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Joel Quartuccio of Being as an Ocean once said “I’ve learned that hardcore music isn’t for happy kids with perfect lives”. He was absolutely right. But what effect can the punk/hardcore music scene have on these young teenagers listening to this music? I lost my grandfather in 2009 and that had a lot to do with why I started listening to harder music than I had been before. It was a tough loss for me, and as a result have been living with depression for a little over six years now. I would say now, more than any other time in my life, hardcore music has helped me cope with my symptoms along with therapy. When I look back on my teenage years, I realize that the music I was listening to might possibly have been the reason I had such a difficult time understanding what I was going through; sitting in an empty room crying so hard your body shakes from sobs and all you feel is this dark energy surrounding you. The sun has hidden itself away behind the moon and even though the moon shines so brightly against the sky, it still looks dull to you. The worst part is, you don’t even know why you’re sad, you just are and you can’t stop. I relied solely on the lyrics of my favorite artists to medicate me. Teenagers today look up to musicians like they’re gods. Whether it’s the artists or the record labels, someone understands this idolization and uses this as a means of making money off these heartbroken, misunderstood teens.
Mental illness has a large stigma surrounding it. In the world of hardcore music, it’s widely accepted and supported. At hardcore festivals, there are companies like To Write Love On Her Arms who set up tents to bring awareness of mental illness and suicide to the community. I appreciate the outreach of companies like this to bring awareness and normality to mental illnesses. However, I think the bands that are involved in this music scene sometimes almost condone the idea that there are alternative, unhealthy ways to cope with dealing with mental illnesses. I walk around summer festivals seeing kids in long black pants and multiple colorful wristbands hugging their arms to hide their cuts and scars. They’re embarrassed for others to see what they’ve done yet they continue to do it because this industry has taught them to seek attention from the bands by handing them razor blades and saying “You saved my life.” Sometimes, they simply don’t know how else to deal with their symptoms and problems. Bands and more importantly, the record labels, have given these kids the idea that it’s okay to do these things to yourself because it’s all about the image. I know of quite a few songs with this self-harm theme but one in particular is called “Say Anything” by Mariana’s Trench. When I first heard this song, I didn’t realize how serious the message behind it was. I just thought that he was singing about that deep feeling inside your chest that aches as the weight on your shoulders gets heavier and heavier with each day you feel sad. Before you know it, it’s day 436 that you haven’t been able to feel truly happy. In the song he says “I cut myself so I can feel something I know is not a lie”. Teenagers listening to this start to think that if he’s doing it, then it must be okay for them to as well. They are generally rebellious and full of angst. As a teenager, lyrics like this weren’t helping me get better; only worse.
From the start of American Bandstand and the purifying of rock and roll music, record labels have had a large say in what gets released to the public and how it is presented. During the “teen idols” stage of rock n roll, record labels presented this “sanitized version of rock n roll designed to sell records” (Delmont). We even see a change in the sound of Aretha Franklin from the soul music genre when she switches from recording with John Hammond to Jerry Wexler and Atlantic Records. In the hardcore music scene, the record labels aren’t necessarily trying to purify rock n roll anymore. They’re completely aware of the situation the majority of these teenagers are in and have even collaborated with retail companies to bring about this specific style that is unique to the hardcore/punk scene. A band that I’ve recently grown out of goes by the name of Black Veil Brides. I used to love their music so much I was convinced it saved my life. After taking a step back and looking into their history with two different record labels, it’s apparent to me why they may have switched record labels. Their first studio album We Stitch These Wounds was released on StandBy Records and is probably their best album, in my opinion. Their second, third and most recent albums Set the World On Fire, Wretched and Divine, and Black Veil Brides IV were released on a completely different record label called Lava Records which is owned by Universal Republic Records. Set The World On Fire has a very different sound, feeling and theme to it than the previous one. Their third album, which was a concept record, has a very similar sound to the second album. The influence of the record labels on the sound of artists’ work is apparent though this band and the records they’ve released through different labels. StandBy Records was an independent record label whereas Lava is owned by Universal Republic. The album they released on StandBy has a completely different and unique sound to the other three albums they have released. They claim that their most recent album is the heaviest and most metallic they’ve put out, but to me, it sounds like a lighter and similar version to the first record they released with StandBy.
Motionless in White is a band that has been with their record label Fearless Records for over six years. For their new upcoming album, they are refusing to release the album through Fearless. The band has made generally diverse albums through Fearless. One writer, Taylor Markarian, made a good point in her very brief article when she commented on “how this decision will influence the sound of the band’s upcoming recordings.”
As mentioned before, Black Veil Brides have been putting out albums that all sound the same, musically, as well as lyrically. The rise of their success has been solely based on either their looks or their consistent lyrical content. Throughout every single album they’ve ever put out, there’s at least one song with the message that you aren’t alone in what you’re going through. There’s a group of people who are just like you and understand you. I believe a big part of this message doesn’t come from the band, but rather the record labels. With the rise of hip hop and pop music, rock and roll got pushed to the side to branch out on its own. Most teenagers feel misunderstood by their parents in general, but it’s the kids who listen to hardcore and punk that feel even more abandoned. After re-listening to a few of Black Veil Brides’ albums, I discovered two songs from two different albums made through the same label that have the same message. Fallen Angels is a song off Set the World on Fire that was released in 2011. The song embodies that feeling of isolation and gives teenagers a place where they can escape to through the music and be with people who understand them. They “are the in between”; they are “the fallen angels.” They’re the people who no one understood until they found people just like them. “We Don’t Belong Here” off of Wretched and Divine is a song with a similar message apparent from the title. The band uses their lyrical messages to sell records. They know that the people buying their records are these misunderstood kids. What better way to get them to keep buying albums than to continually put the same message in every single album they put out?
Something that we saw with Elvis was his use of sex appeal to sell himself and his music to his fans. The record label has used the lead singer, Andy Biersack, to sell albums. Not only does he throw in suggestive lyrics in his songs like “your lips have buried me”, but they made an entire movie for their concept album. It gave teenage girls a chance to stare at Biersack for an hour while he sang to them, and I’ll admit, I was tricked into falling in love with him as well at one point in my life.
A band that I’ve personally found to be extremely diverse throughout their 25 years as a band is AFI, also known as A Fire Inside. They started making music in 1991 and came out with their first full length album in 1995. What makes them so different than a band like Black Veil Brides? They do whatever they want. When they started out in the 1990’s, they wrote punk albums. Their whole sound was true to the punk movement. The first album they ever came out with was called Answer That and Stay Fashionable. It included songs like “Brownie Bottom Sundae”, “Ny-Quil” and my personal favorite title, “I Wanna Get a Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me Get One).” The whole feeling of the album was very amateur. When comparing their first album with their second punk album, the lyrics and the whole feel of the album is more mature. They went from writing about mohawks to writing more poetic lyrics. He hadn’t yet mastered the idea behind poetic lyrics just yet but there is a clear shift between a song like “I Wanna Get a Mohawk” from Answer That and Stay Fashionable and “A Single Second” from Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes. The album in which they really start to shift their sound is the next album that comes out called Black Sails in the Sunset. My favorite song off that album, “God Called in Sick Today”, has an example of this poetic style of writing: “My soul brings tears to angelic eyes. Let’s amend the classic story; close it so beautifully.” It was at this point that AFI began writing lyrics that were almost cryptic in a way which isn’t found in many artists nowadays. This style of writing has followed them all the way through the next five albums they released. From 2000 to 2006, they released their three most well-known albums: The Art of Drowning, Sing the Sorrow, and Decemberunderground. The shift from Black Sails in the Sunset to The Art of Drowning is almost astounding. It still stays close to their original punk roots, but it’s apparent based on the sound that they’re starting to grow as artists. The next major shift in sound was when they released Crash Love in 2009. A lot of fans, including myself at one point, were extremely disappointed in the sound that they produced for Crash Love. It was very similar to what happened with Bob Dylan when he switched from playing acoustic to electric. It had broken away from what they had previously done and explored this totally different sound that almost felt foreign to AFI. What I had to come to realize was that they’re in their forties now. They’re not twenty year old punk kids anymore. As they grew up, their music grew up with them. They wrote what they wanted to write, and refused to stay within the restrictions of their fans to please them or sell records.
The hardcore music scene has its ups and downs; its benefits and its downfalls. The idea of the punk scene is to be this supportive and welcoming community for those who have this acquired taste for generally unpopular music. For the most part, I have to say they’ve succeeded. I feel generally welcomed in this music scene and community. When we look deeper, and take a critical look at what these artists are producing and how, it’s apparent that the music industry as a whole is more imperfect than what’s on the surface.
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