The Alternabubble Debate
The Opinions of three EAR CANDY writers:
GPR, DJ Ivan & Kim Brown

I’ve got to admit that my imagination was fueled after reading, BUBBLEGUM MUSIC IS THE NAKED TRUTH. Applying some of these Bubblegum Gospel truths to today’s music scene, I came up with what I call “alternabubble”. Then I e-mailed this discription to two of the writers for EAR CANDY, DJ Ivan and Kim Brown to get their opinion. What follows is discourse between three very opinionated EAR CANDY writers…

Alt-Bubble is:

  • Disposable, plastic ‘pop punk' music. Copy the punk & power pop music of 20 years ago, but do not change the styling, speed, annunciation or lyrical topics.
  • Contrived and marketed to appeal to the age group from pre-driving teens through college age 'alternative' rockers.
  • Produced in an assembly line process with emphasis placed on similarity, not diversity. (Can you truly tell the music of Blink 182 apart from Good Charlotte?)
  • A fashion statement, which presents the 1977, spiked hair and dog collars as something new and original! Bonus points for that Billy Idol curled-lip snarl and multiple tattoos/body piercings.
  • Not about true rebellion. Wanna guess how many of these modern 'punks' are church going honor students? It’s a simple, safe, faux rebellion.

GPR: It has many names, just pick a moniker: Alternative Bubblegum Music, Bubble-Punk, Alt-Bubble or Bubble Alternative. But while "alternative rock" originally begged for the question, "alternative to WHAT?!", there is no question what Alterna-Bubble is the alternative to. It's the alternative to the modern Bubblegum of N'Sync, the Backstreet Boys, Britney, Hanson, Spice Girls, etc. Alterna-Bubble is a '90s creation which has grown to Godzilla-like proportions, with Green Day blazing the gummy, sweet trail.

First, let me differentiate between "alternative" and "alternabubble". "Alternative" is a catch-all phrase to include post-new wave music which evolved into mainstream music. Alternative rockers include: REM, Janes' Addiction, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Oasis, Blur, Soundgarden, Beck, etc. On the other hand, "Alternabubble" follows the strict blueprint of early punk and power pop, producing picture perfect mimics of the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, early Replacements, the Jam, the Buzzcocks, Husker Du, the Dead Kennydy's, Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies, etc. Let’s sound off the alternabubble rollcall: the Ataris, Sum 41, Good Charlotte, Blink 182, the Offspring, Good Charlotte, etc.

Kim Brown:First, what about other bands in their category, such as Mest, Fenix TX and Unwritten Law? You cannot compare groups like this to blink-182. “Can you truly tell the music of Blink 182 apart from Good Charlotte?” Have you tried listening to both groups? Obviously not. Someone who listens to mainly rock probably couldn’t tell a Backstreet Boys song from an ‘N Sync song any better than someone who listens to mainly pop could tell an Ataris song from a Fenix TX song. If you’re not educated in the genre, you’re not going to know very much. Jessica Simpson sounds the same as Mandy Moore to an outsider, while to someone who listens to that kind of music could tell you who was singing from the first note. And it isn’t fair to pinpoint bands like Good Charlotte and Blink-182.

GPR: The reason I pinpointed these two bands is that once you take away maybe a singer, the instrumentation sounds exactly the same. To prove a point, I had a little experiment. One weekend I had 10 different CD’s of the alternabubble bands, playing them on a multi-CD player set for ‘random’. And you know what? They were all the same! Same formula, same influences, etc. This is a major fingerprint of bubblegum. Bubblegum music recorded ALL the background music first, many times using the same studio musicians and the singer simply added his voice. Viola! Sameness…

Kim Brown: Sure, if you hear anything with drums, guitars, a bass and a male singer, if it’s in the same general genre as another group you give a listen, it’s going to sound the same at first.

GPR: Wrongo! Throughout the history of rock ‘n roll you’ve had groups with the above musical lineup in the SAME genre yet here are the differences:

THE ‘50S: Little Richard, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, etc – there is NO way of confusing these.
THE ‘60S: Beatles, Hendrix, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, the Who – again, there is no mistaking each.
THE ‘70S: Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks: again, differences within the same genre, each with their own UNIQUE and ORIGINAL take.
THE ‘80s: Husker Du and the Replacements.

I could go on and on with this list….

DJ Ivan: I would like to add something about the diversity of of punk circa 1977 versus the current crop. For example: the Sex pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks, the Stranglers and Gang of Four. These are five bands of the first punk wave that sound completely different musically and lyrically.

GPR: Alt-Bubble gives the listener the feeling that, "wow! This music is truly original and hasn't been done before!" But you ask, "doesn't EVERY generation think the preceding music is crap and that their 'new' music is unique?" This statement is true. When the Sex Pistols came out, this is exactly the attitude that the new punks portrayed - progressive rock was boring, dinosaur music. However, the punk rock of 1977 WAS unique, it wasn't a carbon copy of the music that happened 15-20 years earlier.

DJ Ivan: You should remember that regardless of how manufactured said music is, it is likely that it IS new to a 17 year old. What each of them choose to do with the rush of having discovered a new musical genre (regardless of whether it actually IS a new music genre) is up to each listener. For some it will simply be a few years of thinking they are "rebelling" against the system before they become the wage slaves that most people end up becoming anyway (look in the cut out bins in 2-3 years and see how many of today’s stars become tomorrows used CD casulties). Others may derive much more out of a musical genre even if it is contrived and manufactured. For example: Among my first non-mainstream musical awakenings was the plethora of mid 80's MTV new wave bands. Band such as Wall of Voodoo, Missing Persons, Modern English.... None of them were doing much in the way of anything new. However I didn't know that, was quite excited about these bands once upon a time and used the experience of liking something that appeared to my young and inexperienced mind as being "new" and "fresh" as a motivation to find more serious, intelligent bands. In short, these kids have to start somewhere; even if that somewhere is in bands that to a more jaded ear seem "shallow" or "manufactured".

Kim Brown: And what right does anyone have to really question the motives of any group, be it “punk”, “rock”, or “pop”? You weren’t there, so you don’t know.

GPR: This is a really lame excuse…or should we all be mindless sheep, never questioning things? As a consumer, musician, writer, etc, I have EVERY right to question the motives of a group. Ever heard of Milli Vanilli?!

Kim Brown: Groups such as this may have influenced them, but that doesn’t make them any more punk. The word I have heard used the most to describe this genre is “neo-punk”, which is basically “poppy-punk”. It’s catchy. If you find something wrong with that, then that’s your opinion. Your comment on one hit wonders being part of an “assembly line” isn’t right or fair. So a band gets a hit…gets some radio play…fizzles out. That automatically makes them fake and manufactured; part of an “assembly line” as you say? I don’t think so.

GPR: I’m using ‘punk’ as a catch phrase because that is the main music of choice that they have decided to copy note-for note. Also xeroxed is power pop of the same time period. As for assembly line, I’m talking about the interchangeable aspects of just the music - take away maybe the singer and they are very interchangeable. This is why it is assembly line music.

Kim Brown: And you talk about their image…I guess that’s another opinion matter. I don’t think the way you dress makes you any label. The way you dress is the way you dress…you can dress like a complete “prep” and be a “punk”.

GPR: Johnny Rotten didn't parade around like Sha Na Na in the gold lame suits of 1950's rockers! The Beatles didn’t wear zoot suits like Frank Sinatra. Fast forward to the new millennium: groups wear 1977 Syd Vicious dog collars and spiked hair like they invented it! While true, original Punk music was sincere in its anger and energy, alternabubble is contrived to sell you something recycled as “something new and original!”

DJ Ivan: Now then, my feeling about this current wave of "punk". I pretty much take it for what it is; shallow pop tunes - nothing the Buzzcocks haven't done with much better musicianship, subtlety and cleverness. Nothing too terrible, but nothing spectacular either.

I would like to add my experience at the 2000 Warped tour. There were plenty of 3-chord pop-punk bands; most of them hardly horrible but hardly memorable either (a notable exception being Flogging Molly - Irish drinking songs at Bad Religion tempos). Each band had a booth and was in many cases giving away free CDs/fanzines and the like. There were many other booths advertising their wares; most of it very mundane (new soft drinks, new home video games etc.) very much like a carnival. The booth that received the LEAST attention was a booth selling non-mainstream political literature, such as Noam Chomsky. In fact I wrote my name in the dust that had collected on the literature at this booth. Overall, the whole affair, bands excluded, struck me as being a mobile "punk" shopping mall. Furthermore, where is the D.I.Y. spirit in a touring punk show that includes no (or very few) local, unsigned, "punk" bands? If the brand of "punk" at this particular concert was about changing attitudes and turning people onto new ideas, then it wasn't happening on the warped tour. A few people made quite a bit of money though. I guess the current brand of "punk" circa now is simply about escapist entertainment.

GPR's Final word: With all this said, is alternabubble all bad? Nah....every generation has its Monkees, Bay City Rollers, New Kids on the Block and the Offspring. Hell, we've even interviewed an alternabubble band in EAR CANDY - Good Charlotte. I'm not knocking alternabubble or putting it down. I actually find it quit flattering that kids these days are honoring the music that I grew up with. Usually every succeeding generation is very quick to dismiss the music of their parents.I think that deep down, these alternabubble rockers know that they are breaking no new ground. They are just making punk safe for suburbia.

“Follow These Tips And You Too Can Be Punk!” by Fiona Mantha