There are few earworms more enjoyable than the 2001 pop-punk staple “Fat Lip.” Appearing in movies, video games, mainstream radio, and karaoke rooms across the globe, the song was Sum 41's breakout hit, a piece of punk candy to fill out satiate suburban teens between the release of Blink-182's Enema of the State and Green Day’s American Idiot. But the confection didn’t melt like a bowl of Häagen-Dazs; it was preserved in a vacuum seal of nostalgia like a package of space ice cream.
Two decades after the song’s release, Stereogum writer Brendan Menapace spoke with lead singer Derek Whibley to get the story behind the El Camino, that infectious rapping, and how fellow early-’00s pop-punkers were the first to see the music video. In addition to chronicling the band’s rocket to success—which began with a humble deal with their parents (they essentially had two years to make the band work lest they be forced to *gasp* go to college)—the piece also looks at their post-“Fat Lip” music videos, in which the band and Will Sasso took potshots at the Strokes. Everything they discuss is a goldmine for pop-punk historians, including a medley with Tommy Lee and Rob Halford and a mind-boggling track for the Spider-Man soundtrack that features Slayer’s Kerry King failing to give the song the legitimacy it needed.
But, as Menapace notes, Sum 41's signature song aged much better than many of their contemporaries. The merging of rap, rock, and pop-punk may be reaching another zenith, as nostalgic millennials look back at their old skateboards covered in stickers and long for the past.
At a moment when those genres are once again colliding, the song is arguably as relevant today as it was then. That’s a miraculous feat for an artist: to capture so many different components of one very particular time without that piece turning into some antiquated time capsule or cringe-inducing, irony-laden guilty pleasure fully relegated to emo night playlists. Aging gracefully isn’t easy. Go back and listen to some other popular songs from that year.
It’s hard to keep a pop-punk band relevant. Fans in their early teens are fickle like that, changing their musical tastes over a summer. As Whibley recalls some advice he received from Ice-T, maintaining the spotlight is almost as hard as attaining it.
[Ice T] said, ‘The only thing harder than being the mack is staying the mack.’ And it’s a lot easier to get famous than to stay famous.