In the past few years, pop punk has returned with cooler clothes, the same camp, and the aptly named SURVIVORS GUILT: THE MIXTAPE// from KennyHoopla. KennyHoopla’s debut mixtape follows similarly energetic releases from the likes of Machine Gun Kelly and WILLOW. They share drummer Travis Barker of Blink-182 fame. Barker’s youthful and energetic style of playing adds credibility to a new generation’s take on pop punk. In addition to drumming, he also has producing credits on SURVIVORS GUILT: THE MIXTAPE// and MGK’s Tickets to My Downfall.
KennyHoopla and Barker have put out a record that is nothing if not familiar. If an upcoming artist can get such a prolific figure on their first release, it is understandable that they would want to lean into their influences. What KennyHoopla comes up with is a faithful ode to the genre marked with the same lovesick desperation. But this time there is an amplified sense of hopelessness and anxiety that audiences from his generation have grown accustomed to. A doomier, but still somewhat crass take on the music that got my dad through some of his toughest moments in hep-c infected college dorms. KennyHoopla’s melodramatic vocals hold true to hormone-jolted heartbreak that defines much of the genre.
The most enjoyable moments on the mixtape come from more catchy, danceable tracks where Barker’s drumming isn’t fighting with often bloated and over-blown production. “hollywood sucks//” leans into the more goofy and self aware side of pop punk that makes it feel youthful and fun. The mixtape makes sudden drop offs from tracks like this to ones that try for edgier, more emo sound. Its places like these where a more low-key instrumentation would have helped to get these darker feelings across. Instead, these feelings get buried in what borders on stadium rock. Deeply unflattering scream singing that echoes The Used doesn’t help either. Some tracks end up sounding more comedic than intended. Half-sung refrains, another staple of the genre, also come off as whiny and ineffective as Hoopla asks a girl to quit her 9-5 to love him at the end of the record.
With his first mixtape, KennyHoopla hasn’t made a clear decision on whether his music should soundtrack budding love for lonely teenagers or if he wants to play arenas with the masses shouting his choruses back to him. And Travis Barker, who clearly wants to be a pop punk messiah to the next generation, could perhaps scale back the sound on his next partnership.