23 Thoughts on Emo Festival When We Were Young

When We Were Young Festival Shares The Perfect Emo Throwback Lineup - Paste

1. We’re doing this as 23 thoughts to honor the 23ish tracks you could squeeze on a mix CD, because that’s the kind of energy When We Were Young so eagerly wants to channel. And I want to try my hand at the format based on Larry Fitzmaurice’s Last Donut of the Night newsletter’s excellent use of such (this one in particular is very good). Now then.

2. I found out earlier this week that “Blue Monday” isn’t just a kickin’ New Order song, but is also a kind of observable thing. In 2004, a British PR company tasked a psychologist with finding the saddest day of the year, and, the analytics he ran suggested that the answer was the third Monday in January. The science is a little janky, but if you told me that the cold, dead, nothing of late mid-January was the hardest part of the year for the greatest number of people, I’d believe you.

3. And so the day after Blue Monday, when people are ready for any kind of stimulation, your social media was probably flooded with people sharing the black and purple poster for the When We Were Young, a one day emo-pop festival happening in Las Vegas in October headlined by My Chemical Romance and Paramore, with names like Bring Me the Horizon, Taking Back Sunday, The Used, The Maine, Alkaline Trio, Senses Fail, Pierce the Veil, and The All American Rejects showing up in the undercard.

4. A closer look at the poster reveals a smattering of more recent acts, including ‘10s pop-punk stalwarts (The Wonder Years, Neck Deep), heavy-eyeliner rock (Wolf Alice, PVRIS), promising newcomers (Meet Me @ the Altar, The Linda Lindas), TikTok musicians (Lil Huddy, Nessa Barrett), and Car Seat Headrest to throw off the festival’s scent of Let’s Remember Some Warped Tour Guys.

5. I can only speak anecdotally, but the marketing for When We Were Young is working like gangbusters. It’s the lone festival/show announcement I’ve seen in…years? that’s generated its own memes and discussion, let alone engagement with, for want of a better word, the normies.

6. It should be said that WWWY’s concept isn’t new. Desert Trip in October of 2016 brought a classic rock lineup of Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, and Neil Young to the Coachella site (it was also run by ‘chella overlords Goldenvoice). May of 2019’s Just Like Heaven festival revived late ‘00s blog rock in SoCal, and this year’s upcoming Lovers & Friends festival promises turn of the century R&B and rap (more on Just Like Heaven and Lovers & Friends later). All three were announced as one-time engagements, but sold so well that a second weekend/day was quickly added.

7. Around the same time that people were snickering at Desert Trip as “Oldchella,” “Emo Nite” went national. Emo Nites are bar parties soundtracked to ‘90s and ‘00s pop-punk and emo that were created by a pair of LA dudes, and while they started as an LA thing, they hit with people, and soon Emo Nite Brooklyn popped up, and the phenomenon got cosigns by people like Mark Hoppus and All Time Low. While I think that pop-punk/emo would have eventually become the associated rock sound with the ‘00s the same way that the ‘80s are reduced to hair metal and the ‘90s are moody, flannel grunge, having an event called “Emo Nite” where the first 100 people in line got a pin that said “SAD AS FUCK” and the creators named their marketing company (Jesus Christ) “Ride Or Cry” probably sped things along. They’re on the poster for Coachella this year.

8. All of this is to say that ‘00s emo possesses more cultural reach than you’d think it does, nostalgia festivals have proven to be a sure bet (and I suspect they’ll continue to be, particularly in a post-COVID festival landscape where regional fests with no real identity to anchor themselves to will likely wither on the vine–yes I am shading my local Bunbury in this), and someone was destined to put these two together.

9. So, let’s return to that poster for a second and get a few already very-remarked upon observations out of the way: you spend 15 seconds looking at this thing, and it becomes apparent that When We Were Young is entirely too good to be true. A graphic design student told to create a poster of their dream festival lineup for an assignment after mainlining Warped Tour compilations would have shown more restraint.

10. To wit: WWWY is allegedly a one-day festival with 3 stages and 65 bands (By comparison, Desert Trip was 6 acts, and Just Like Heaven came in at 26). Ain’t no way. 

11. WWWY is put on by LiveNation, the live music juggernaut most recently in the news as the company behind Astroworld, Travis Scott’s festival where 9 people died in a crowd surge last November. 

12. As it happens, Live Nation is also running the Lovers & Friends Festival, which is WWWY if you bump the eligibility window back a few years and run it through rap and R&B. Lauryn Hill, TLC, Ciara, Usher, Ludacris, Lil John, Ashanti, and Fyre Festival’s own Ja Rule are all slated to appear. Curiously, Lovers & Friends was announced as a Goldenvoice joint in February of 2020 for May of that year (whoops!), and that announcement caused a dust-up with some artists calling it “fake” or mentioning that “the deposit aint hit for this one yet.” It reemerged last July with “Live Nation, Snoop Dogg, and Bobby Dee Present” up top with an expected date of May 14th of this year. So far, the new L&F hasn’t caused any issues, but time will tell what actually comes of it.

13. Let’s use lucky number 13 to say that of course, there’s even odds that any major event this year goes the way of “lol COVID” anyway, so maybe this is all for naught. Then again, this is set for late October, so maybe there will be more The Nightmare Before Christmas merch present than there will be positive cases, who knows?

14. Putting WWWY at the end of October is a sign of optimism, but I wonder how open Live Nation will be to moving it back if they want to capitalize on the pop-punk wave in the mainstream lead by Travis Barker (you can’t tell me Blink-182 wasn’t approached about this thing), pop-punk character actor Machine Gun Kelly, Willow, and the (*quiet voice* deeply mid) pop-punk inspired hit from Olivia Rodrigo. As much as WWWY is a blatant nostalgia grab, I wonder if there’ll be a younger turnout in some fashion, too.

15. I know I said “the normies” up above, but it’s worth looking at the people who would actually go to WWWY. As much cultural zeitgeist as there is around this stuff, the timing here is smart in a craven fashion; when else would people who were in high school from about 2002 to 2010 look at a $250 festival ticket, travel, lodging, and spending money for Avril, Dashboard Confessional, and Hawthorne Heights, and think “well, as this year’s vacation…”?

16. Viewed one way, it’s easy to see When We Were Young as the cynical calcification of millennial nostalgia. Hell, the fucking name invokes the performative cry of “omg we’re so old” from the most annoying millennial you know (one meme I keep seeing around WWWY involves Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man, which given that WWWY is the only thing that makes No Way Home’s nostalgia-baiting look tempered, big fuckin lol). And more than that, something about WWWY feels like giving up, like retreating within the comfort of the familiar and not engaging with anything you don’t already know and just asking you if you want to remember A Day To Remember. For a generation that can already be insufferable about how the media they consume identifies them, circling the parents’ Corollas while they blare A.F.I. feels dispiriting.

17. The counterpoint to the above is where I want to bring up Just Like Heaven, a festival I only remember because Ian Cohen’s writeup of attending it is a really solid piece of music writing that mocks JLH, but also empathizes with the people who go. I’m actually just gonna quote him here: “…there’s a collective sorrow [from friends who don’t follow new music] that doesn’t quite find its direction or target — they wish they had the time and energy to keep up with new music the way they used to…Once college is over, maybe your career has advanced to the point where you can’t really waste time scrolling through reviews or Metacritic or Twitter just to find ideas of what to listen to, let alone finding time to do so. Let alone deciding whether to dedicate the finite resource of your free time to new music when it’s competing with the immediate availability of literally every album you’ve ever already liked…can you blame them for wanting to spend just one day where something like Tokyo Police Club was it?” Swap out Tokyo Police Club for Dance Gavin Dance, and you get why people would go for WWWY. It’s for people who want to keep up with trends, but life gets in the way between them and like, Turnstile, so Mayday Parade it is.

18. But man, here’s a question: what’s it gotta be like for the bands playing this thing? It’s a fairly uncomplicated question for someone like My Chemical Romance, or a ready for her piece of the revival pie Avril Lavigne, but what’s it like for, say Jimmy Eat World, or an act like Bright Eyes who crossed in and out of this scene almost incidentally? Hell, what’s it going to be like for Paramore, a band who has not only made their best albums after ditching the scene, but who no longer play their biggest hit? I’ve got to imagine that most of the bands’ whose Wikipedia pages are organized in two or three increments before some becoming some version of “2014–present” are going to be at least kind of stoked to be there, but at the same time, being there probably underlines what the demand was for your 2008 album vs. your 2018 one. But that’s a lot to mull over during a “blink and you’ll miss it” set length.

19. I’m thinking of who I saw at Warped Tour 2008 and who is and isn’t playing WWWY, and the names Gym Class Heroes and Against Me! stand out. While both absences can be explained in practical terms (GCH has been inactive for about a decade just like fellow 2008 Warped alumni The Academy Is… and Sky Eats Airplane, and Against Me! seemed like they were going to rev back up and then the pandemic hit), it’s worth mulling over that WWWY is homogeneous and apolitical in a way that even Warped Tour wasn’t. Not that Warped was a haven for deep thoughts beyond what the age of consent was on this side of state lines, but hell, they’d book Against Me! or The War on Women. WWWY has 60-something acts and maybe 8ish bands that feature women, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the non-white representation capped out at Meet Me @ the Altar and maybe someone’s bassist.

20. And more than the obvious logistical snafus waiting to happen, the nostalgia overdose, Live Nation’s recent fuck-ups, and the inevitability of When We Were Young Fyre Festival-ing itself, what really gets me about this whole thing is how it steamrolls any kind of progress pop-punk and emo have made over the last decade. Steps have been taken and awareness has been raised for issues like fan safety at shows beyond just “pick someone up in the pit,” inclusive tours that aren’t just 3 or 4 bands of straight white dudes, some measure of not permitting known abusers to operate within the scene (which, it should be said that at least at a glance, no one on WWWY has any accusations against them), not comparing every band with a femme lead singer to Paramore, and songs that aren’t just about being vaguely sad or how some harlot broke up with you. While it’s possible to look at WWWY the way Cohen looked at JLH above and mused “It’s not that deep,” and give people the benefit of the doubt for holding two thoughts at once, it’s hard to not look at something like WWWY as potentially resetting the scale to zero within public consciousness.

21. If that sounds chippy, well, the other deep tissue thing that annoys me about WWWY is that look, I fuck with a lot of modern pop-punk and emo and shit, and it’s hard to not feel like a bunch of that is going to get shoved to the side in favor of “Rawr means ‘I love you’ in dinosaur XD”-core. It feels like peak crank to actually put this in words, but it is kinda grating to love like, glass beach, Pinkshift, The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, Joyce Manor, PUP, Mannequin Pussy, Foxing, awakebutstillinbed, and Proper. just to see the stuff focused around them get minimal engagement while people are jazzed that bands that they haven’t thought of in 10 years like Boys Like Girls are back.

22. Which puts me in the same boat as the When We Were Young-ers in that I’m also getting defensive and huffy because I perceive that the Things I Like are being devalued by people who don’t know any better.

23. So I don’t know, it’s well within the realm of possibility that someone will go to WWWY, have a ball, look up The Linda Lindas or MM@TA afterward, and discover a world with Action/Adventure in it and that’ll be exciting. Or maybe they’ll hear The Wonder Years rocket through 4 songs and find that oh shit, The Greatest Generation is a pop-punk all-timer about wanting to be a good person. It’s also entirely possible that they go to this thing and spill a $9 White Claw all over a Green Day tee while trying to get a video of My Chem during “I’m Not Okay (I Promise).” Or, they fly to Vegas and spend a day or two trying to recoup the ticket price at a casino because WWWY got canceled and the ticket is nonrefundable.

About bgibs122

I enjoy music and music culture; I hope you do, too.
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