By Jarrad Levy
On their latest album, Fandom, Waterparks exceeds the low expectations set for them and tear down the walls of pop-punk, establishing themselves as something entirely unique in the scene.
Over the last few years, Waterparks has become a bit of a joke in the alternative scene. The band released the very controversial Entertainment in early 2018 and it seemed like lead singer Awsten Knight and co. were on track to become more of a boyband than a pop-punk band. The band even dubbed themselves “God’s Favorite Boy Band.” It all comes across as a bit cringe-y, especially when paired with the band’s obnoxious social media presence and aggravating audience.
However, at the end of the day, Waterparks is a band. And the most important part of any band is not their appearance or behavior or audience: it’s their music. And Fandom is an addictive album that makes me want to come back again and again.
Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, the album is easily digestible, especially when the listener is hooked in so immediately with the catchy intro, “Cherry Red” that transitions into “Watch What Happens Next.” It is in the latter song where Waterparks begins to genre-bend in a way that is unique and exciting. Not only does Knight discuss the toxicity of stan culture and his frustration with not have broken through the “glass ceiling” of the music industry yet, he blends pop, punk, and rap into one cohesive package. The chaotic nature of the song really demonstrates that Knight and co. have crafted this project with something to prove.
“Dream Boy,” “Easy to Hate,” and “Telephone” are all very pop-centric tracks, but the band really commits to the pop sound that many have admonished them for. Unlike other bands that have “gone pop,” Waterparks doesn’t pretend to still be entirely pop-punk and that self-awareness makes these tracks much more enjoyable due to the feeling that the band is not “trying too hard to stay cool.”
While the album is absolutely a mish-mash of genres and leans most heavily towards pop, there is a large portion of this album that is more of a downer. “High Definition,” “Never Bloom Again,” “[Reboot],” and “Worst” are all much slower tempo tracks that really leave me asking Awsten Knight (along with many other songs on the album), “who hurt you?” Much of the album focuses on a failed relationship in Knight’s life and throughout the listener really experiences the variety of emotions associated with a bad breakup, especially anger and depression. It’s a real credit to Knight for being able to emote so well with his lyrics when many of the songs are lyrically repetitive. While not as slow or sardonic as the discussed songs, “I Felt Younger When We Met” is a perfect amalgamation of the emotions felt during a breakup, starting sad and growing angrier and angrier. Not only that but it features lyrics that are not only relatable but well written.
The real highlights of the album to me are the “so fun that they make you get up and dance” songs. Along with the aforementioned “Watch What Happens Next,” these songs include “Turbulent” and my favorite on the album, “War Crimes,” which starts as a pop song and slowly transitions into a en electro-punk banger. These songs are a blast and I can absolutely see a whole room of people going wild to these songs at a live show while screaming the choruses. Unlike many of the slower songs on the album, these songs all reflect Knight’s frustration that goes hand-in-hand with being a minor celebrity. While he clearly resents the fact that Waterparks hasn’t “made it” yet, he is also frustrated with fans prodding him for birthday shout-outs on social media and being told what type of music he is supposed to make.
Ultimately, Fandom can be broken into two parts: it’s one half a breakup album, with extremely emotive lyrics and more depressing sounds and one half a middle finger to just about everyone, demonstrating a clear irritation that Knight has for the music industry and his more toxic fans. While it can at times be jarring for these songs to be placed seemingly at random on the track list, they are almost all enjoyable in isolation, and with the album being so short, I have no problem listening again and again. While Fandom is not the best album of the year or even in the band’s discography, it is loopable, exciting, and fun. Real highlights of the project include “Watch What Happens Next,” Never Bloom Again,” and “War Crimes.”