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This week, Blink-182 ousted (my best friend) Drake from his spot atop the album sales chart and ushered in their own brand of delicately bruised feels. But where Drake’s emotions have been largely dedicated to chronicling failed relationships and the experience of being very famous, the members of Blink have spared us their fights at the Cheesecake Factory and instead considered what happens after world domination. Or, more specifically, what happens when running around naked and contemplating one’s early 20s is no longer a valid pastime.
This pursuit hits bottom on California, Blink’s latest album, the one in which they finally admit that they have become Sad Dads™. It’s a heartbreaking realization, but it also makes a lot of sense.
When Take Off Your Pants and Jacket came out in June 2001, it was #controversial. As suburban high schoolers, most of us refrained from saying the album title in front of our parents, but knowing it was an obvious masturbatory reference also made it the coolest in-joke. The record was equal parts sweet (“Rock Show”), rousing (“Anthem Part Two”), heart-wrenching (“Stay Together for the Kids”), and totally dumb (“Happy Holidays You Bastard”). It signalled a decisive shift between the die-hard punk kids (who sneered that Blink-182 had sold out circa Enema of the State) and listeners like me, who used the band as a gateway into a subculture they desperately wanted to be a part of.
As an almost-16-year-old girl in 2001, I remember listening to Take Off Your Pants and feeling a mix of adoration (I wanted to be the girl they met at the rock show) and confusion. I wrestled with the growing suspicion that to these guys, women were never more than a girlfriend, a fantasy, or the victim of 23-year-old debauchery — despite playing such huge roles in their lyrical narratives. Listening to Blink often felt oddly like listening to the guys I had crushes on: To them, girls were either out of their league or totally crazy, and even the sweetest sentiments were peppered with a male agenda. The only Blink-182 lyrics I ever put in my ICQ infobox were from “Adam’s Song,” because they were sad, and so was I. But even then I knew those feelings weren’t what the band members were experiencing themselves — “Adam” was written in third-person, as if to keep the band removed from vulnerability. (Although “Stay Together for the Kids,” their song about divorce, did a great job of putting the singers into the music.)
Ultimately, Blink-182 positioned themselves as poster-children for “boys will be boys.” And while their music never crossed lines into rape culture and/or apologist territory, it still came from a place typically reserved for young men who were disinterested in participating in actual discourse. Like, “Sorry we’re not sorry — we’re just having fun,” which happens when you’re 23. As Molly Lambert noted in her MTV News review of California last week, this attitude was part of their charm at the time. Similarly, today’s artists like Drake and Bieber and Zayn aren’t singing about how they have their shit together — they’re mostly singing about mistakes and regrets, and they’re universally singing about women as girlfriends or problems or accessories. But they’re also not in their 40s.
For the record, California isn’t bad, exactly. (Go read Lambert’s review— I’ll wait.) It’s just a reminder that at some point, the boys whose conversations you tried to listen in on more than 10 years ago either evolved or they didn’t. In the case of Blink-182, their lyrical themes have remained firmly on an unevolved heteronormative track. They’re singing about women being crazy (“She’s Out of Her Mind”) or they’re singing about ways they’ve messed up (“Sober”). Even when they tackle an existential crisis (“Bored to Death”), there’s never the “so here’s how I’m going to change my circumstances” follow-up that most of us come to in the wake of realizing that adulthood is hard. They’re the cool guys in high school who seemed fun and hip and carefree and rebellious — only to plateau, hit bottom (cue Tom DeLonge’s departure), and then finally admit that they’re actually profoundly sad. I guess this is growing up.
You can’t go home again. In the same way that I’ll never again be 16 and be able to take from Blink what I tried to take back then, they can’t run down the street naked while wearing nothing but socks anymore. First, because that’s a crime in most jurisdictions, and second, because that shit gets old.
The fact that they know this adds to that borderline-tragic Cool Guy™ legacy. California may channel the past, but it in no way romanticizes it. It’s not casually leaning on a wall, bragging about its exploits and the best days of its lives — it’s just telling some of the same jokes we’ve heard a thousand times before and seeming kind of bummed out while doing so. We’ve skipped the step of running into them at our hometown bar, where they wax poetic about the summer of 2002. Instead, we’re in the thick of their Real Talk, where they begin sharing a little too much about their divorce and the job they don’t love and how they wish things had turned out some other way. The only difference is, Blink-182 has a number-one album now, and the former cool guys from high school do not. Plus, some of us aren’t 16-year-old girls anymore, and we’re happy to have other kinds of music and other kinds of people to listen to.