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Are Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ and ‘Dookie’ Still Relevant?

Is Green Day’s new tour a nostalgia cash-grab or are ‘Dookie’ and ‘American Idiot’ still culturally relevant?

Green Day is playing on stage. Billie Joe Armstrong is in the center with Mike Dirnt to his right and Tré Cool on the screen to his left.
Shutterstock/Geoffrey Clowes

Green Day is currently on ‘The Saviors Tour,’ where they are performing two of their most popular albums, ‘Dookie’ and ‘American Idiot,’ in full. Could this be a nostalgia cash-grab or are these albums still culturally relevant?

Green Day is a punk rock band. They formed in California in 1987, but it was not until 1989 that they officially called themselves Green Day. The members of the band include Billie Joe Armstrong (vocalist and guitarist), Mike Dirnt (bassist), and Tré Cool (drummer).

They are one of the most important bands to come out of the Bay Area music scene. The band even played (and later was banned from) Gilman, a club on 924 Gilman Street, which was the launch point for many famous punk bands of the 90s.

‘Kerplunk’ was their big breakout album. They followed it up with ‘Dookie,’ which launched them into new levels of fame and success. It is arguably one of their most influential punk albums. The only other Green Day album to rival it in importance and popularity is ‘American Idiot.’ The albums are turning 30 and 20, respectively this year.

In celebration, Green Day will be playing both on tour along with songs from their newest album, ‘Saviors.’

One was an incredibly angsty and critical album made during the Bush-era administration. The other touched upon themes of loneliness, boredom, and bisexuality. Do these themes still hold up today, and are these albums worth revisiting decades later?

‘Dookie’

Dookie‘ came out in 1994 and was Green Day’s first major-label release. As a punk band, they received a lot of criticism for signing on to a big record label, but that did not hinder their success. The record would go on to sell over 11 million copies in the U.S. alone. After grunge had gotten stale, Green Day came in at the perfect time with a new punk rock sound for mainstream audiences.

With hits like “Longview,” “Basket Case,” and “Welcome to Paradise,” Green Day provided their audience with an authenticity that mainstream music lacked.

“Longview”

Billie Joe Armstrong is sitting on a couch with a small monkey behind him.
Longview music video. Credit: YouTube/Green Day

“Longview” provided commentary about loneliness and boredom and used masturbation as a metaphor for it. This song gave teenagers an outlet to what they were feeling. Trapped indoors with nothing but a TV, a phone that wouldn’t ring, and their right hand, people could relate to the message of the song. The folks of today surely wouldn’t understand that feeling…

To add onto the authenticity of the song, the group filmed the music video in the basement they lived in. In the 90s, Green Day managed to speak to millions of teenagers and young adults with blunt lyrics, an acid-inspired bass line, a neurotic yet strong guitar piece, and an almost threatening beat on the drums. It was the perfect song for the era.

“Coming Clean”

Green Day’s music has always spoken to disenfranchised groups, but this was very obvious in their song “Coming Clean.” This short song spoke to people questioning their sexuality who were unable to speak to anyone about it. Gay marriage was illegal in all 50 states when this song came out, and many people from the 90s remember the impact Green Day had in opening up spaces for queer individuals and bands.

While touring ‘Dookie,’ the group took Pansy Division, a gay rock band, with them. Pansy Division were still with Green Day’s old independent label, and they created fun, dirty, and unapologetically gay music. If a venue didn’t want to let Pansy Division play, then Green Day wouldn’t play either. Green Day has always shown solidarity with the gay community, and they have even put out a new bisexual anthem just this year (listen to “Bobby Sox“). Billie Joe Armstrong came out as bisexual in 1995 to The Advocate. He continues to show support for the queer community even to this day. In a time where gay youth are more widely accepted, this song still has the ability to ring true with many people today.

“Basket Case”

Green Day is performing in a mental hospital with nurses walking around them.
Basket Case music video. Credit: YouTube/Green Day

Basket Case” was a song about Armstrong’s undiagnosed panic disorder. At a time in his life where he felt like he was going crazy, music was the only thing that kept him tethered. He wrote about his anxiety in a self-deprecating way. He joked about his “whin[ing]” and called himself a “melodramatic fool.” It almost created a light-hearted introspection into these emotions. The song also helped lessen the impact of the insults that are often thrown at people who struggle with mental health issues.

It is no secret that people under 50 are experiencing an increase in anxiety. Young adults especially are at a higher risk of anxiety. Crisis after crisis has become the new normal, and we have never been more connected yet alone.

While the song is talking about a different kind of anxiety, it is still easy to relate to the concept of losing your mind alone in your room.

‘American Idiot’

Billie Joe Armstrong with his hand over his heart. Behind him, there is a green version of the United States flag.
Billie Joe Armstrong in “American Idiot”. Credit: YouTube/Green Day

Ten years after ‘Dookie,’ Green Day had lost some steam when it came to commercial success. It wasn’t until they released ‘American Idiot’ in 2004 that they fully regained their momentum. This self-proclaimed rock opera would go on to sell over six million copies and achieve platinum status in under two months. The album also managed to gather six grammy nominations. It would also have a brief stint on Broadway. In this era, Armstrong created his iconic black shirt and red tie look, which is arguably still associated with him to this day.

Songs like “American Idiot” and “Holiday” on the album were highly critical of politicians and their followers at the time as well as the media. The hysteria and propaganda that followed 9/11 was used to justify the war in Iraq and created an extreme fear of terrorism. We continue to feel the impact of this today.

“Holiday”

Billie Joe Armstrong is singing into a microphone with backup dancers. Behind them are Tré Cool and Mike Dirnt lying on a car.
Holiday music video. Credit: YouTube/Green Day

On “Holiday,” Armstrong painted a picture a war torn Iraq and criticizes the needless violence. The bridge of the song particularly sticks out as Armstrong takes the role of these politicians. He essentially compared Bush and the American government to Hitler and Nazi Germany. It is a very bold move and sends a clear message about how he feels about the war in Iraq.

He continued the comparison by bringing in France. At the time France was also against the war which sparked negative feelings towards the French in the United States. Armstrong talked about bombing the “Eiffel Towers” which could be an allusion to Nazi Germany bombing France during World War II.

These provocative comparisons are striking and create great pause as the listener digests what Armstrong is singing.

During the song, the band also criticized democratic politicians who supported the war for the sake of money.

With how the United States is still involved in unrest, war, and even genocide in the Middle East, the song continues to able to create a sense of discomfort .

“American Idiot”

On “American Idiot,” the band separated themselves from the white, working-class conservatives who fall for propaganda used to create support for the war. It is no secret that Armstrong hates George W. Bush, and that this album was partially a response to his administration. Bush is not the only politician Armstrong has expressed distain over though.

Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve Performance

Green day is performing in front of a crowd.
Green Day on stage. Credit: YouTube/Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve

While performing “American Idiot” for Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest, Armstrong changed the lyric “I’m not a part of a redneck agenda” to “I’m not a part of a MAGA agenda.”

This was not the first time they changed the lyric. Green Day also played those lyrics on The Howard Stern Show in 2019. They did get a much bigger reaction this time though. Many were upset that Green Day got political on New Year’s Eve while playing their most popular and political song.

The group found themselves being criticized by the people that they had always been making fun of. They even managed to get under Elon Musk’s skin.

include tweet

“American Idiot” is still a topic of conversation almost 20 years later.

Conclusion

Upon looking back on ‘Dookie’ and ‘American Idiot,’ they hold up to the test of time. It might tempting to say they were ahead of their time, but the two were a direct product of the culture at the moment.

They spoke to a widespread audience and continue to do so. There will always be new middle schoolers who discover Green Day on the internet or from older family members.

Themes of loneliness, boredom, and sexual curiosity are ones that we have been writing about since the beginning of time, and there is no sign of stopping. There will also always be politicians to rage against.

The albums are wrought with restlessness and angst that often young people still relate to. They also contain poppy melodies that give the songs a wider appeal that some punk bands don’t have. It has been quite a while since a rock band has had a similar impact as Green Day when they put out ‘American Idiot.’

‘Dookie’ and ‘American Idiot’ are definitely worth revisiting.

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19-year-old university student studying English.

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