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The Online Beacon

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Why is Green Day Still Relevant 30 Years After “Dookie”?

Ken Schles
Green Day in 1994
Bienvenue à (welcome to) J’adore la Créativité (In English: I Love Creativity) In this column, I will write about various topics involving arts, entertainment, and culture. I aim to focus on unique topics that provide an interesting perspective on all the diverse art and creative facets of human life that exist.

In the year 1994, three men in their early 20s from Oakland, California hit superstardom practically overnight. If you’ve listened to any sort of rock or alternative music, you’ve heard the name Green Day, and likely have heard at least three of their songs (Basket Case, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) presumably?). 

For some, Green Day is passé, either a relic of the alternative rock boom of the 1990s, or a leader in the “emo” movement of the early 2000s. What if I told you that Green Day is more than a one (three) hit wonder destined to play nostalgia festivals for the rest of their career?

The entire history of Green Day is one that is absolutely fascinating with infinite twists and turns, but is much too long to fully explain here. In summary, three young men from an overall low-income section of the Bay Area go from couch surfing and poverty to the creators of one of the top albums of 1994. 

Green Day, who were offered a major label deal, were shunned from 924 Gilman St., a punk club where they got their start and spent most of their time. They were labeled “sell-outs” by the community they existed within, but regardless, they still advocated for them and independent music as a whole. 

Their first album released on a major label, Dookie, not only shot the Bay Area natives to the top of the charts, peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Top 200, but helped to define the musical landscape of the 1990s. Dookie, essentially an album about angst, boredom, and young love, was named the “Best Alternative Album” at the Grammy Awards in 1995, partially due to its massive, memorable hooks and melodic take on a genre that is not usually considered to be such. 

The underlying harmonies of lead singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt combined with raw, honest lyrics made Dookie appeal to a large audience, and in turn not only affected the rest of Green Day’s career, but affected alternative music as a whole.

Not many artists can state that without their influence, music would be completely different, but Green Day absolutely can. For the rest of the ‘90s, Green Day continued to release music to varying levels of critical acclaim. 1995’s Insomniac was Dookie with rougher edges and darker topics, and 1997’s Nimrod included a variety of musical elements, most notably culturally is the acoustic song “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”. 

This song differed heavily from the usual fare of Green Day, with all its melancholy and bombastic string section. This song has taken on a life of its own, being used as an anthem for American middle and high school graduations and weddings, made even worse by the fact that it is, indeed, a break up song. Some believe that the existence of this song proves that Green Day are “sellouts”, but isn’t doing the exact opposite of what’s expected of you sort of “punk” to begin with?

In the new millennium, Green Day released Warning, an album that was commercially unsuccessful, despite being quite interesting musically and lyrically. The album features the storytelling of Armstrong that will become much more apparent later on in the band’s career, along with songs that deal with topics such as politics (which will also become very relevant in the band’s future). 

Songs like the title track “Warning” touch on the topic of police brutality, while “Macy’s Day Parade” explores the downfalls of rampant consumerism. Armstrong sings, “stuffed in a coffin ten percent more free / red light special at the mausoleum,” which highlights that even in the case of sickness and death, American capitalism will do anything it can to obtain as much of your money as possible. If “fans” of Green Day disliked the political undertones of Warning, they must’ve really hated American Idiot

In September of 2004, Green Day released the album that once again brings them to the forefront of alternative music. American Idiot is a rock opera, which is an album that tells a complex, often fictional story through its songs and music. Despite telling the story of a character named St. Jimmy, American Idiot also heavily deals with political issues. In the year 2004, Americans were dealing with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks a few years earlier, this aftermath including toxic patriotism and rampant islamophobia. 

Green Day heavily and loudly opposed the actions of then president George W. Bush, turning the public’s perception of the band from burnout stoners to a politically-charged band. While many of the songs have upfront political meanings or subtle cultural critique weaved into the DNA, popular singles from the album such as “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends” are more introverted and solemn.

The latter song, written about the death of Armstrong’s father, was interpreted by some as a song referencing the trauma Americans experienced post 9/11. Despite being a song about parental grief, the video showcases the severe downfalls and tragedy of the military, in a time when Americans were encouraged to fight for their country and ask no questions. 

The early and mid 2000s completely shifted the public’s perception of Green Day, who were now Bonafede rockstars. Green Day brought this momentum into 2009, when they released 21st Century Breakdown. This album, like Insomniac before it, was very similar to its previous release, but with slight changes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as both Insomniac and 21st Century Breakdown are musically, lyrically, and thematically interesting, despite the similarities. 

In the 2010s, Green Day took new risks, with consequences both positive and negative. In 2012, Green Day released a trilogy of albums, titled ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré! (while realistically this album would be named “Tres”, it is a play on the name of Green Day’s drummer, Tré Cool). These albums were polarizing to listeners, due to a shift in style, drastically so on songs such as “Nightlife” and “Kill the DJ”, including elements such as a rap verse and dance beat, respectively.

Rap verses, while not as common in 2012 as they are now, were nothing new, and songs like “Paralyzer” by Finger-Eleven show that rock songs with dance beats can be widely enjoyed and achieve commercial success. But, of course, change is usually perceived negatively in music by the hardcore listeners of a band. 

2012’s trilogy is followed by 2016’s Revolution Radio, in which the trio have a return to music that touches upon societal issues. Songs such as the title track reference the downfalls of Donald Trump’s America, and “Bang Bang” is told from the point of view of a school shooter (in hopes of critiquing their behavior), a type of individual that is much too common in both Trump’s America and the America we live in currently. At this point, it is very easy to recognize that Green Day is a politically-charged band, and one that is very noticeably liberal/left-leaning. 

Yet, somehow it was absolutely appalling to many Twitter users when Green Day replaced the lyrics “I’m not a part of a redneck agenda” to “I’m not a part of a MAGA agenda” while performing at the 2023 Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve. Some individuals on this site genuinely believe that Green Day are republicans, and this is exactly why you do not let Elon Musk near anything, ever. 

2020’s Father of All…was polarizing, to say the very least. The album puzzled both critics and fans alike, but to be completely fair anything and everything from the year 2020 managed to do that. This album hasn’t seemingly received an absolutely overblown outpouring of support yet (*ahem*, Mania by Fall Out Boy), and it will most likely be a few years before it does. 

The marketing for this album was in poor taste, consisting of billboards criticizing Swedish songwriters and trap beats all while making songs such as Oh Yeah! that are unbelievably danceable and not the “uncut rock” the album claims to host. This album is not Green Day operating at full speed or capacity, and is a shell of what the band can be and accomplish.

In October of 2023, Green Day announced their newest studio album, Saviors, along with the release of its lead single “The American Dream is Killing Me”. Fan perception was overwhelmingly positive, continuing with the releases of the other singles such as “Dilemma”. On January 19th of 2024, the entire album released, and is a true example of a great Green Day album, meaning that it possesses qualities of “old” Green Day, but also takes risks both lyrically and musically.

A simple answer to the question of “why is Green Day still relevant thirty years after Dookie?” is that the band is still able to make catchy, interesting music that appeals to a large audience. But to answer the question in that manner is to ignore the complexities and varieties in Green Day’s catalog, and the fact that it’s not such a clear-cut, simple answer. Many bands consistently make “good” music, but it doesn’t lead them to the sort of eternal fame and recognition Green Day has. Green Day takes risks; they dare to make decisions that may make them unpopular.

If Green Day never reinvented themselves in 2004 with American Idiot, where would they be now? If Green Day never shunned themselves from their peers by signing with a major label album, there would be no Dookie, and likely Green Day would not have catapulted to the same level of stardom. Even the risks that some may not understand or respect, like the explorations of genres in ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!, and even the songs on Father of All…, make the band who they are and contribute to their on-going legacy. 

In 2024, Green Day are embarking on their worldwide Saviors tour, where they will not only play their newest album, but will play Dookie and American Idiot for their 30th and 20th anniversaries, respectively. This fact showcases that Green Day have made an impact on a variety of generations in a variety of manners, and continue to gain new fans who will be inspired by the art they have released to the world thirty years ago, and even today.

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Angelina Clark, Web Editor

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