My early teens were peppered by three things: thick eyeliner, bubblegum pink doc martens, and pop punk music. I have distinct memories of thinking I was SO COOL because I was listening to Fall Out Boy and other people were not. I liked screaming “She likes to fight and make up! She likes to be alone! She likes the heartache of the breakup! She likes to be my bittersweet love!”, in my mind, everyone else just liked… Katy Perry or something.
When my sister was visiting this past weekend and I decided to delve into some hits from my Freshman year of high school and blast some particularly whiny and bratty music – I went all in. We’re talking “Girls Freak Me Out” by the Summer Set, “Stella” by All Time Low, “Woe” by Say Anything. And I started realizing something – the songs I’d loved as a young teen were total PR and marketing moves. They were all about crafting and cultivating an image, not only just for the band themselves (typically, “edgy but not TOO edgy”, love struck and sexually frustrated guys in their late teens and early twenties) but also for the listener.
The one song that hits me the hardest in this respect is actually “Girls Freak Me Out” – the song starts out describing a girl – a girl who is particularly specific, but also incredibly vague. (Comedian Bo Burnham does a bit poking fun at pop artists like Bieber with this, but since young adolescent me wouldn’t be too thrilled with an article mentioning Cobra Starship also mentioning Bieber, we’ll move past that). “With her old school kicks and her hipster friends, got a peace sign in hand,” – the song goes into “DETAIL” about who this girl is, claiming she’s “well dressed and overrated”, that she “knows how to party” and that she’s “well versed in the new pop culture.” Brian Dales, lead singer of the Summer Set, even claims that “Well… Some girls just freak me out.” The tale goes on to narrate that the girl and him eventually hook up, and he claims to be “bad news.”
Lyrical expression in music is all about knowing who’s listening to you and applying it. A country artist isn’t going to start espousing why everybody should move to Brooklyn and start urban farming, while Jay-Z won’t start singing about the “good old days” of 1952. What a pop punk artist will do is start to apply their lyricism to their audiences values in a way that I can very distinctly feel – I’m only five years removed from my 14-year-old self, so I still understand the feelings I’d have listening to certain songs. And I can see this song being a delicious bite of PR and marketing for this particular artist.
It’s catchy. And I’m not putting down the craftsmanship of pop punk – it’s fun, it sounds bright and bubbly and screams summertime in a song. But the branding of this particular song, for the people who are listening to it, is intense. The song is written in such a way that many pop punk songs are – that regardless of who you are listening to it, you find something to identify and cling to with. The best public relations tool is making sure people identify with you, it’s why Apple does so well brand-wise, but I think that pop punk does it best of pretty much any genre of music.
In “Girls Freak Me Out”, if you’re listening as a newly-minted straight teenage girl, you’re going to project yourself into the role of this very vague girl – she’s just alternative enough to be YOU, someone who feels like they’re a little less “prom queen” and a little more “cool, edgy girl.” She’s identifiable: she probably loves Hayley Williams hair cut as much as you, she probably also has “the gift of one liners AND the curse of curves.”
Everybody loves a good love story, but it’s more romantic, at least to the fourteen year old with hair streaks, that there’s tension in the relationship – they know they’re not good for each other, this girl scares the narrator with both how much he likes her but also how unhealthy their relationship – but he can’t resist her. It’s a Romeo and Juliet of the new ages, sans the Zac Efron lookalike.
It’s the perfect storm of song, it’s resonating and most definitely knows who’s it audience is – the core of any good PR campaign. It takes the principle of knowing your audience and stresses it so hard, choosing language that is intentional, a message that is even more intentional, and fun instrumentation that begs for people to project the song into what the future will look like. At fourteen, five years doesn’t look too far off, and with music like this, there’s projecting to the days when you’re nineteen and doing things couldn’t do now. Long drives with the top down, debauchery in hot tubs and to quote The Summer Set, “body shots ‘till the party ends!”. The awareness of the market isn’t just in their age, and their wants now, but also what they aspire to have in the future.
And as much as I’d love to delve into the PR moves of making these pop-punk artists approachable and able to be resonated with, how the vocals play into it, how fan clubs and meet and greets contribute to fanfare… I could talk HOURS about all this. But I think this little strategic communication refresher is kind of fun.
Know your audience, write or communicate to them in language that they’re going to take in and identify with, and look to where they want to be in their near future, and play to that. PR 101, just with some nasally vocals and some swoopy hair.
And I won’t just discount it to young teens – “One More Weekend” by The Academy Is… still kind of resonates with me.