What’s going on with the ‘sneering’ pop punk accent?

Tom Delonge

On a recent road trip, reporter Dan Nosowitz and his girlfriend found themselves belting out the lyrics to a Blink-182 song in the nasal SoCal style of lead singer Tom DeLonge.

“I love pop punk when loving pop punk over the last decade is a weird retro thing to do,” says Dan. And singing in DeLonge’s skater twang, he assures me, is a hilarious way to pass the long hours on the road. But that road trip serenade got Dan thinking, what the heck was going on with DeLonge’s strange pop punk voice? 

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“This is such a bizarre performative accent, I wonder what’s really going on here,” he says. “So I just started looking into linguists in California and stumbled into this strange world of people who are also obsessed with California accents for much more academic and serious reasons.”

One of the linguists that he contacted was Penelope Eckert at Stanford University, who has been studying a linguist phenomenon called the “California Shift.” That is a shift taking place in the way that Californians are saying their vowels. Dan challenged Eckert to listen to one Blink-182 song and explain just what was happening with his weird pop punk voice. She did and what she told Dan was pretty interesting.  He wrote about it for Atlas Obscura and this week he comes on The World in Words podcast to talk about the linguistics behind the pop punk voice!

This week, we explore the strange vocal stylings of the lead singer of Blink-182, Tom DeLonge.  We’ll learn about elongated vowels and rhotacism.  Plus, we will talk about how the punk accent has evolved from New York City to London to California.  So come, listen and sing along!

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00:00 Blink-182’s lead singer Tom DeLonge on aliens

1:50 Patrick Cox listens to “All the Small Things” by Blink-182

3:04 Dan Nosowitz declares his love for pop punk

4:04 Dan defines pop punk

5:46 Dan likes to sing like Tom DeLonge in the car on road trips

7:15 What the heck do you mean by pop punk accent?

8:23 Oh, the early aughts! Paris Hilton! The OC! The Vans Warped Tour!

8:57 Dan chooses the song “First Date” for linguist Penelope Eckert to analyze

10:13 Penelope “Pennie” Eckert’s response

11:00 What about Johnny Rotten’s accent in the Sex Pistols?

13:15 The California Shift defined

15:30 What’s the deal with Avril Lavigne’s pop punk-y accent?

17:15 What about the accent for newer pop punk bands?

17:45 The sneering California accent

18:55 Wherever punk goes it mutates

20:13 Green Day’s lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong sings with a non-rhotic style. Rhoticity!  What is it? 

21:22 Chris Appelgren owner of Lookout! Records, has a theory of his own about the pop punk accent

23:23 preview of next week’s podcast

25:00 Announcements

Music Heard in this episode (in order):

"All the Small Things" by Blink-182


"I'm Not a Part of Me" by Cloud Nothings


"I Miss You" by Blink-182


"First Date" by Blink-182


"God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols


"California" by Phantom Planet


"Basket Case" by Green Day


Plus, a shout out for Mr. T Experience (not featured in the podcast, but in my heart)!


One final podcast plug:  If you love punk of all types you should definitely check out Damian Abraham's podcast "Turned Out a Punk."   It's a deep, nerdy dive into the punk rock scene with Abraham, arguably a legend of punk himself, as he interviews musicians and actors about how they got into punk. I recommend the latest episode with comedian Chris Gethard. 

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