Feeling blue? Charlotte Sands can relate.
Charlotte’s songs are sculpted around breakups and heartache. But it’s not her sad songs that’ll first strike you – it’s her bright blue hair, and it’s a big part of what makes her the next big thing in pop-punk.
Rockstars are defined by their image, and Charlotte gets it. I can’t imagine Hayley Williams getting as big as she does without her signature red-orange locks, no matter how good a singer she is. It’s all a part of personal brand, and your brand helps you stick out in a crowded industry.
Plus, what industry is more crowded than the pop-punk genre?
The 2010s were a time of oversaturation for pop-punk, and the turn of the decade has turned into a renaissance for budding artists looking to revitalize the genre’s early 2000s heyday. The pop-punk revival hit a peak last summer, with artists mixing 808s, rapping, bright hair colors (also see: Mod Sun and Smrtdeath), and emo fashion in engaging, ear-catching ways.
The genre’s revival is spilling into 2022, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Machine Gun Kelly has a new album coming in March, and Smrtdeath, Sueco, and Iann Dior are venturing into pop-punk with their own guitar-driven material – often with the production savvy of Blink-182’s Travis Barker.
Charlotte is also making waves (blue waves, shall we say?), and you may already know her name if you’re a fan of The Maine, Taking Back Sunday, or Underoath. Her collaborations with these three artists are a scene kid’s dream, and she’s done it all in the past month alone – with features on “Loved You a Little” and a remix of “Hallelujah.”
But how has this 25 year old gone from social media fame to features with some of the biggest names in alternative music? Her blue hair is a start, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
Charlotte is the latest in a slew of viral TikTok stars to bounce from the virtual sphere to the alternative scene – along with the likes of Jxdn and Lilhuddy, who made a splash with their debut full-lengths last year. Her song “Dress” went viral in 2020, and her career has snowballed from there. While she claims the virality of the hit was unintentional, it’s clear she was on to something.
“Dress” expertly capitalized on the conversation surrounding Harry Styles’ Vogue magazine cover, a gender-bending rebellion against conventional style. It’s a Gen-Z statement against gender norms, and it remains by far her most popular song – with over 20 million streams on Spotify alone.
Less than two years later, Charlotte – her blue locks and all – is touring a new EP, which explores everything from the pure pop of “Dress” to the powerpop romps of “All My Friends Are Falling in Love” and “Every Guy Ever.” (The former brings Kelly Clarkson’s punk-lite “Since U Been Gone” to mind, while the latter is Hey Monday meets All Time Low.)
Her pop-punk side is as sugary as can be, and it has crossover appeal for both the alternative and Top 40 crowd. It’s no wonder The Maine and Taking Back Sunday brought her in to give “Loved You a Little” a burst of potent pop energy – complementing Adam Lazzara and John O’Callaghan’s seasoned punk voices. It’s new school meets old school, and it rocks.
More recently, Underoath released a new version of “Hallelujah” featuring Charlotte Sands on backing vocals, giving the song a melodic sensibility in the same way as “Loved You a Little.” I’ve met Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie, but I can only imagine the giddiness of singing on their track.
Collaborations have long been a big part of hip-hop and pop culture, and rock and punk are trending in that direction. The way The Maine and Taking Back Sunday seamlessly came together on “Loved You a Little,” just imagine a collaboration between, say, Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco.
We live in a more interconnected world than ever, and collaboration is now less an experiment than it is a way of life.
Travis Barker’s joint effort with Machine Gun Kelly (and basically every new pop-punk star) has revitalized an entire scene. Lil Lotus and Lil Aaron frequently collaborate, too, and Maggie Lindemann recently put out a song with another up-and-comer in the pop-punk revival, LØLØ.
Following TikTok fame reimagining favorite tunes, LØLØ (real name Lauren Mandel) released her first EP with Hopeless Records in December. Like Charlotte, her shiny pop sound has 808s and a punk underbelly. LØLØ’s work with Maggie on “Debbie Downer” is a hefty helping of what I like to call “JCPenney punk” – accessible enough for pre-teens while maintaining its angsty edge.
The two musicians are the newest names in the pop-punk revival, joining scene-toppers like Olivia Rodrigo and Avril Lavigne.
Avril’s return to pop-punk comes to a head with her upcoming full-length, Love Sux (she may in a happy relationship with Mod Sun, but remember she’s been through two divorces before turning 40).
Love may suck, according to Avril, but for LØLØ, love hurts. “Hurt Less” is one of the most fun songs I’ve heard in months, as the singer continually rolls off violent acts that would “hurt less” than the heartbreak she’s experiencing, from being pushed off a cliff to being electrocuted in a bathtub. Talk about angsty – her tongue-in-cheek attitude is addictive.
Pop-punk is a woman’s game now, and it’s long overdue. The equity of women in the genre is a welcome sight – in the 2000s, you had Avril, Hayley Williams, Cassadee Pope, and not much else. But women have plenty to say, especially if you consider the increased pressures they face to settle down and raise families (I can only imagine the existential dread that brings), plus issues with harassment and sexism in a male-dominated scene.
From the triumph of Olivia Rodrigo’s chart-topping Sour (which has now moved over two million units in the United States alone) to the breakthrough success of Charlotte and Maggie, we’re seeing all sorts of names join the conversation.
Carolesdaughter is opening for nothing,nowhere. this spring, and she comes from a much different upbringing than her current mall goth aesthetic. Thea Taylor grew up in a Mormon family in Southern California – sort of like Bert McCracken for a generation of rebellious young women. Across the pond, Bronnie has taken a note on personal brand with her bright pink hair and punk-adjacent sound.
Nessa Barrett has taken a similar route as Charlotte and LØLØ, garnering TikTok clout before releasing her Pretty Poison EP in 2021. She’s currently dating fellow TikTok pop-punk star Jxdn, and they collaborated on “La Di Die” (between this song and “I Hope Ur Miserable Until Ur Dead,” it’s clear she doesn’t have much empathy for her exes).
Along with Meet Me @ The Altar, Pinkshift gives a much-needed voice to BIPOC with female members and members of African and South Asian descent. Their viral hit, “I’m Gonna Tell My Therapist on You,” hasn’t quite matched Charlotte’s “Dress,” but it’s still racked up over four million Spotify streams.
Not far from Pinkshift’s origins of Johns Hopkins University, New Jersey’s Ryan Santiago is merging pop-punk with elements of hyperpop and electropop as Royal & The Serpent. With plenty of edge, she wouldn’t sound out of place touring with Charlotte or Nessa (“Phuckboi Rejects” is so Gen-Z it hurts, and this is coming from an unabashed millennial).
Still, Charlotte Sands stands firm as she continues her ascent in the alternative scene – with the help of some of the scene’s most lauded acts.
To outsiders, Charlotte immediately stands out for her blue hair and big personality, and that’s going to keep her top of mind as the pop-punk revival continues.
But with an active presence both on and off social media (she even writes “love letters” for her biggest fans), Charlotte is the genuine star the scene needs. It’s a firm reminder that style and substance are both necessary traits to grow organically, the way Mod Sun and Olivia Rodrigo are following in the footsteps of emo legends like Gerard Way and Hayley Williams.
Perhaps Charlotte could even be the next Hayley in waiting. In the 2000s, the Paramore frontwoman let us know that orange was the new punk, and we still remember her for her fiery hair and vocal prowess. Now, Charlotte is reminding us that blue is indeed the warmest color – no matter how blue we may feel inside.
Jam to the artists featured in this article and other artists in the pop-punk revival in my Reviving Pop-Punk playlist:
Featured Image Credit: Ride or Cry Inc.
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Did you know that the hottest stars in the universe are blue, and the coldest ones are red?