Over the past two decades, the popularity of punk and alternative music has ebbed and flowed. Oftentimes, the focus has been on white men woefully screaming about their ex-girlfriends, but the latest resurgence, has brought attention to female-led bands and artists, as well as to the influence of people of colour in the industry.

Historically speaking, punk and its eventual successors punk- rock and punk- pop, have been known to continously push the boundary of what is considered ‘normal’. The London underground music scene was characterised not only by their rebellious attitude, but also by their progressive stances on human rights issues like race and sexuality. That being said, the genre as a whole has still lacked both female and black voices within the genre.

Moving into the 21st century, bands such as Blink 182, Green Day, New Found Glory and Simple Plan defined punk music as a breakaway from the norm, creating catchy, sad and emotionally charged songs about heartbreak and
the woes of society. But while they were picking up this torch, something got lost in translation from the London pink scene to the American iteration of the genre. Amongst these rebellious men, there were still womxn (an inclusive term for everyone who identifies as a woman) who were trying to be heard above the din of older men in the genre.

Paramore singer Haley Williams has mentioned this countless times in interviews and speeches, stating that she has had her fill of older men telling her what punk rock is. She has also stated, “The scene was not always a safe place
for you to be different.” , something that was especially evident if you were a womxn. In recent years, artists like WILLOW and Olivia Rodrigo have taken the spotlight and redefined what it means to be “punk rock”.

Rodrigo’s SOUR was the longest-running debut album on the Billboard Top 200 charts, sitting at number one for five non-consecutive weeks. While WILLOW has used pop-punk to deepen her emotional and spiritual holds. Her music has also brought attention to the black roots that punk and other rock genres have, which have
been ignored or hidden in the past. Her mother’s nu-metal band, Wicked Wisdom, which formed in 2002, has faced this exact racism at festivals like OzzFest.

This erasure is also seen in the Grunge sub-genre. Bam Bam was one of the most influential and leading grunge bands before the genre was even defined. The lead singer, Tina Bell, holds the title of the “Queen of Grunge”. The
#BlackLivesMatter movement brought attention to this band and the singer, who did not conform to the normal look of an alternative-music lead singer. Bell was a recluse and former church singer, and her grunge songs took influence from black culture and music. Her influence is seen in the music of white male-led bands such as Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. All in all, Gen Z is redefining what it means to be “punk rock” by allowing women and people of colour the same spotlight as the typical “punk rock dude”. They are highlighting the influence of the black community within the genre and creating a safe space for anyone who is labeled different.

Ayesha Osman
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