My favorite Dead Kennedys song is “Chickenshit Conformist.” The opening line of the song, sung by icon Jello Biafra, becomes more and more relevant as the years go by: “Punk’s not dead, it just deserves to die / when it becomes another stale cartoon.”
There has not been a band since the 1980s that has embodied the true spirit of punk rock. There hasn’t been a band that fights for equity in all aspects, respects women and is not racist. This is the bare minimum for any band but especially punk rock. The three major tenants, other than this basic prerequisite, are D.I.Y., community, and fun. Punk is made by the people for the people, providing a community for those who do not fit in.
I understand that this is a bold claim. A lot of people will most likely not agree. However, punk rock has evolved past the label of punk rock, transforming into riot grrrl, ska revival, grunge, nu metal and, most recently, hyperpop. These offshoots have carried on the legacy of punk rock, with their radical beliefs and their experimental sounds, better than those claiming the punk aesthetic for themselves and their subpar albums. Yes, I’m talking about Machine Gun Kelly and Yungblud.
Let’s start with Machine Gun Kelly. I remember him being a very terrible rapper in my preteen years and later on down the line becoming a mediocre rock artist. The only punk rock adjacent thing he’s ever done is work with Travis Barker, former drummer for the Aquabats — one of my favorite ska revival bands. Machine Gun Kelly uses the punk rock aesthetic to cover up his horrific singing voice and lack of guitar skills. He has been accused of not playing his guitar live but he does, just not with a ton of skill.
His biggest statements include wearing the color pink, which is honestly a pretty outdated thing for male artists to do, and saying he’d like to get with a then-underage Kylie Jenner when he was 23. To his credit, he does try to align with the politics associated with punk rock slapping a pink anarchist symbol on everything he touches and condemning racism when he comes across it online. His merchandise seems to be heavily inspired by the aesthetic of the Sex Pistols but in a much more clean cut and corporate-style way. He has none of the charm that comes with the do-it-yourself nature of punk rock because he is signed to a major label, just like Yungblud.
I’d like to think of Yungblud as the British version of Machine Gun Kelly —not a great singer and covering by using the punk likeness. He is pretty much known for the absurd amount of times he’s spit on fans, in the middle of a pandemic. He seems to also have the habit of trying to subvert the idea of masculinity by wearing skirts, even selling one in his store in ska-inspired checkerboard print.
Yungblud’s music is basically the same as Machine Gun Kelly’s. The one important difference is that Yungblud seems to cater towards a younger fanbase. For two people who seem to have a brand built off of being radically different, these two are eerily similar.
Punk rock isn’t corporate. These two artists work for major labels (MGK for Interscope, Yungblud for Geffen) which isn’t something often seen throughout punk history.
If you really want to see what punk is about, go to a local show. It won’t be about image, I can almost guarantee that. It’s all about not being a “chickenshit conformist like your parents,” as Jello Biafra and the rest of the Dead Kennedys so eloquently put it.
Charlotte Jones (they/her) is a sophomore studying English and journalism.