Although it is often championed as a welcoming and diverse community, the pop-punk and punk rock music genre is lacking in a very crucial thing: Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) representation among the artists themselves.
It is not a completely exclusionary setting. Occasionally, bands will have people of color playing an instrument, but there is a reality in the rarity of finding bands fronted by a Black vocalist.
However, as newer bands join the punk scene, the genre is starting to see a rise in minority representation. A prime example of the fresh faces of representation joining the punk scene is the up-and-coming pop-punk band Magnolia Park, led by Black vocalist Joshua Roberts.
The band is currently touring with pop-punk veterans Mayday Parade and Illinois-native band Real Friends.
Magnolia Park released their first single in 2019 and started posting music on the social media platform TikTok in 2020. They gained even more attention with the release of their song “10 for 10” from their newest album, “Halloween Mixtape,” when the song went viral on TikTok.
When asked about the jump from a local band in Orlando, Florida to the opening act for Mayday Parade on their national tour, Roberts told the Technique, “It’s been kind of surreal.”
Mayday Parade is among the first pop-punk bands he had listened to, so it was unbelievable to Roberts that his band is now touring, playing and hanging out with the group. The singer said the experience makes even the simplest things, like load-in and load-out, better.
Roberts started his music career as a solo artist and said there wasn’t much happening in the punk scene for people of color at that point. However, when Magnolia Park was formed, it was a whole new step for non-white artists in the pop-punk genre.
The band did not just stand out by having a Black lead vocalist. Their other members include guitarists Tristan Torres and Freddie Criales, bassist Jared Kay and drummer Joe Horsham — all musicians of color.
However, their entrance into the spotlight was not without opposition. Roberts talks about his — and the band’s — role in the punk community “being POC [and] being those people that younger kids need to see, because we didn’t get that chance growing up.”
Magnolia Park’s path from relative anonymity to opening for a world tour was not without barriers.
“We had a few gatekeepers out there who were saying, ‘Oh go back to your style of music’ and stuff like that,” he said. “We don’t let it get to us. We just look at it as an opportunity to change people’s minds about how POC are viewed in general.”
A major part of the way that Magnolia Park takes full advantage of said opportunity is through open, honest and gritty lyrics about the struggles stemming from being people of color, as well as the fluctuating mental health seen in the youth of today, especially Black youth.
According to an advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General in Dec. 2021, Black young people are more at risk for anxiety and depression due to the recent and ongoing pandemic, as well as increased attention to police violence against the Black community.
“Every bit of our lyrics comes from an experience that we’ve had or an experience that someone else close to us has had that they can’t really talk about,” Roberts said. “We want it to be as real as
possible. We want it to be something where 10, 20 years down the road, you listen to the song, and you’re feeling that mood, and you still understand that these lyrics are for a reason.”
Although these experiences seem to be easily conveyed through music, the singer admits that they are often hard to speak so publicly about. To give an example, he references the second verse of their song “Kids Like Us,” which contains the lines “When I was 16/Cops tried to kill me/Get on your knees, they took me to the ground/Smile on their face acting like they were proud/Just a kid with his head in the clouds.”
He confesses that the situation referenced in those lines was something that really happened to him. Though many listeners hear the lyrics as just words with a tune, for Roberts and many other people of color, they contain a very dire reality. While some might steer away from such personal lyrics, Magnolia Park does the opposite, using their own lives and struggles to connect with their listeners.
“There’s a lot of things that have happened in my life that a lot of people on the scene won’t understand because they’re not me or they don’t have the same skin color as me,” Roberts said.
He wants to be able to shine a light on these things, rather than continuing to let non-POC pop-punk fans brush them off.
With every song they release, Magnolia Park continues to give young people of color a voice in the pop-punk music genre. Roberts delivers powerful vocals switching effortlessly from smooth to raspy and back again.
Although lyrics are based on their own experiences and the experiences of those close to them, the band truly becomes the role models they sought to find when they themselves were kids.