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Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Getty
As the world spent much of 2020 inside and isolated, disco experienced a resurgence like it hadn’t seen in years, providing escapist joy when reality looked like hell. Now, as the U.S. begins to emerge from quarantine in 2021, another revival has arrived: pop-punk. While its return to the mainstream has been brewing for years, thanks to emerging artists like YUNGBLUD and nothing,nowhere., in the late 2010s, it feels like no coincidence that the new wave is reaching a critical mass as we return to social life with infinite more angst.
The country’s accelerated vaccine rollout has also brought a wave of returning festival announcements, after over a year largely devoid of live music altogether. But absent from that group is Warped Tour, the Vans–sponsored touring pop-punk festival that made its last round in 2018, upon founder Kevin Lyman’s retirement. (It returned for two 25th-anniversary events in Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Mountain View, California, in 2019.) Rumors of a revival under new leadership have swirled since, but little has been confirmed. As of now, it looks like the closest we might get is a 20th-anniversary edition of New Jersey’s Bamboozle Festival come … 2023.
And let’s be real, there’s still no way a massive, multi-stage festival could tour the country by this summer — and definitely not with all the moshing us touch-starved music fans would be doing. But when was the last time we needed a Warped Tour more? We can still dream, so at Vulture, we’ve made a list of 25 musicians that would play our ideal Warped Tour this summer. Call it “Varped Tour ’21.”
A few quick rules: Although Warped Tour spanned everything from ska to hip-hop, we’re focusing largely (though not exclusively) on pop-punk artists. Rather than deciding what’s emo and what’s hardcore and what’s punk rock, we’re trying our best to color within the line that is that hyphen between pop and punk. And when it comes to the Warped veterans, we’re only including those who are still making music that would fit into Warped Tour just as well now as then — so not bands like Paramore and Fall Out Boy, who’ve pivoted to poppier material. Here’s our Varped Tour ’21 lineup. Emo gods, listen up.
Did you ever think you’d see the day when 3OH!3 had a noticeable, good influence on music? Well, the dawn has come thanks to groups like 100 gecs, and on top of it all, the crunkcore originators themselves are back — with music that’s as chaotically fun as ever. And even if others are following in 3OH!3’s footsteps, nothing else still quite matches the energy of the group’s early hits like “DONTTRUSTME” and “STARSTRUKK.”
Past lineups: 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2018 farewell
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “DONTTRUSTME,” just like it did back in 2008.
All Time Low never really left — their last five studio albums charted in the top ten — but last year resembled the closest thing to a comeback for the group. That was thanks to “Monsters,” All Time Low’s biggest hit ever, and a damn good one too, leaning back into the band’s earlier edge after trying on poppier sounds on recent albums. After over a decade, the boys can still tap into the cathartic angst that made songs like “Dear Maria, Count Me In” and “Weightless” connect.
Past lineups: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2018 farewell
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “Monsters,” which really did not have to go that hard.
All signs point toward a pop-punk comeback for Avril Lavigne in 2021: her Instagram teasers, her collaboration with punk boyfriend MOD SUN, her rumored work with Travis Barker and Machine Gun Kelly. Her last album, 2019’s Head Above Water, moved from angsty rock toward inspirational adult contemporary, but her “Flames” feature shows she’s still got that punk bravado in her, too. She’s also somehow never played Warped Tour — and if Warped ever comes back, that won’t be able to slide.
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “Sk8er Boi,” a bonafide classic at this point.
The hero of the pop-punk revival? None other than blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, who has played some mix of drummer-producer-mentor for most of the biggest new punks, from Machine Gun Kelly to jxdn to WILLOW. Not that his own band has stopped performing, either — blink released its last album, Nine, in 2019, the second since Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba replaced Tom DeLonge. With appearances dating back to the second-ever tour in 1996, they’d bring OG Warped cred to a 2021 tour.
Past lineups: 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2019 Atlantic City
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “What’s My Age Again?” by which point you will also be asking yourself the same question.
Machine Gun Kelly took a gamble when he decided he didn’t want to be just another white guy making subpar rap — he wanted to make full-fledged pop punk. On last year’s Tickets to My Downfall, he made it sound like what he should’ve been doing all along, with some of the most enjoyable rock songs of 2020, full stop. And while he may not have a longer tenure than some other down-bill rappers-turned-punks, like MOD SUN or blackbear, Machine Gun Kelly has become the de facto leader of pop-punk’s new generation, supporting younger artists like Maggie Lindemann and iann dior and part-time influencers like jxdn and LILHUDDY alike.
Past lineups: 2012
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “I Think I’m OKAY,” the first absolute jam of the pop-punk revival.
100 gecs, the duo of Dylan Brady and Laura Les, is everything you could’ve possibly heard in an afternoon at Warped Tour — from punk to ska to to crunk to pop — in one exhilarating barrage of sound. Just imagine the sort of crowd that’d draw.
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “hand crushed by a mallet,” which cemented its Warped cred with a 2020 remix featuring Fall Out Boy, Chiodos’s Craig Owens, and Nicole Dollanganger.
Before he was blackbear, Matthew Musto got his start in a little punk band called Polaroid. While he’s made some generic blend of pop, rap, and R&B for years since, blackbear didn’t truly take off until he got pulled back into pop-punk, featuring on songs by Machine Gun Kelly, All Time Low, and MOD SUN. It really isn’t just a phase!
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “Hot Girl Bummer,” because what would a Warped Tour be without a few undeniably trashy, undeniably catchy songs?
Many rappers rode the late-’10s emo-rap wave, but few stuck around quite like iann dior, a favorite collaborator of lineup-mates like Machine Gun Kelly. He slips easily into rock-leaning songs, from jxdn’s “Tonight” to 24kGoldn’s No. 1 “Mood,” but dior is potent on a trap beat too — his hit “emotions” is a prime sadboi anthem.
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “Pretty Girls,” one of the only iann dior songs upbeat enough to mosh to.
Like his “heavy” collaborator” blackbear, MOD SUN started out in punk bands before he pivoted toward hip-hop and eventually found his way back. Except MOD SUN did his time as a drummer, hiding the fact that he’s one of the best screamers in pop-punk right now. Come on: The chorus of “Flames” is just guttural, in the best way.
Past lineups: 2012, 2014, 2015
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “Karma,” a more thrash-ready banger than the bigger Internet Killed the Rockstar hit, “Flames.”
Rap-rock act nothing,nowhere. might be the only musician to leverage a New York Times best album of the year into a Fueled by Ramen signing. And it was a move for the better, judging by Joe Mulherin’s latest, hardest-rocking output on new album Trauma Factory.
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “fake friend,” once that totally anthemic chorus hits.
As much as she’s drawing on Max Martin’s brand of radio-ready pop from the 2000s, Rina Sawayama is also pulling from the nu-metal and punk from the same period, for a blend that gives Katy Perry at Warped Tour in the 2020s. But Sawayama rages harder than Perry ever did in her early years, with songs like “STFU!” and “Who’s Gonna Save You Now?” arriving ready for head-banging singalongs.
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “STFU!” because how could you not mosh to those riffs?
If there’s a single rapper who belongs at Warped Tour, it’s Rico Nasty, who excels when she’s shouting and snarling over a heavy synth or blaring guitar. She’s maybe one of the best rappers for shouting along to — not just because of that effortlessly brazen exterior, but because of the bubbly, infectious spirit behind it.
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “Smack a Bitch,” obviously.
The most charming band in pop-punk right now might be Waterparks, who’ve been releasing music since the start of the genre’s last decline, in 2011. That’s thanks to a combination of genuine love songs like “Stupid for You,” a generally playful spirit (their new album, Greatest Hits, is not a greatest hits collection), and most of all, singer Awsten Knight, whose smiling vocals can add a tinge of sweetness to otherwise sour songs.
Past lineups: 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018 farewell
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “Turbulent,” with a drum track that runs at 100 miles per hour.
Willow Smith has rock-star blood, as she reminded the world with her special Mother’s Day performance alongside mother Jada Pinkett Smith’s band Wicked Wisdom. WILLOW’s new, Travis Barker–featuring single “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” makes good on that promise too — um, and just imagine how much “Whip My Hair” would go off at a midday Warped set.
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l,” the beginning of a hopefully long-lived punk phase.
YUNGBLUD came onto the scene right as Warped Tour was leaving, just in time to snag a spot on the final 2018 lineup (and return for the 2019 Atlantic City show). Not only can the English rocker do a great whiny scream, his Yorkshire accent is also full of attitude on hits like “I Love You, Will You Marry Me” and “parents.”
Past lineups: 2018 farewell, 2019 Mountain View
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “acting like that,” another explosive Machine Gun Kelly collaboration.
glaive gets lumped in with the burgeoning hyperpop scene on SoundCloud and TikTok, but his music really sits somewhere between there, emo, hip-hop, and pop — in other words, perfect fare for Warped Tour. And since he started making music in the pandemic, he’s never performed live, so what better place to start than Warped?
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “astrid,” a deceptively sunny song that’s full of nerve.
At the beginning of 2020, Jaden Hossler was still part of Sway House. Fast-forward over a year, and he’s performing as jxdn, catching cosigns from Travis Barker and Machine Gun Kelly while making some of the most evocative pop-punk of the past few years.
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “Angels & Demons,” because a song with a line about mosh pits deserves a real one.
When KennyHoopla screams, his voice nearly jumps off the recording. His 2020 EP how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?// is wonderfully gritty, but the denser guitars on his more recent songs with Travis Barker suit his baritone voice even better.
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “estella//,” if the guitars and drums aren’t pummeling enough.
Before his breakout hit “Without You,” the Kid LAROI made his name off collaborations with late emo-rap icon Juice WRLD. LAROI’s voice has more of a bite than his teacher, though — precisely what makes lyrics like “Can’t make a wife out of a ho” actually work.
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “Fuck You, Goodbye,” only because you can’t mosh to an acoustic song like “Without You.”
Sure, you know him as a TikTok star first, if you know him at all. But with a sneering voice like that, why not pivot to punk?
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “The Eulogy of You and Me,” with a catchy one-line chorus that will never get old.
Warped Tour needs more angsty queer love songs, and Maddie Ross is just the one to fill that gap, from her teen movie-inspired album Never Have I Ever to a gender-bent cover of Lustra’s “Scotty Doesn’t Know.”
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “You’re Still My Sugar,” which follows in the Radio Disney Goes Punk footsteps of predecessors like Ashlee Simpson and Aly and AJ.
Years after finding a global pop hit with 2016’s “Pretty Girl,” Maggie Lindemann reinvented herself as the heir to early Paramore’s throne. She sings with Hayley Williams’s ferocity too, standing up to the strongest guitar riffs.
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “Crash and Burn,” which delivers on its title.
Punk may center radical acceptance, but the pop-punk of the Warped era largely centered white men. Recently-signed Fueled by Ramen band Meet Me @ The Altar make a convincing case that the future of pop-punk is Black, Latina, and female, with outspoken (and infectious) bangers like “Hit Like a Girl” and “Tyranny.”
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “Hit Like a Girl” — but as the song says, “Ladies and ladies / No gentlemen!”
Pinkshift writes the sort of indelible lines that would’ve been all over Tumblr years ago: “You think I don’t see? I see clearly through all your pretty, shiny, lying teeth.” Add singer Ashrita Kumar’s acidic delivery and the rest of Pinkshift’s tight playing for a combination as winning now as it could’ve been 15 years ago.
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “i’m gonna tell my therapist on you,” with a title that should make Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco jealous.
Mia Berrin plays into her band’s name, posing with pom-poms on her 2019 Ow EP cover and recently releasing a single called “Head Cheerleader.” Don’t think Pom Pom Squad can only make pretty pop-rock like “Head Cheerleader,” though — the band excels at heavy, messy catharsis on songs like “Heavy Heavy,” too.
Song that opens up the mosh pit: “Lux,” a 99-second adrenaline shot of a song.
Aly & AJ
Kourtney Kardashian and Megan Fox (performing blink-182 and Machine Gun Kelly karaoke)