Consider the scene: It’s February of 2013. I’m a graduating senior at my suburban, New Jersey high school. I have a tight-knit group of music-loving friends, a teenager’s metabolism, a driver’s license, a 2003 Ford Escape, and I’m five weeks from turning eighteen. Life is good and it gets better. Word is out that Fall Out Boy are likely to reunite this week, and Pete Wentz is scheduled to make an appearance on a Chicago radio station this morning for a world-exclusive interview. Excitement radiates from my middle-school emo kid heart. I skip second-period English class to refresh Twitter on my iPhone 4 in the hallway.
Suddenly, Fall Out Boy are back! And they have a new album coming out in a few weeks! It’s called Save Rock & Roll. Oh my god, that is so Fall Out Boy. New song too? “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up).” Jesus Christ, that song title is so long. It’s perfect. Patrick Stump is wearing a fedora! 2 Chainz stars in the music video! They’re touring with Panic at the Disco! This is so distinctly Fall Out Boy. They’re back.
The perfection of Fall Out Boy’s 2013 reunion is seared in my memory. Every detail struck a sense of nostalgia, recalling memories of growing up listening to the Chicago pop rock band and falling in love with their subversive take on the rock band’s place in the radio world. I can recall every vivid detail of the Save Rock and Roll reveal, from the fluorescent lights in the high school bathroom where I watched the “My Songs” video for the first time to the sting of not getting tickets to their Webster Hall reunion show. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
A brief history of Fall Out Boy: For a short moment in 2003, Fall Out Boy were a pop-punk band. Their Fueled By Ramen debut, Take This To Your Grave, is full of Taking Back Sunday rip-offs, angst-filled lyrics about breaking up with girls, and the occasional Pete Wentz growly-voiced scream. For all its charm, the record is inarguably derivative of the early-aughts’ big pop-punk players and, shocker, doesn’t quite hold up in 2017. In 2005, the Chicago four piece paired with Neal Avron to strip the remnants of punk from their sound, create their breakout record From Under The Cork Tree, and take their first steps toward their transition to the radio-friendly pop sound for which they’re known today. Their fanbase grew exponentially, and as punks will be punks, loyal fans hated them for the perceived sell-out move. They followed Cork Tree up with Infinity On High, a record created in conjunction with famed R&B producer Babyface, a record which features guest vocals by Jay Z. As punks will be punks, loyal fans hated them for the perceived sell-out move. Folie à Deux dropped into 2008, featuring a Lil Wayne vocal on “Tiffany Blews,” a Pharrell Williams production credit, and a tour alongside neon pop icons Metro Station, Cobra Starship and All Time Low. As punks will be punks, loyal fans hated them for the perceived sell-out move. When the band emerged from a hiatus with Save Rock & Roll—an album with a cheeky title, Big Sean, and a non-ironic dubstep breakdown in “Death Valley”— loyal fans hated them for the perceived sell-out move.
A pattern emerges; if Fall Out Boy are known for anything, it’s fan outrage. As a fan of pop music and an emo apologist, I long felt it my duty to defend Fall Out Boy from the masses of hate from critics and fans alike and stand by their right to shake things up. During the heat of the Save Rock and Roll reunion era, in the locker room in high school, I upheld Infinity and Folie as my favorite Fall Out Boy records to my pop-punk adoring friends.
- “Yes, Take This To Your Grave is their worst album,” I’d contend.
- “Folie isn’t just great in spite of Lil Wayne, no, it’s great BECAUSE of Lil Wayne,” I’d rave in the cafeteria.
- “I don’t care if the instruments on ‘My Songs’ are real or not,” I’d say to my disbelieving friends. “It’s still a perfect pop song.”
Defending Fall Out Boy from critics and fans alike is exhausting business, but always felt worth the effort. After all, the band always seemed like a monkey wrench thrown into the pop-music machine, a group of punks that somehow tricked the cool kids into a seat at the table. Growing up as the type of awkward kid who’d naturally love a band like Fall Out Boy, it felt wrong not to root them on at every turn.
When Fall Out Boy released their EDM-heavy single “Young and Menace” last week, Twitter naturally exploded with vicious reactions on both sides, and deja vu struck me like a sack of bricks. Music critics, per usual, criticized the song with a bit too much gusto. Longtime fans rushed to call the band sellouts who have lost track of their punk roots. Before I had the chance to listen to the song, I was already tired, stuck in a moment of poptimistic eternity.
Let’s clear things up: “Young and Menace,” for all of its merits, is not particularly original or exciting. The chorus is overcrowded, the mixing is poor, and the lyrics range from mediocre to outright terrible. The heavy, electronic chorus is surprising coming from a band whose consistent strong point over a 14-year career has been their pop hooks, but no new ground is broken here. The entire song is reminiscent of Imagine Dragon’s 2012 breakout single “Radioactive” in its attempt to blend white-dude-pop-rock with EDM, a sound which was milquetoast and formulaic five years ago and embarrassingly dated today. Everything here has been done before and better, mistakes included; “Young and Menace” is a perfect example of a talented group of songwriters losing the forest through the trees.
The thing is my opinion doesn’t matter here because I am no longer a member of Fall Out Boy’s target demographic. If there are any major revelations to be made about the significance of “Young and Menace” in the broader scope of Fall Out Boy’s discography, it’s that the band refuses to become a nostalgia act and release music intended solely to please their established fanbase. Ironically, despite the consistency of the “sellout” charges weighed against them over the years, Fall Out Boy have nothing if not artistic integrity in that regard. With that, it’s time for people like me to stop defending Fall Out Boy. The fact of the matter is that Fall Out Boy, by definition, refuse to look backward. There’s no reason to believe that they’ll ever return to their roots, make another record in the style of anything that pre-dates American Beauty / American Psycho, or tour an old record’s anniversary with the intent of pleasing their original fanbase.
I used to defend Fall Out Boy from their own pop-punk-enamored fans. I’d argue that they had no ownership over the band, and that Pete Wentz and company had every right to make a pop record if they chose to. I’d accuse their old fans of being out of touch with the band. Fans of the new pop sound, fans like me, were the ones that the band had in mind when they hit the studio. This defense, however, left out a crucial piece of the puzzle. I’d eventually grow up and lose track with the fervent passion of the music-obsessed youth. There would come a time when I, too, would become an adult and have to get off the train, ignoring the new stuff in favor of the soundtrack to my high school years. The only difference is a matter of a perspective and half of a generation. In defending Folie à Deux as the peak of the band’s existence, I’ve become no different from the legion of pop-punkers who can’t let go of Take This To Your Grave.
For that reason, it’s time to step away from Fall Out Boy, nudge them out of their nest, and pass the defensive baton to someone else. In a year when Paramore are continuing to push the pop music envelope, in a year where All Time Low seem to have finally found their footing after several albums’ worth of missteps and corrections, in a time when Lil Yachty is Grammy-nominated and the average suburban soccer mom knows who the Migos are, it’s time to set aside ideology and judge music based on individual merit alone. If Fall Out Boy’s upcoming record is something I don’t like, there’s no point in defending it. There’s also no point in lambasting it. To my aging years, “Young and Menace” is a bad song. While I respect anyone who finds something to love about it, it simply doesn’t do it for me. It’s time to end the cycle and leave it at that.
I was in fourth grade when Fall Out Boy released From Under The Cork Tree and “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” blew up on the radio. That single was one of the first 10 songs I purchased on iTunes, along with a few cuts from American Idiot and some classic rock my dad had turned me onto. I was among the first generation of fans that Fall Out Boy earned during their first successful stab at radio. A friend gave me a burned CD of the Infinity On High leak on a boy scout trip in sixth grade. I was old enough to get the political jokes in the “I Don’t Care” music video when Folie dropped in eighth grade, and when Save Rock and Roll released at the end of senior year, I had developed just enough fear of the future to feel nostalgic for my childhood and the music I grew up on. I still enjoy Save Rock and Roll today. I think it’s a solid pop record that holds up on the merit of its hooks and Butch Walker’s excellent production. But when I listen to it, I’m more inclined to remember the time I spent with friends in high school, the windows-down summer drives to “Alone Together,” the disaster that was Skate and Surf festival 2013 and how Fall Out Boy’s headlining set made the whole thing worth it. It’s not timeless, and I think that’s revealing of my relationship with the band. At 22 years old, it’s time to accept my place in the world of aging Fall Out Boy fans, put down the pitchfork, and let the meritocracy of the internet age determine the new song’s fate. Fall Out Boy don’t need my defending anymore.