It was a few months ago when I came across a post on Tumblr while mindlessly scrolling through my social media channels. It read: “remember when you were innocently minding your business in 2008 and 3OH!3 dropped the iconic fucking line, “tell your boyfriend if he says he got beef that I’m a vegetarian and I ain’t fucking scared of him.” That was a transformative moment in everyone’s life.” The text was nothing more than a memory-drenched laugh, but, for some reason, it set up residence in my mind. It unlocked a gaping rabbit hole of lost nostalgia I had for other artists during that era of music I had so easily swept up in compartments after their fame drifted somewhere else.
I’m not sure if it was because indefinite isolation has caused me to spiral into bouts of hyper-fixation over my obnoxious music past, but I found myself rediscovering groups like LMFAO, Breathe Carolina, Ke$ha (don’t forget the dollar sign!), Cobra Starship, and 3OH!3 (obviously). I immediately made myself a playlist of all their music and allowed myself to bury back into the late 2000s/early 2010s. It didn’t take me long to realize why I bumped this music in middle school.
These artists were the equivalent of eating pop rocks and washing them with down a chug of root beer- a scorching burn that tasted too sweet not to repeat. They boomed with distorted synths, buckets of auto-tune, and catchy hooks that drove a wedge into your eardrum for days after. They soared with a subgenre of lyrics that focused on hypersexuality, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and throwing in as many pop culture nods as possible. This wasn’t complete unless they were dressed head-to-toe in neon colors and shutter shades (something I begged my mom to buy for me at my local Hot Topic in 2009). They were just really fucking cool, and it was an unspoken rule that everyone knew it.
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago I was able to pin down the label of this genre. I was reading an old NME interview with Mark Hoppus and Alex Gaskarth as they talked about their new project, Simple Creatures. The duo described their alt-EDM fusion as “bratty trash-pop,” and a light bulb broke in my head. That was it- that era of music I had revisited was at the forefronts of this so-called “Trash-Pop.”
Hoppus and Gaskarth went on to discuss how this veil of trash-pop allowed them to dig into their creative minds and produce music that never fit into the seasoned boxes of their other bands. They emphasized the biggest selling point for this zany genre which was: “There’s no filter.” I remember weighing that simple descriptor on my tongue for a moment before swallowing. Was that why millennials, such as myself, held on so tight to this vodka-soaked, disco ball of sound?
Besides the flashes of community trash-pop gave me as a teenager- swapping burned Ke$ha CDs to friends, trying and failing to learn LMFAO’s infamous Shuffle Dance, and showing up to a school karaoke event dressed as Gabe Saporta forcing some kid to click on “Good Girls Go Bad” as my intro song… Was the transition to unfiltered and bombastic music the reason it imprinted on us so heavily? Trash-pop seems to reflect the most unrefined aspects of teenage desire. We lived vicariously through it. Ke$ha and LMFAO sang about partying, and we thought that was fun. Even lyrics from Metro Station like, “We’re on the bed, but your clothes are laying right there” or 3OH!3’s, “Lips like licorice. Tongue like candy. Excuse me miss, but can I get you out your panties?” sounded SO scandalous. At that age, all we wanted was to have our first kiss and perhaps hold a sweaty hand, but many of us never did. So, we just listened to the music that did.
As millennials grew up, and the music dynamic shifted, this type of pixie-dust high was swept away as an air of arrogance settled in where artists needed to have a deeper meaning, connection, and layered purpose to even capture any attention and be considered on your crush’s dark and broody playlist. We simply outgrew this stepping stone of music that every teenager lusts over that we only regurgitate from time to time when we dip back into our youth to disassociate from life.
I wondered if Gen Z had absorbed too much of this hand-me-down ego when it came to music or if the flickering desire of trash-pop still lived, somehow, underneath the etchings of Girl in Red and Cavetown. Don’t get me wrong, I am a sucker for picking apart lyrics and breaking-down abstract messages in songs while humming Hozier, but it was difficult to comprehend another cycle of teenagers who completely escaped the age that this hyped-up pop breeds in.
In fact, taking a scroll through TikTok provides a treasure trove of music that Zoomers are presently listening to. Surprisingly, Trash-Pop isn’t just alive on this app, but it is ricocheting from teen to teen like a feverish game of Telephone. Artists like Slayyyter, GFOTY, Doja Cat, and GraveyardGuy are all experimental pop artists tinged with crunkcore that act as hot commodities in the music spaces of Zoomers. Whether it be through duets or TikTok challenges, these musicians bleed into the cracks of so many young people who use the app. Yet, there is one group that is difficult to ignore that has presumably been donned the face of the resurgence of Trash-Pop: 100 gecs.
An EDM duo from St. Louis, 100 gecs dominates the interface of Gen Z’s music fodder. Sounding a lot like if you put a whisk into a blender, the group has gone viral as their ear-wormy hooks and cyborg-level sonic battlefield burrows itself into your mind until you surrender to its charm. Unlike millennial Trash-Pop, though, 100 gecs is overtly self-aware of the music they produce. They crank up every cliché in pop music until the irony is almost too unbearable to listen to. This is their sweet spot. Somehow, that crazed recognition loops back around to trick you into believing your listening to something good. Their most popular track, “money machine,” opens with a waggishly autotuned, “Hey, you lil piss baby. You think you’re so cool huh? You think you’re so fucking tough? You talk a lot of big game for someone with such a small truck,” that would normally wash-up a cargo ship full of cringe. Instead, the teetering of anti-music is somehow cool(?) and fun(?), and you end up watching 300 kids lip-syncing that bit until 2 in the morning.
To compare them to 2010’s LMFAO might stretch too far, but they do embody much of what made millennials flock to that duo back when “Party Rock Anthem” lived, rent-free, in everyone’s head. Yet, 100 gecs’ roots seem to dip farther into the scene/rap/metalcore arena. Akin more to bands like Brokencyde or Breathe Carolina, the Zoomers’ early 2000s scene revival with fashion and, now, music, makes sense as to why they blew up. So, it seems like Trash-Pop is cool again, but why?
Perhaps, it is due to how every generation before Gen Z views these modern-day teens. If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find a plethora of articles from millennials or, god forbid, boomers that seem to shift a massive load onto these kids- hailing them as the “generation to save us.” They’re used as a scapegoat to not reflect on our own accountability. Yet, this same generation is the one that has grown up with this normalized version of the world we harmed. Growing up faster than anyone older than them, these young people are more politically driven, socially aware, and environmentally conscious. Where these kids should be swapping mixtapes and downing drinks in red, plastic cups, they’re instead on the frontlines for causes such as racial injustice and sustainable living. And, with all this pressure, Zoomers could be cracking.
And, if that is the case, trash-pop could be the perfect escape outlet. Instead of that outlet being focused on music that derives purpose and emotional fragility, they veer towards a genre that allows them to flick off their mind’s light switch. Trash-pop isn’t profound, but that’s the whole point. A genre that allows them to feel their age, their superficial problems, their desires, and their sanity, trash-pop is a space that gives Gen Z the opportunity to live in a bubble that is theirs without the trappings of the outside world. It’s cool again because it is the one place where Zoomers can be their unadulterated selves while also planning social change. Trash-pop doesn’t fix the crumbling society around Generation Z, and no one is expecting it to. But with the resurgence of such a hype-core sound, these guys will be demonstrating what Kesha preached way back in 2010: “Dancing with tears in my eyes,” but at least they will be dancing.