KennyHoopla sits on the steps behind the stage at Pier 17 in downtown Manhattan, hands folded neatly in his knees, head and shoulders hunched up in a ball, his lips puckered in discouragement. The 25-year-old Wisconsin-born pop-punk artist – real name Kenny Beasley – is about to perform one of his very first concerts as the opening act for Machine Gun Kelly, and he’s nervous as hell .
“Damn, I don’t know what to do with myself,” he said, apparently to himself, or maybe to his little group of friends backstage. “I never know what to do.” His manager’s turn hands him the microphone. “Let’s go take it over!” shouts Malik Stevenson, Beasley’s DJ and childhood best friend, who plays the role of Asylum.
Sunset is approaching and the clear blue sky melts into orange and pink as the teenage crowd steadily makes its way to the rooftop room. Beasley takes the stage and tears in the morose “silence is also an answer //”, the opening track of THE GUILT OF THE SURVIVOR: THE MIXTAPE //, which he released last summer with Blink-182’s Travis Barker. “Watch from the stands, the sidelines / This game is difficult tonight,” he sings. He circles the stage in white and orange checkered Vans, black shorts and a T-shirt. “I wonder what you are thinking right now / I wonder if you know you’re in my head.”
This is the kind of emotional, honest and straightforward writing songs that Beasley mastered as KennyHoopla, a name he borrowed from a Sponge Bob SquarePants character. Alongside actors like Jxdn and Trippie Redd, Beasley is part of a pop-punk revival that the Gen Z fanbase may not have heard much about before Juice WRLD mixed up emo. and rap and that Barker does start. producer artists on his label DTA Records.
THE GUILT OF THE SURVIVOR: THE MIXTAPE // contains all the characteristics of ’90s pop punk that made Blink-182 and Greenday timeless. The songs are full of sorrow and anguish. There’s an ironic realization when he delivers snot-filled lines about hate a city, or wonders if a crush is thinking of him too. To listen GUILT OF THE SURVIVOR evokes the same emotions that watching âThe Breakfast Clubâ might: it’s nostalgic, it’s stereotypical, it’s punk. It’s sad – and whether you’re a teenager or always wish you were – feeling sad feels good.
âYou have to find the line between cheesy and clichÃ©, and, like, wholesomeness in the middle,â Beasley explains. âPop punk is a very humiliating genre. If you don’t do this shit right, it’s gonna be horrible.
Earlier that day in September, Beasley sat on the roof of an apartment building in Chinatown, wearing beige Carhart overalls and large black Celine sunglasses, explaining his goals with the mixtape. âIt’s not necessarily making hits, but it’s doing hymns – hymn things that people want to sing,â he says. âItâs something Iâve been in love with. I want to be this Great. I want to be able to do another ‘Mr. Brightside, ‘another fucking’ I miss you ‘.
With tracks like “Hollywood Sucks” – her most Blink-sounding song – and the noodle, melodic âEstella,â he gets there, with a little help from pop-punk godfather Travis Barker. The two met on Instagram, exchanging comments, then DMs, until Barker invited Beasley to record with him in LA There, in Barker’s studio, they posed “Estella” in an hour, and the rest of GUILT OF THE SURVIVOR more than two weeks on a second visit.
âHe’s one of the best writers I know,â says Barker. âHe’s a real artist. He’s not just coming and there are writers who help him write or come up with lyrics or ideas. He has a vision for everything.
Previously, Beasley had only released a handful of tracks, sneaking into a recording studio with his friend and producer Yoshi Flower on a previous trip to Los Angeles. But Beasley didn’t play guitar, piano, or bass, and wasn’t surrounded by other Wisconsin musicians to help him put his ideas on tape. “Estella” comes from a shot Beasley had been singing about in his head for two years.
âI would just have hooks and I would do a cappella songs,â he says. âThe hook for ‘Estella’, I was like, ‘I’m going to save this shit. One day it will be a song.
Barker describes their process as backwards, Beasley singing the hook and then building the instrumentation around it. âUsually you come up with the chord progression, maybe an idea, and then write a chorus,â he says. âWe wrote all the music around it. We were jamming and we had an idea, and Kenny had a mic and he was singing. Kind of like in the old school days, where you wrote songs when you were in a band in a garage.
âEstellaâ evolved from there, making its way onto YouTube, Spotify, and then an actual performance on stage. “It’s fucking crazy to hear ‘Estella’ at a concert,” Beasley said, “to hear people scream it like I heard it.”
Beasley spent the first two years of his life in East Cleveland and the rest of his childhood in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley, a cluster of small towns around the Fox River and Lake Winnebago in the middle of Madison and Green Bay.
âMy mom moved me to Wisconsin when I was a kid, for a better future, because Ohio wasn’t the best,â he says. It was there that his mother raised him, his older brother and sister, and his cousin. He never met his father, but he has spoken to him on the phone ever since; he says his father got out of prison a few years ago.
Away from Cleveland, Beasley’s mother tried to provide a better life for her family, working as a seamstress and housekeeper in a hotel. âWe moved to Oshkosh, Wisconsin with $ 20 and then stayed in a shelter,â says Beasley, whose family bounced between the homes of his extended family before moving to a housing complex in. low income on the north side of town called Summerfield Place Apartments. âWhen I first moved there, people thought of it as the neighborhood,â he says. “I asked a girl out when I was in college and she said she couldn’t date me because of where I lived.”
Beasley felt out of place in Wisconsin. âTrauma is such a common word these days, but it’s the only word I can think of,â he explains. “Being surrounded by blacks and whites, anyone from all cultures, it will feel like I’m not completely there with them.”
He found rock and indie music while listening to the radio, and with a lot of encouragement from his mother, he took the plunge. those times, âhe says. “She let me express myself.” He remembers listening to 2Pac’s “Changes” on a tape recorder every day as soon as he got home from school and hearing Enya’s “Only Time” for the first time during his kindergarten nap. “I was different from everyone, being black and passionate about rock music.”
Stevenson, 25, first met Beasley at an annual family festival in Oshkosh while they were in high school. âThere were no shows growing up,â Beasley recalls. âIt was just Malik and I listening to music. It was just a small town of people who didn’t understand it.
But that didn’t stop them from pursuing their interests, before moving to the nearby large town of Madison, where they started attending local shows, seeing emo bands like Guillaume Bonney and Midwest Correspondents.
âWhen we work together he’s at the top of his game,â Stevenson says. âHe always makes sure his sound is a certain way, but at the same time he’s very experimental. It’s a good balance.
There is a genre break in this sound, as hip-hop and punk continue to exchange patterns and attitudes in the internet mosh pit. âI don’t even think I’m a punk,â Beasley said. “I’m not saying that to say ‘Oh, you can’t lock me in.’ I respect him so much that I wouldn’t want to be locked into something that I don’t know enough about and can’t fully respect.
Anyone can guess which direction Beasley will go GUILT OF THE SURVIVOR – but Barker trusts his protege. âWhatever he wants he will be able to accomplish,â he said. “Whether that means making another album like the one we made or writing hit songs – singles that will be everywhere.”
After the Pier 17 concert, KennyHoopla’s Instagram announces an aftershow at the small basement club in East Village in Berlin. âKeep a fucking secret,â the black and white flyer read, in cut-out letters from a magazine. A few hundred fans are lining up outside, more than the venue can hold. As the hall fills up, the audience shouts at Asylum filming “Mr. Brightside âand singâ Kenny âover and over.
Beasley’s setlist is the same as the one on the Pier 17 show, but by the time he hits the second song, âSmoke break //â, his voice sounds more confident and louder than ever. Even when his mic cuts for an entire song, the crowd continues to laugh as if nothing has happened.
âThe truth is that my life is full of misfortunes and I am rising from it,â he says. “It’s a big reason I wanted to make music.”