The Get Up Kids
Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro
I had very little to be sad about in middle school. Growing up in North Raleigh in the mid-2000s, I had a loving family, good friends, and many happy times. So, of course, I spent many of those years riding the melodramatic pop-punk and emo wave fueled by bands like Fall Out Boy, The All-American Rejects, and My Chemical Romance. I had no way of relating to their angst-filled lyrics at first, but they were what my older brother listened to, and he’s cooler than me. So even though my mom once threw away a Thirty Seconds to Mars album we bought at Best Buy because it had a parental advisory sticker on it, I filled my ears with songs about how hard it is to be a suburban teenager, how important it is to leave your hometown, and how totally awesome summer is.
When I got to high school, though, lyrics about standing alone, being rejected by girls, and wondering about your place in the world started to make more sense. My biggest source of loneliness in my freshman year was that I wasn’t sure if the people I sat with at lunch liked me, but my adolescent brain often made me feel like the only one standing for what was good in a world that just didn’t understand me. Listening to emo music certainly didn’t help me gain a healthy perspective; I recently found a journal entry written in my Algebra II class that was just the lyrics of Paramore’s “Pressure”—“Some things I’ll never know, and I had to let them go / I’m sitting all alone, feeling empty”—and a big frowny face.
I’ve grown a lot since high school, both emotionally and musically, but We the Kings’ “Check Yes, Juliet” and Relient K’s “Be My Escape” still bring back memories of simpler, more carefree times. Historians who should really be studying better music call these bands “third-wave emo.” I’d listened to some Jawbreaker and was vaguely aware that emo was actually pretty old, but I’d never heard of nineties “second-wave” icons The Get Up Kids before our arts editor told me to listen to their new album—their first in eight years—ahead of a show at Cat’s Cradle this week.
I listened to Problems as well as The Get Up Kids’ most popular older album, 1997’s Something to Write Home About, and enjoyed them both. They sounded exactly like something I would have put on my iPod in middle and high school: the screamable, angsty choruses about friendship and love, loneliness and rejection. The bouncy, slinky bass lines and chunky guitars. The riffs that get stuck in your head all day and can be learned on guitar in a few minutes. I added a few of their tracks to my Spotify playlists, and I listen to “Holiday” on the way to work occasionally.
I love discovering new pop-punk bands. As I listened further and dug into the lyrics of Problems, though, I found myself wondering why I would listen to The Get Up Kids over any of the other bands I enjoyed growing up. Every new emo-ish band I’ve discovered injects something new into the formula I fell in love with in grade school, whether it’s the math-rock weirdness of Kyoto-based Tricot or the comical, self-aware whining of Atlanta’s Microwave. The Get Up Kids just sounded like a mid-2000s band I had missed out on—all of the sounds, none of the memories.
It’s obviously unfair to call The Get Up Kids’ sound “unoriginal” when people like Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz call it a direct influence. (My immediate thought upon hearing Something to Write Home About, “This is like Yellowcard without the violin,” would probably get me kicked out of a 2003 internet chat room.) At the same time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the band had missed the boat somehow, as if they had taken a decade to catch back up to the bands I listened to. I later learned that this wasn’t a coincidence; The Get Up Kids were inactive from around 2005 to 2008, which is exactly when most of my favorite acts broke into the mainstream.
It’s also unfair to say that Problems is completely out of step with modern music. Unlike Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, who is almost fifty and still writing songs with titles like “Thank God for Girls,” Get Up Kids singer Matt Pryor avoids the deeply suburban view of women as prizes that was common among lyrics of the era (see Weezer’s entire catalog; Fall Out Boy’s From Under the Cork Tree). Even Problems’ “Satellite,” which features the classically emo lyrics, “By myself, I don’t think anybody knows I’m even here / But do tell, you think you understand my fears,” is a lot easier to accept coming from an adult’s mouth when you learn it was written for his teenage son.
Concerts are always fun, and I live within walking distance from Cat’s Cradle. I’ll probably go to The Get Up Kids show next Sunday, and I’ll probably have a great time. As I was reflecting on whether or not I’d actually keep listening to their music after I finished writing this piece, however, I kept thinking of a song a friend and I jokingly wrote on a vacation last month.
He, like me, was a perfectly happy kid who loved emo music, and we decided to write the most stereotypical pop-punk anthem possible. It had every cliché: a big riff you’d hear blasting through Guitar Center, the phrase “Baby, hold my hand” coupled with the almost-rhyme “I’ll be with you ‘til the end,” and a fun, carefree vibe. For better or worse, it sounded a lot like a song on Problems.
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