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(Credit: Sven-Sebastian)

Music

Why Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong hates being called 'pop-punk'

@TylerGolsen

More than any other band of the era, Green Day brought punk rock back to the mainstream masses in the mid-1990s. Busting out of the Bay Area punk scene as teenagers, Green Day were as authentic as they came: longtime devotees of the 924 Gillman Street DIY venue, the trio started their first US tour in a modified book van. Two albums on the legendary independent label Lookout! Records and an untold number of basement gigs eventually led Green Day to Reprise Records for their major label debut, Dookie, in 1994.

What followed was a torrent of success that few, including Green Day themselves, could have imagined. 20 million albums sold worldwide could very well make Dookie the most popular punk album ever released. For a formerly underground genre, especially in America, punk was now invading all corners of pop culture. Because Billie Joe Armstrong leaned heavily into his knack for melodies and hooks, Green Day quickly got tagged with a relatively new term: “pop-punk”.

That genre tag never sat particularly well with Armstrong. “I never really liked that term (pop-punk), it turned into sort of a genre,” Armstrong told Vulture in 2021. “I never thought of myself as a pop artist. I’ve always been left of centre. To say you’re a pop-punker — it never sat well with me.” 

“I’m very proud that we came from a diverse scene,” Armstrong added. “We were definitely the most melodic band playing at that time, but we’d also play with bands like Neurosis, Engage, Spitboy, Blatz, and Filth, and it was just all over the spectrum as far as punk rock. We played with Fuel, which sounded more like Fugazi.” 

Armstrong concluded that pop-punk was more of an industry label than a term used by the bands themselves. “(Pop-punk is) this term that kind of just all of a sudden showed up when people wanted to put a label on things. I feel the same way about, like, ska-punk. It seemed like a silly way of trying to kind of create a genre or a sub-genre.”

Armstrong rallied against the poppier side of his songwriting quickly after the release of Dookie. 1995’s Insomniac was darker and less radio-friendly than its predecessor, and as Green Day continued to wade through the 1990s, albums like Nimrod and Warning saw the band take a more eclectic approach to writing and arranging. It wasn’t until 2004’s American Idiot that the band truly found their footing again, and it was the rock-opera scope of that particular album that finally freed Green Day from the “pop-punk” term forever.