The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Blink-182 won’t grow up. Maybe they can’t.

The reunited pop-punk trio is back on the road, but their music remains stuck in perpetual puberty

Travis Barker, Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 perform at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)
4 min

Why did I go to the Blink-182 show?

To be proven wrong. Maybe this band’s congenital juvenilia had quietly crystallized into a principled revolt against temporality itself. Or maybe, in 2023, their songs of perpetual puberty would feel more Kafka than “American Pie.” Maybe they could remind me that adolescent childishness is one of our first expressions of agency and resistance. Maybe, “Work sucks, I know,” deserves more credit as a rallying cry for anti-capitalism. Maybe all the respectable younger punk people in my life who love Blink-182 are aware of these things, and are not, in fact, total dupes. Maybe I could loosen up.

Or maybe I went to the Blink-182 reunion show at Washington’s Capital One Arena on Tuesday for confirmation. Maybe there’s nothing serious hiding in this music, nor is there anything meaningful about its unseriousness. Maybe it was never funny and barely fun. Maybe Blink-182 could keep their place as a permanent insult to my most grandiose ideas about how punk rock might improve our stupid world, and maybe I could stay wound-up about it for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have either experience, which means I left the arena in a state of profound psycho-spiritual depletion. I’d listened hard to the band’s biggest songs — “First Date,” “All the Small Things,” “What’s My Age Again?” — hoping to detect a latent charisma that had eluded me for more than half of my life, but the only big revelation was witnessing this widely circulated testosterone-and-sunshine music being performed by three human beings in real time, which, because I’m not a sociopath, instantly made Blink-182 impossible to truly hate.

Which means I lost something reliable in that moment, and it left me with no other choice but to hate myself — for being there, for being annoyed, for allowing the band and my psyche to fall into our prescribed positions so seamlessly, for being the boring person that their boring music has always been designed to razz. This, I will remember forever: the physical pain of rolling my 44-year-old eyeballs at a 47-year-old man for making between-song jokes about mosquitoes biting his genitals.

But after Blink-182 singer-guitarist Tom DeLonge delivered this banter as if trapped inside his own adolescence, singer-bassist Mark Hoppus — now 51 and a cancer survivor — actually had to sing about it. “I guess this is growing up,” he declared during the hook that made Blink-182 famous in 1997. “What’s my age again?” he asked in the shape of a ubiquitous melody from 1999. Taking the question literally, I did a little math inside my head and realized that these men have spent nearly all of their respective adulthoods grieving their lost childhoods — then glossing over the pain with jokes they learned on the school bus.

How real is the pain? And how serious are the jokes? If there’s anything truly mysterious about Blink-182 at this late stage, it might be their ability to sustain an ambiguous balance between the wounded sentimentality and dim kid mischief that they refuse to forfeit. And if so, drummer Travis Barker probably has everything to do with it. Onstage, his bash-and-thud was all forward motion, forcing everyone in the building to keep up — including the crowd, who seemed to be acting out Barker’s best drum fills with bro hugs, high-fives and other physical expressions of genuine communal happiness.

As inert as I felt amid all that fist-bumping and singalong, I knew I could no longer hate this band, which should probably make me feel some kind of relief, but I’ll need time to grieve first. I’ve always liked this old quote from the French poet Paul Valéry: “Taste is made of a thousand distastes.” I don’t think I need a thousand, but I needed Blink-182.