For Better or Worse, 2021 Has Been ACL’s Pop Punk Moment

JXDN, Machine Gun Kelly, and KennyHoopla rep alt resurgence

Kenny Hoopla performing at ACL Fest 2021 (Photo by Gary Miller)

ACL Fest debuted in 2002 – a time when emo and pop punk artists were beginning to find their way into the mainstream, if even just for a moment.

The festival, initially beholden to roots acts, jammy music, and singer-songwriters before adding radio rock, indie, pop, EDM, and hip-hop to the mix, never gave much attention to loud, fast, emotional strains of alternative music.

For that reason, I never bothered to even attempt to attend the festival. Maybe I was wrong for that. Discoveries could have been made and splendid times might have been had, but there were better ways to spend hundreds of dollars as a broke college student than on a wristband to roam Zilker Park. Now, as a new pop punk era emerges, the festival took notice. Where before we would have been lucky to get even a single performer from the style, ACL’s second weekend saw three. It’s about damn time.

Friday, the Honda stage hosted tour mates JXDN (Jaden Hossler) and Machine Gun Kelly. Before he was a musician, Hossler made his mark first as a TikTok influencer. In 2020, he took a leap and dropped his debut single “Comatose.” With the aid of Blink-182’s Travis Barker, the singer has become a fresh voice in the scene as he shares his deepest vulnerabilities and provides catchy tracks for the next generation of emos. Onstage Friday, the Dallas-born artist presented nothing but gratitude, infectious hope and innocent optimism.

JXDN performing at ACL Fest 2021. (Photo by Gary Miller)

Though they shared a stage, where Hossler’s slot was wholesome, Machine Gun Kelly’s was off. A veteran in the alt scene with covers in alternative magazines, features with the likes of bands like Sleeping With Sirens and Yungblud, and also working with Barker, the singer recently made a hard turn from rap to bouncier beats with his latest release Tickets To My Downfall. The guy’s a rockstar, that is undeniable. His stage presence? Impeccable. It’s everything else that feels forced. Despite that, he hopes to headline the festival next year, but I’m not sure if Austin is ready for his boastful attitude on that scale just yet.

Machine Gun Kelly at ACL Fest. (Photo by Gary Miller)

With the other genres dominating Saturday, KennyHoopla was left to finish the festival's pop punk moment on Sunday. Known for his exhilarating sets, Kenneth La’ron shared all the energy he had on the T-Mobile stage and then some. Even admittedly feeling a bit ill, with the sun shining through the clouds the Cleveland native came off the stage several times to mosh with his adoring fans or crowd surf – an intimate performance enriched with screams and spirited spins.

Should more alt acts have their turn on an ACL stage? In my opinion yes, but that’s not to say it needs to become the Vans Warped Tour (though I pray to the music gods it will one day make a return). ACL Fest is special in the sense that it has a little bit of something for everyone and, if they continue to take on these types of performers, here’s hoping they aim to diversify the palette of the routine festival-goer. Maybe next year they can include one of the notable women or non-binary acts in the scene.

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More ACL Fest 2021
ACL Fest Opening Delayed Due to Overnight Weather
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ACL Fest 2021, Machine Gun Kelly, JXDN, KennyHoopla, Jaden Hossler, Kenneth La’ron, Yungblood, Sleeping With Sirens

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