MM – Neck Deep & fandom discourse

There’s a Twenty One Pilots song called “The Hype” with a pretty simple lyric that I really love: “Just don’t believe the hype.” In that song, “the hype” refers to the people and discussion surrounding the band’s work, and how singer Tyler Joseph has had to learn to shut that noise off in order to create the art that he wants.

Why am I telling you this? Well, because I think that as music fans, sometimes it’s important to shut off “the hype” ourselves in order to be able to enjoy things, without the opinions of others breathing down our necks constantly.

Of course, critics and fellow listeners can be helpful in forming an opinion. However, I want to emphasize that it’s important to make up your own mind first and foremost; otherwise, you could end up missing out on some really great art.

I talk like I’ve moved beyond that flaw. I avoid reviews and discourse as much as possible when a new album comes out, and I try to do so until I’ve listened to it myself first. This isn’t always possible, especially if projects leak beforehand. Despite always avoiding leaks (unless they’re perpetrated by the artist themselves), I’ve been possessed by the temptation to see people’s first impressions on subreddits and Twitter.

Very recently though, and despite my personal precautions, I realized that I’m not above getting tricked into not enjoying or not bothering with something due to the opinions of other people. I was fooled and I listened too much to the hype. I made up my mind about a project that I hadn’t even listened to, and I avoided actually doing so for fear of being disappointed or proven wrong, which is pretty ridiculous.

Once I finally got around to listening, three weeks after the release date, I felt like an idiot. I’d robbed myself of something I’d been excited about because I was so scared to be disappointed. All of this based on what others had said.

And turns out, I ended up loving the album.

This was “All Distortions Are Intentional” by Neck Deep.

On this Miscellaneous Monday segment, I’m going to tell you about how this album completely proved me wrong, and who knows, maybe it’ll make you think a little about how much trust you put in the hype and in fandom discourse.

Before we get into it, here’s a hint of what the album sounds like:

A bit broody, but overall pretty upbeat and fun pop punk.

For anyone reading who has yet to realize this, pop punk is one of my favourite genre of music. If you ask me, it’s the perfect hybrid between the best parts of pop music (catchiness, singable vocal melodies, big choruses, simple song structure) and the best parts of punk music (its energy, instrumentation, speed, grit, emotion, and attitude).

The genre, however, has its problems. Just because I love it doesn’t mean I’m past critiquing it. One of its most notorious issues is having extremely picky fans who have found a specific formula that they like and want bands to stick to. I’m not saying this is all pop punk fans, because I don’t really consider myself a part of that group, mostly because I like a whole bunch of music and I love seeing experimentation.

Ultimately, though, a common complaint is that pop punk all sounds the same.

On a bit of an aside, country music tends to suffer from the same problem. These fans have found themes and sounds that they like, and so artists deliver on them; some generic guitar, twangy vocals, lyrics about drinking, fishing, and hanging out with friends. Lots of similarities to pop punk in a way, which is why I’ve always wondered why I hate country so much… that’s definitely a topic for another post, though.

Anyway, the bottom line is that many bands feel compelled to deliver something that follows the pop punk formula very closely to appeal to those core fans.

And to an extent, it’s true – lots of generic bands are huge, and some of the bigger, more “experimental” pop punk bands cause pretty polarizing opinions (for instance, Waterparks, who have been dubbed “too pop for punk” and “too punk for pop” due to their heavy use of electronic elements mixed with real guitar and drums).

Neck Deep has created a large part of their brand by calling themselves “generic pop punk” (they’ve even printed this slogan on merch!) and playing just that, but trying to do it better than others. For the most part, I’d say they’ve been pretty successful with this: they currently have over 1.4 million Spotify listeners (which is pretty big for a pop punk band in 2020) and their early work is especially well-loved.

Take a listen to this song from “Life’s Not Out To Get You” (2015). It’s generic as fuck, and yet it’s better than 95% of the pop punk out there. It’s one of my favourite songs.

This has lead many fans to get super attached to ND as a strictly “generic pop punk” band: I mean, who wouldn’t love a band who takes all of the well-loved tropes of the genre and does them better than pretty much anyone else?

Problem is, this put ND in a pretty narrow lane. They became known in part for this, so drifting from that territory would not be received too well. The bar is high for an especially specific expectation for the band’s sound.

For example, as someone who discovered ND only about a year and a half ago, I heard their third album “The Peace And The Panic” (2017) first, and I loved it. I was shocked to hear that many fans didn’t like it at all. The killer track “In Bloom” has been critiqued for going “too acoustic” and “too pop” while the song “Don’t Wait (feat. Sam Carter)” was denigrated for going “too heavy”. Talk about picky.

Both songs are great, but strictly speaking, they’re not pure pop punk. And that made fans angry, because it wasn’t what they expected from ND.

Somehow, that narrow box of what this band is “supposed to” sound like survived the last album cycle to come back to this one. Even as a fan who came a bit later and who enjoyed when ND strayed a bit from their pure pop punk roots, I was sucked into the prevailing mindset in the fandom that the new album would be bad, because ND wasn’t sticking to the specific formula that had gotten them many of their fans.

They seemed to have turned their backs on generic pop punk, so to speak, which felt like a betrayal of the genre from one of its newest stars. Really, it was just ND wanting to branch out beyond the sound fans had prescribed to them or the sound they started off with, which is normal for any band. For ND, though, fans didn’t take it well.

Now, I personally didn’t like the first two singles “Lowlife” and “When You Know” and I still don’t love them, so maybe that’s in part to blame for how easily I hopped onto the hate train before the album even came out, and also why I didn’t bother with the other singles. Ironically enough, the next one “Fall” became my favourite song on the album.

I think the fact that ND fans (myself included) had such specific expectations for “All Distortions” based on the band’s past is what proved to be the fanbase’s biggest downfall when the album actually came out. People struggled to let themselves enjoy it, because they’d made up their minds about it due to all the hype and all of these preconceived notions they’d imposed on ND.

To be clear, if you don’t like “All Distortions” I’m not calling you a basic, stupid, generic pop punk lover who hates the band now or anything. You’re allowed not to like it (I have a few issues with it myself) and you’re allowed to prefer the old stuff.

Personally, though, I do think that my preconceived notions and my unwillingness to give the project a genuine chance were entirely informed by the online conversation, and I do think that this was/is the case for many other ND fans.

Comments like “ND just isn’t ND anymore” or “They totally ditched pop punk on this record” had me recoiling from the album before I’d ever heard it, when really I should’ve read those and gone “hmm, I wonder if that’s true, I should listen for myself.”

Because, turns out, I really disagree with those two comments. “All Distortions” sounds exactly like a ND album to me and it’s got plenty of pop punk on it, even though it’s a bit more acoustic and poppy and less hard-hitting than their past work.

Yet, I got so caught up into other people’s opinions and my own expectations that I forgot a fundamental aspect of music: that it’s a deeply personal experience that is best undergone firsthand, and not vicariously through the thoughts and comments others. Sometimes our own minds are our downfall.

Mine certainly was in this case.

In brief, I love this album. I really recommend you check it out. Here’s another of my favourite songs from it if you’re not totally convinced.

And the next time you see fandom conversation around something you care about turning to opinionated remarks about the artist’s new work, remember to think critically and to experience it yourself. Trust yourself and give art from people you care about a chance, because you definitely don’t want to miss out.

All in all, don’t listen too much to the hype.

— H

Have you ever been fooled by fandom discussion and later eaten your words when you actually looked at something for yourself? Have you checked out this album? Feel free to leave a comment below to let me know, I’d love to chat!

Published by mcharlow

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