, just crossing my fingers. 

Kirsten Dorman:

What kind of content do you post to make the best of TikTok and really build that social media presence as a band? 

Patrick Gilchrist:

The band's TikTok is really just what I think are the coolest shots from our "El Camino" music video or "Honeymoon" music video.

Nick Hudson:

There's also the dances. 

Patrick Gilchrist:

Oh yeah, and there's the dances! Yeah. Nick makes a great point. Our good friend, Sydney Edwards, and I did choreograph a full dance for "El Camino."  Man, I was trying to get take off and I still am. I need to do it more, but I believe in it. We'll get there. 

And then on my personal account, when it comes to our music, I just try and post intermittently and often, something related to our band. If there's anything even kind of music related at all, the caption is probably please stream honeymoon by my band Not My Weekend. 

I'm confident in our band and our songs, so I know that you'll like our stuff if I just get that person to click "play."

Kirsten Dorman:

According to the guys from Arrows in Action, in a few words, getting listeners to click "play" means adapting. 

Matt Fowler:

If you are an aspiring musician, do it, and get on TikTok and get on all the other — like, get all your stuff on Spotify and then make a TikTok. You'll get people onto the Spotify.

Be really nice to people and constantly play music and, I don't know, people will find it — which sounds lofty to say, but it is the truth. And it's really cool to see it happen.

Victor Viramontes-Pattison:  

I heard an artist say somewhere that if you're not on TikTok, you don't want it bad enough. I don't know — as mean as that sounds, it really rings true, I think. It really does. 

Matt Fowler: 

And that goes for anything, right? If it wasn't TikTok and let's say Twitter was still the biggest thing or something like that — it’s like, if you aren't adapting, then you don't want it bad enough. 

Cause if it's not TikTok, it's going to be whatever the next app is. We'll download it. We'll make a band account, and we'll go for it. 

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Kirsten Dorman:

As these groups and others seem to know, right now when it comes to getting yourself out there, especially in the pop punk scene, if you're not already posting on TikTok, now is the time to create an account and start belting the lyrics to "Dear Maria" — or whatever hit is next in the trend cycle — on camera this time.

After all, TikTok may be a phase but, for many, pop punk is a lifestyle. 

Thanks again to both Arrows in Action and Not My Weekend for taking time to sit down with me, as well as for lending their music to this podcast.

You can find Arrows in Action on Instagram and Twitter under their band name or visit their website.

Also, stream their songs "Close Enough," "Honey," "Failing on Purpose" and "This Time," which were all featured in this episode. 

Not My Weekend can be found on Instagram under their band name and on Twitter under @NotMyWeekendWyo, or you can visit their website also. Stream their songs, "Honeymoon," "El Camino" and "Come Over," which were featured in this episode as well.

For the State Press, I'm Kirsten Dorman. 

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Reach the reporter at or follow @dorman_kirsten on Twitter.

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Kirsten Dorman Podcast Reporter

Kirsten Dorman is a podcast reporter at The State Press, focusing on stories that reflect current events and cultural topics relevant to the ASU community.  She has previously worked as the Production Director at Blaze Radio where, in her final semester, she now works as an Assistant Program Director.

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