These days, the only time the word “lit” comes up in conversation is in an ironic description about a night out that was predominantly spent looking at Twitter and trying not to throw up on your box-fresh shoes. Fifteen years ago, though, it meant something entirely different. Lit didn’t mean “Migos have just released a new single.” It meant “rock band from Fullerton, California, who soundtracked at least 50 percent of teen comedies released in 2001 and made music videos with frighteningly unregulated levels of contrast”.
For a few beautiful years in the early 00s, Lit were omnipresent within a very specific demographic. There are precious few Dickie’s-wearing teenagers who discovered pop punk at the turn of the century for whom the opening chords of “My Own Worst Enemy” don’t result in ferocious air guitar and a trip to A&E. For most people, though, Lit are responsible for a maximum of three radio rock smash hits that were so ubiquitous they embedded themselves into the public subconscious without permission in a way that makes people go: “Hey, I know this, who’s it by again? Oh. I don’t remember them at all.”
The thing is, although “My Own Worst Enemy” was impossible to avoid for a good few years – spending eleven weeks at number one on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart – nobody born after 1995 has a fucking clue who Lit are. Especially not outside America. They’re kind of like Third Eye Blind in that regard, which is why whenever any indie bands tour the UK and cover “Semi-Charmed Life” for shits and giggles, it goes down like a loud fart at a funeral. Rising in tandem with the commercial peak of pop-punk and crashing out of relevance just as fast, Lit are one of many few-hit-wonder bands of the late 90s/early 00s that perfectly define that period but make absolutely no sense outside of it.
The other thing about Lit is that they were sort of a pop punk band, but they also had this middle American “everyman” thing going on at the same time. Yes, they sang about heartbreak and girls and, well, that’s about it really. But they did so without framing it around the high school experience or shouting at their parents, which made them appealing to adults too. In many ways, Lit were like the bridge between Blink-182 and Smash Mouth. While Mark, Tom, and Travis were running around with their dicks out, Lit were like the quiet misfit that drops out of school at 16, does a plumbing apprenticeship, and becomes a really down to earth, blue collar member of the community who will keep an eye on your house while you’re on holiday. It’s a difficult appeal to describe, but fortunately, this video of them performing “My Own Worst Enemy” at California’s Shoreline Amphitheatre in 1999, captures it perfectly.
Did you see that crowd? The purity, the enthusiasm, the inexplicable range of social pockets? It says more about Lit than any biography or MTV-angled music video ever could. Every single frame is amazing, but let’s take a closer look at all the best ones, starting with Lit themselves.
So firstly, this stage is fucking massive. Like, big enough that they’re standing so far apart you can’t fit everybody on screen even with a wide shot. There’s a weird emptiness to this entire performance that’s largely to do with the fact that pop-punk shows flourish when they’re in sweaty box venues that are way, way over their 150 capacity – not a half-empty amphitheater in the middle of the afternoon. But more importantly, A. Jay Popoff, who is the vocalist, looks like Elvis if Elvis went to prison. In fact, without sound, this whole set-up has the exact vibe of a group of convicts doing “Jailhouse Rock” at a fundraiser.
This is the first crowd shot. Which is great, isn’t it? I’ve done some investigative digging on this performance and it turns out that it actually took place at a festival which also featured Orgy, Smash Mouth, Limp Bizkit, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Kid Rock, Pennywise, Moby, Blink-182, and Silverchair, among others. Turns out Lit ended up replacing Silverchair – the Australian post-grunge band advertised (and therefore doomed) as Nirvana’s replacement – on the main stage at the last minute, because who wants brooding teenagers with lyrics like “You’re the analyst, the fungus in my milk” when you can have four would-be car mechanics singing about jizz.
None of this information has any bearing on the above image other than the fact that Kid Rock’s presence at the event probably explains a lot of what’s going on in terms of exposed male nipples.
Here we go. This makes much more sense. May I present to you the life force of pop-punk throughout the ages: teenage girls. There may be people who show out for the one-hit wonders, people who buy the CD single from Target, but these are the ones who will buy all the albums, the merch, the tickets to every show within driving distance. They are also the best dressed, but that goes without saying doesn’t it. The late 90s were a time in which their ringleader, Gwen Stefani, could show up to a red carpet event in a spaghetti strap vest and a sarong and still be the most fashionable person there.
I’m not sure what’s going on here to be honest, but it’s genuinely heartwarming to see two supposedly opposing demographics – a young girl who looks like an extra in The Simpsons’ "Homerpalooza" episode and a middle-aged man who almost definitely owns a large collection of wrestling DVDs and several meat freezers – putting their differences behind them to bop blissfully side by side at the Lit show. Because that’s the thing about Lit, isn’t it? They bring people together with their objectively rockin' riffs and enthusiasm and overuse of hair gel. This moment, this cultural tapestry accidentally woven together by Lit performing live in the middle of the day at California’s Shoreline Amphitheatre in 1999, contains everything we Brits knew, understood and loved about 90s America. It is groceries in a brown paper bag, refillable fountain sodas, and rollerblading in a thong. It is Route 66, those cheese-flavoured wieners they sell at gas stations, and tying a dead deer to the roof of your car after killing it with the bullets you bought at Walmart. It is cookouts and heart disease and the prom and white picket fences and bodega cats and gossip magazines and hell and sunglasses. It is America, whose national anthem is, on so many levels, “My Own Worst Enemy”.
I encourage you to digest the above and below crowd shots as a sort of scrapbook of 2000s life. If you want to get deep with it, you could also look at it as a visual representation of the year counterculture became absorbed into the mainstream, leading to the unlikely rise of nu-metal and pop-punk as dominant sounds in chart music.
To go back to the band for a second, let’s assess what we’ve got going on here. Between the bike chain necklace, the flame-embroidered work shirt, the bleach blonde hair, and the beard braid, this man is like commercial nu-metal made sentient. The only telltale sign that he isn’t actually a member of Coal Chamber is the fact that he’s playing a Fender.
Okay, now back to the crowd.
So there you have it. A piece of history. Every slice of the 90s Pop Punk Culture Pie all at once. Someone should preserve this and put it in a museum because, after the bees die and we drain every single natural resource and the sun engulfs the planet just to put us all out of our misery, aliens are going to need it to figure out the last moment a large group of people were able to co-exist in joy and peace and vests.
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