Writers can get inspiration from just about anywhere, and music is no exception. In fact, it might just be paramount in this day and age. Book playlists are practically a requirement. But not just for the aesthetic, or “vibes,” if you will. Also for the lyrics. And in my opinion, some of the best lyrics out there come from pop punk and emo songs.
I’ve always loved this genre of music, even if I have to call myself “punk-adjacent” or “emo-adjacent.” Meaning that I didn’t exactly subscribe to the lifestyle, but I grew up around it, was influenced by the aesthetic, and was especially drawn to the music.
I came of age in the late 2000s and early 2010s after all, when these subcultures were at their peak, tangential to the rise of social media. (I bypassed MySpace and Tumbr, but I did have Skype, Yahoo! Messenger, and the bane of my existence… DeviantArt.)
I remember it well. I remember the checkered belts and plaid, pleated skirts. I cut my bangs in an emo swoop. I saved up for a purple iPod nano and loaded it up with all my favorite music. Paramore, Linkin Park, Boys Like Girls and I Hate Kate were my soundtrack of angst. Middle school, man. What a drag.
As I got older, I’d keep such influences in the back of my mind and return to the music from time to time. I added pop punk staples like Panic! At the Disco and Fall Out Boy to the roster. New Found Glory, Cartel, and My Chemical Romance became my soundtracks of the summer.
And now, thanks in large part to the life-altering discovery of the emo-themed rave circuit phenomenon known as Emo Nite, I’ve even found a taste for the harder stuff: Bring Me the Horizon, System of a Down, Escape the Fate, Pierce the Veil, etc.
Now we’re talking, right?
And now I’m at a point where I’ve got so much music in my head I’m able to look past the gritty guitar riffs and angst-filled vocals and notice some really fricking good lyrics. Not that I haven’t noticed it before–but it just hit me all of a sudden and now I want to write a post about it.
So here I go. The best lyrics from pop punk, post punk, emo… whatever you wanna call it! (There are actually differences between them, so the purists say, but for my purposes, I’m lumping them all into one category. Get over it! Also, needless to say, this is all my opinion.)
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these lyrics, copyright to whom copyright is due? There. That sounds legit enough.
the best pop punk and emo lyrics: upbeat/optimistic
I wanted to have at least two sub-categories of the best lyrics from pop punk/emo for organization’s sake, so I decided that instead of trying to separate them into their sub-genres (a nebulous boundary line to say the least,) I’d organize them by tone, starting with the most optimistic stuff!
“Our days were numbered / By nights / On too many rooftops / They say we’re wasting our lives…”Burn This City by Cartel
Love this song, love this album, love this band (except for their newest album, it was meh). Captures the joys of youth and feeling on top of the world while also getting deep down into the depths of good old existential angst!
“I got a bulletproof heart / You got a hollowpoint smile / Me and your runaway scars / Got a photograph dream, on the getaway mile…”Bulletproof Heart by My Chemical Romance
Anyone who came of age in or around the emo scene knows that MCR is the cornerstone of the repertoire. And while, yes, The Black Parade, Teenagers, Helena, and I’m Not Okay (I Promise) are all bangers that I could’ve easily included in this lineup, I’m going with a perhaps lesser-known song that’s on the lighter, more upbeat end of MCR’s edgy spectrum.
Why do I love these lyrics? Probably because they’re so devil-may-care and I’m a sucker for a good metaphor.
“I’ve got your picture, I’m coming with you / Dear Maria, count me in / There’s a story at the bottom of this bottle / And I’m the pen…”Dear Maria, Count Me In by All Time Low
Sometimes I forget that this is All Time Low? Like dang, they’ve put out a lot of underrated hits. Anyways, since I say I’m a sucker for a good metaphor, I’ve always loved this opening verse. By the way, Pete Wentz called, he wants his abstraction back! (See Fall Out Boy section below.)
“They say we’re losers and we’re alright with that / We are the leaders of the not coming backs / But we’re alright though…”She’s Kinda Hot by 5 Seconds of Summer
I also sometimes forget that 5SOS started out firmly in the pop punk scene! I still like their new stuff, though none would dare call it emo. This is a super fun song that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still gets at the struggles of growing up!
the best pop punk and emo lyrics: ironic/cynical
Next up, a difficult category to describe: they’re not necessarily pessimistic lyrics, but they’re a little less rah-rah and a little more wah-wah, if you feel me. As it turns out, a LOT of pop punk is ironic and cynical. Surprised? Neither am I.
“You’re playing ring round my head / I’ll wear you like a halo / You’re a symphony / I’m just a sour note…”Stupid for You by Waterparks
The great strength of pop punk lyrics, in my opinion, are metaphors that hit you like a ton of bricks. This is a fun, catchy song about the absurdity of falling in love and I’m totally here for it!
“I’ve got the gift of one-liners, and you’ve got the curse of curves / And with this gift, I compose words and the question that comes forward / Are you perspiring from the irony?”The Curse of Curves by Cute is What We Aim For
Honestly, I would quote this whole song if I could. It slaps so hard! But I’m realizing that a good lyric is often only as good as the music it augments. This is a strong first verse about the power of attraction that builds into a spirited crescendo of sexual frustration. Gotta love it!
“And that’s about the time she walked away from me
Nobody likes you when you’re 23
And you still act like you’re in freshman year
What the hell is wrong with me?
My friends say I should act my age
What’s my age again?”What’s My Age Again? by blink-182
I could’ve chosen any number of blink-182 songs for this, but this one is my favorite because it exemplifies the band’s particular talent for tongue-in-cheek humor. Plus, it’s the 23rd birthday song! Let it never be said there’s nothing special about turning 23… it’s your blink-182 birthday!
“Dear your name here, it’s been a long time, very long time
Since I’ve heard your voice
And I bet you never thought I was
So sorry, so
I’ve had a hard time, very hard time
Seeing less of you
I never thought you knew…”Sincerely Me by New Found Glory
New Found Glory is great at capturing the essence of adolescent folly, and this one is one of my favorites because it’s so tongue-in-cheek. (And catchy!)
The speaker recites a letter he’s written to a person who has stopped caring about him, so he decides to give them a little taste of their own medicine. It’s deceptively upbeat for such a frustrating topic!
“Dear studio audience, I’ve an announcement to make / It seems the artists these days are not who you think / But we’ll pick back up on that on another page…”The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage by Panic! At The Disco
Ever notice how a lot of these early 2000s pop punk bands really hit fame, fortune, and Hollywood glamor hard? Panic! was especially proficient at addressing these themes, along with their ever-infamous interest in the consequences of vice, human folly, and debauchery.
When you consider that frontman Brandon Urie was raised Mormon and the band hails from Las Vegas, it all starts to make sense… I regularly think of Panic! as being a band with a distinctly “gilded age” and/or “Hollywood golden era” aesthetic, but that could also be because I regularly listen to Roarin’ 20s… but I digress.
“I chime in with a, “Haven’t you people ever heard of closing a goddamn door? / No, it’s much better to face these kinds of things / With a sense of poise and rationality.”I Write Sins Not Tragedies by Panic! At The Disco
Oh, you thought I wouldn’t include this one? Well, you thought wrong. How could I not? It’s a great lyric. It’s a great song. Is it overplayed? Absolutely. But it was also my gateway drug to the genre (at the tender age of 11) and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the most infamous chorus lines of our generation.
Also, it’s really fun to watch videos of Urie having to sing this song at concerts and being really, really tired of it. I can’t even imagine!
Honestly, there are probably lots of other Panic! songs I could include but in the interest of time, I’ll stop there. (The same restraint does not, however, carry over to my treatment of Fall Out Boy.) Maybe I’ll come back some day and add more!
“It’s no surprise to me, I am my own worst enemy / ‘Cause every now and then I kick the living shit outta me / The smoke alarm is going off and there’s a cigarette / Still burning…”My Own Worst Enemy by Lit
Talk about a relatable song, even if you’re not quite as self-sabotaging as the speaker. This line is my favorite because it’s the only time he says the title of the song… and it’s the only time he needs to say it, because the rest of the lyrics go on to substantiate his thesis.
“I’m not in love / This is not my heart / I’m not gonna waste these words / About a girl…”About a Girl by The Academy Is…
The great strength of this song (aside from the fact that it slaps) is how perfectly ironic it is. Ah, the throes of youth. The pain of unrequited love. And the fierce determination to not sing about it, because why would write a song about a girl who doesn’t even know you exist? That would be ridiculous.
“I’m sick of the things I do when I’m nervous / Like cleaning the oven or checking my tires / Or counting the number of tiles on the ceiling / Head for the hills! The kitchen’s on fire!”Everything Is Alright by Motion City Soundtrack
This was, hands down, my college theme song (or one of them, at least). It’s candid without lapsing into pessimism as the speaker offers commentary on our tendency to cover up our problems with blanket statements such as the titular affirmation. “Yeah, everything’s fine.”
the best pop punk and emo lyrics: angst/emotional
You can’t spell emotional without “emo.” While there is a certain, let’s say… self-indulgence evident in the subculture and its music, there are plenty of cases where these songs get at the harsher truths of humanity and coming of age with perfect poise. And rationality.
“I’m in the business of misery / (Let’s take it from the top) / She’s got a body like an hourglass / It’s ticking like a clock…”Misery Business by Paramore
My other middle school gateway drug to emo music was Paramore, and this song is just too iconic not to mention. As an opening verse, it pulls no punches and you instantly know you’re in for one of the best angry girl revenge songs you’ve ever heard.
“Well, you treat me just like / Another stranger / Well it’s nice to meet you, sir / I guess I’ll go / I best be on my way out…”Ignorance by Paramore
Surprisingly, I didn’t discover this top tier Paramore song until a few years ago… and it’s quickly become one of my favorites. Such raw angst! Anger and betrayal! Irony and retribution! You go, girl!
“Tell your boyfriend / If he says he’s got beef / That I’m a vegetarian and I ain’t fuckin’ scared of him!”DONTTRUSTME by 3OH!3
Does this line even need an explanation? I think it speaks for itself.
“Life in encrypted, you are modified / Like a virus in a lullaby / Artificial ‘til the day you die, silly programme / You’re corrupted”Kingslayer by Bring Me the Horizon feat. BABYMETAL
I feel like this is some kind of gamer reference, but hot damn if it doesn’t slap. It’s harder than most things I listen to but the more I get into bands like Bring Me the harder I can handle… not sure how well that admission pans out with the whole “gateway drug” analogy in mind, but yeah.
P.S. If you’ve never heard of BABYMETAL, get ready to have your world rocked by an all-girl Japanese death metal band. One of my favorite songs of all time (Akatsuki) is by them. Do with that information what you will.
“Don’t wanna be an American Idiot / One nation controlled by the media / Information age of hysteria / It’s calling out to idiot America…”American Idiot by Green Day
Ah yes, the anthem of youthful rebellion and nonconformity! Stick it to the man! Wake up and smell the brainwash! But seriously, this is Grade A commentary paying homage to the humble beginnings of the punk rock movement: political and social unrest.
Could this be our very own God Save the Queen? You be the judge!
“When you walk by a group of quote unquote normal people
You chuckle to yourself, patting yourself on the back as you scoff
With the same superiority complex
Shared by the high school jocks who made your life a living hell
And makes you a slave to the competitive capitalist dogma
You spend every waking moment of your life bitching about.”Admit It!! by Say Anything
Another song where it was hard to pick out just a few lyrics because the whole thing is brilliant. Say Anything is, admittedly, a very unique band even for its genre. This song is a prime example since the verses are spoken like a slam poem, but to great artistic effect.
If you’ve spent any time in academia at all, do yourself a favor and listen to this song. Social commentary gets a post-punk makeover and I daresay it hits the nail right on the head.
“You told me think about it, well, I did / But I don’t wanna feel a thing anymore / I’m tired of begging for the things that I want / I’m oversleeping like a dog on the floor…”King for a Day by Pierce the Veil feat. Kellin Quinn
Nothing gets at raw human emotion quite like screamo. The more familiar I become with the genre, the more lyrics from other screamo songs might get added to this list. But this one was an instant favorite!
“So you want to believe all the things you’ve been told
And all the promises that you won’t grow old
In a life made up of strings
Being pulled by secret beings
And now I know my falls and fights that brought me here
Of all the things that seem to disappear, you can’t understand my sane nightmare.”Bed of Black Roses by I Hate Kate
Ah, my middle school angst music. I Hate Kate is seriously an underrated post-punk band, one I don’t see mentioned as often as (I think) it should be. They have a really unique sound full of existential angst, and if you like this song, you’ll probably like It’s Always Better and A Place For Me!
“Put to rest / What you thought of me / While I clean this slate / With the hands of uncertainty…”What I’ve Done by Linkin Park
It’s hard to choose just one Linkin Park song (nor should I feel limited to only one, but in the interest of time, I’m restraining myself.) No one does existential angst and emotional baggage quite like Linkin Park. I think I like this song because it ends on a positive note, but that doesn’t make the journey there any less tumultuous!
a specially curated section of my favorite fall out boy lyrics specifically
Whoever wrote the lyrics for the old Fall Out Boy songs (Pete Wentz, I believe?) was a modern poet; full of abstractions, metaphors, similes, and metonyms, it’s a literary nerd’s dream (or nightmare). In any case, there’s more than one reason why FOB is one of my favorite bands!
“We’re going down, down in an earlier round / But sugar we’re going down swinging / I’ll be your number one with a bullet / A loaded god complex, cock it and pull it.”Sugar, We’re Goin Down
I know, I know. Probably one of the most played pop punk songs out there, (and most mis-quoted… WHAT ARE YOU SAYING, PATRICK STUMP???) but for good reason. It still holds up and even if you’ve heard it a million times, you belt out this chorus and you do it with a smile on your face.
But seriously, what even is a loaded god complex? Go debate that one in your poetry class!
“It’s just past eight, and I’m feeling young and reckless / The ribbon on my wrist says, ‘Do not open before Christmas’…”Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued
Honestly, a fantastic opening song for what is, truly, a *chef’s kiss* sophomore album (and the first one I ever owned–it became my college soundtrack and is still one of my favorites).
Perhaps also the best name for a song? As the story goes, the original title was “My Name is David Ruffin and These are The Temptations” (a commentary on Ruffin’s botched attempt to usurp his band and make himself the headliner). The new title is a fact–they did have to change it to avoid a lawsuit with Ruffin. So why not go the irreverent route?
Honestly, this album has some of the best (excessively long) song titles in general, even if I couldn’t tell you what half of them are.
“I am an arms dealer, fitting you with weapons in the form of words / And don’t really care which side wins / As long as the room keeps singing, that’s just the business I’m in…”This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race
Fall Out Boy is many things, the least of which is a loaded god complex. (Lots of weapon imagery though, a recurring motif perhaps? They are from Chicago after all.)
“Hey young blood!
Doesn’t it feel like your time is running out?
I’m gonna change you like a remix
Then I’ll raise you like a phoenix
Wearing our vintage misery
No, I think it looked a little better on me…”The Phoenix
Say what you will about newer Fall Out Boy (like how it doesn’t hold a candle to their old stuff as they slowly drift further and further toward alternative pop), this is still a great album.
The Phoenix was actually the first song of theirs that made my realize what great lyricists they were (I had this one playing on repeat in my car for a time). “Wearing our vintage misery”? It’s so good I wish I wrote it!
“Sometimes the only payoff / Of having any faith / Is when it’s tested again and again / Every day.”Immortals
Hard not to quote this whole song… or think of Big Hero 6 when I hear it! (Great song, great movie!) Once again, say what you will, but this is also a great FOB album… if not categorizable as “pop punk” only by the most liberal of definitions. In any case, I love this lyric–slap that on a motivational poster and call it a day!
“I’ve been dreaming / Of your uniform / Your uniform of nonconformity / The tears, the tears / The tears aren’t strong enough, the years aren’t long enough…”I’ve Been Waiting by Lil Peep, ILOVEMAKONNEN, Fall Out Boy
Technically not a FOB song but Patrick Stump sings this lyric so… sure, why not? It’s a fun song. I wonder if the uniform of nonconformity is made of vintage misery? Just food for thought.
and now, a playlist!
I couldn’t help myself; of course I had to put all these songs in a Spotify playlist! Don’t say I never did anything for ya.
I leave you only with this: if you grew up with this music, what are your favorite songs from the genre? Are there any songs not on this list that you think deserve to be recognized as having some of the best lyrics in pop punk and emo music? Comment below!
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