Though punk rock is as much of a boys club as a sports bar, its commercial renaissance has attracted the fairer sex -- at least for this year's Vans Warped Tour.
Now in its 11th year, the tour features a cadre of established acts, including platinum sellers the Offspring, Green Day clones MXPX, and Boston Irish-punk vets Dropkick Murphys. But while those sturdy acts anchor the show, the biggest draws are stars of more recent vintage, particularly emo-inflected punk-poppers Fall Out Boy and goth-screamo sensations My Chemical Romance.
Above all its sensitive punker brethren, My Chemical Romance resonates with the women. When emo emerged out of pop and post-punk, it retained the raw aggression of punk and replaced the cultural anomie and free-flowing angst with greater romanticism.
Now there's greater reliance on age-old pop tropes and sentimentality, like leaning on stories of tortured lovers or doomed relations. Yet if the emoting has grown maudlin, the music's only grown more rugged.
Whether the influx of teenage girls on Warped Tour is because they're finally connecting with the frustrated, aggressive sound or because songs' tones more closely resemble Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights than the Sex Pistol's "God Save the Queen" is open to debate. But greater gender equality in the audience is a fact, and no one has benefited more than My Chemical Romance. (The Transplants, featuring Rancid's Tim Armstrong and Blink-182's Travis Barker, have also cashed in on "commercial" viability, contributing music to Herbal Essence Shampoo, which is doubtfully aimed at dudes with mohawks.)
It hasn't hurt My Chemical Romance that the band has graced the cover of almost every music magazine during the last year. Perhaps the marketing muscle of Reprise is responsible for all the prepubescent girls who flock to their stage and linger after the show in the parking lot hoping to meet them.
With their eyeliner-smeared raccoon eyes, the mopey punkers seem to revel in their role as an adolescent entry drug to rebellious music. This summer opening for Green Day, they peppered their stage patter with four-letter words, asking the audience if this was their "first fucking rock show." (Mostly, it was.) Singer Gerard Way's new schtick involves imploring his fans to respond to rockers' calls to "show me your tits," with a "fuck you" instead of lifting their shirts. He's Alan Alda and the Cure's Robert Smith crossed with a bad case of Tourette Syndrome. Of course, this didn't prevent people manning the Epitaph booth from securing cheap thrills in exchange for merchandise at several tour stops.
The fans seem to share My Chemical Romance's enlightened attitude. More women than men were crowd-surfing, and their journeys were free of the random groping that seemed to accompany such excursions in years past. Surviving as best they can in the sweltering summer heat, women made the passage from the crowd over the barricade without losing their bikini tops (sadly, unimaginable in my day).
Plenty of punker parents brought their kids as well, another testament to the form's resilience and claims that it has become a kind of urban folk music. It's fitting then that Warped Tour went another direction with most of its second and third stage acts this year. Many of the bands are relatively new with only a record or two under their belts, such as metal-leaning Avenged Sevenfold and theatrical Valient Thorr.
With mainstream teen pop acts such as 98 Degrees and Backstreet Boys little more than a bad memory, it seems the major labels have successfully seized upon punk as yet another vehicle to sell the kiddies. But if it succeeds in exposing a whole new generation of boys and girls to punk music that's not a bad thing, because if, as some suggest, punk is the contemporary answer to the blues, it needs to speak to everyone.