Dunno if you’ve noticed but this current wave of pop-punk really kinda fucking sucks. We aren’t averse to bringing it up round these parts, but it’s worth re-emphasising when there are still chancers clinging on in the vain hope of finding success in a genre subsection that couldn’t sound more disposable. Thankfully the biggest cloudburst seems to be petering out, and with any luck, some of the less-stable hangers-on will start falling away, either retreating back to their original genre that they jumped ship from, or just disappearing completely. There’s bound to be some who’ll stick though. Should Machine Gun Kelly decide to curse us with more of what started this god-awful trend, he’ll probably last; ditto for jxdn and MOD SUN as the ones with slightly higher profiles.
You can probably throw girlfriends in with them too, though not under any assumption of greater quality. Instead, it’s because they’re probably the most definitive example of how the industry around this enterprise wants it to succeed. Here’s a project comprised of Apple Music 1 DJ Travis Mills and Big Noise founder / Goldfinger member Nick Gross, blessed from birth with all the support a fledgling band could ever dream of (including production from John Feldmann, of course), and emerging as a bankable presence within pop-punk to at least try and keep it afloat. girlfriends only formed in 2020, yet they’ve already released two full-lengths; if that doesn’t tell you how voraciously they’re looking to capitalise on a trend, and how behind-the-scenes machinations have been running on overdrive to keep another guaranteed bread-maker in pride of place within the scene, likely nothing will.
But hey, maybe that’s jumping to conclusions. After all, both members do have backgrounds in punk, to where this could just be a genuine creative avenue from a pair of likeminded individuals. That’s a possibility, but there are three main factors that prevent that from being believable in the slightest—a) their arrival at the crest of the wave has been awfully conveniently timed; b) it’s not like the alternative industry in its current state doesn’t love raising the platform for even the most tenuous ‘celebrity’ connection; and c) they sound exactly the same as everyone else! Give girlfriends’ songs to jxdn, or Sueco, or any other TikTok e-boy with millions of followers for no discernible reason, and nothing would change. The fact that this is coming from two men in their mid-30s just makes it more humiliating.
Whereas any reasonable person would expect—or at least want—some kind of more mature perspective brought from that, clearly that’s not how it works. Anything that MGK has done since 2020 could’ve told you that, and girlfriends arguably bring even less to be impressed by. It’s about as flimsy as post-breakup, reactionary flimsiness gets, intended to sound righteous but unable to commit to that thanks to Mills’ deeply unimpressive voice. It’s really only on Plastic where he displays some form of drive and get-up-and-go that makes that track a bit more tolerable; otherwise, none of this feels as though it’s coming from a real place, merely in service to the scene by slapping down what’s expected of it. And when it’s notably immature in its petulance like on Life’s A Brittany and the title track, it only exacerbates how performative the toxicity is.
At least when bands go for broke in moulds like this, there’s a catharsis in the sniping to latch onto and enjoy. girlfriends, meanwhile, have no such compunction towards that. They’re overwhelmingly boilerplate and warmed-over, perhaps no more so than the scene around them, but that only raises further issues. What exactly does this add that’s worth paying attention to? If girlfriends were simply a brand new band, divorced from any prior industry connections, would they still be given the same degree of exposure? Well, it’s borderline impossible to say given how much of a rarity in these stripes of pop-punk that’s become, but there’s certainly not much on Over My Dead Body to suggest so. If you want to be kind, maybe they can pen a stronger hook on average—Life’s A Brittany and Plastic are both irritatingly sticky, no matter how much you want to resist—but they don’t break past that surface level too much, if at all.
Going over the minutiae of it all would simply be regurgitating the same complaints applicable to basically everyone in this scene, but the sound really does leave a lot to be desired. It’s underweight and edgeless, full of watery guitar slushes and trap deviations that are sucked totally dry of power. None of it is new, and the fact that girlfriends still seem hell-bent on leaping on such an obviously limited, static musical palette speaks more negatively about them than anything else. Any brief moment of freshness or novelty is dead and gone now; more often, this sort of blackbear-esque pop-punk copy of a copy falls to a half-life diminishing by the second. And when songs like Talk or Thanks Anyway are so flat and stiff with no fervour behind them, how does anybody reasonably expect them to have a lasting presence?
It’s that abject disposability that’s the real kicker with an act like girlfriends. New additions to this scene don’t usually inspire the same intermingled frustration and befuddlement they maybe once did; now, it’s just exasperation that we’re still doing this, without so much as an attempt being made to juice it up even a bit. No wonder girlfriends have been able to churn out as much material as they have when their entire game plan appears to be copying other acts’ homework, which in itself is a cheapened, watered-down impression of countless other, better bands. That’s pretty much the level we’re on with pop-punk like this now, and even as it begins to fade, an act like girlfriends can still keep it around thanks to corporately-vetted pap as naked and shameless as this. Just wonderful…
For fans of: jxdn, Machine Gun Kelly, anything that Travis Barker has been on in the last three years
‘Over My Dead Body’ by girlfriends is out now on Big Noise.
Words by Luke Nuttall