Ten years ago, "Face Down" skyrocketed Jacksonville, Florida, band The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus to pop-punk stardom. It was the band's first single, and it won them TRL appearances, a respectable spot at No. 25 on Billboard's Hot 100, and touring gigs alongside My Chemical Romance and Thirty Seconds to Mars — bands that would soon go on to wider mainstream prominence. For The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, though, fame came with a ceiling. Today their legacy languishes in relative obscurity outside of Hot Topic nostalgic circles. Even so, "Face Down" is much more than a hook-heavy relic from a previous era of alt-rock: It's a song that details the experience of domestic abuse in a way that hadn't really happened in pop-punk before 2006 — and still doesn't happen nearly enough a decade later.
The song begins with frontman Ronnie Winter singing as a concerned observer, questioning why a woman stays in her abusive relationship: “Still I’ll never understand why you hang around / I see what’s going down / Cover up with makeup in the mirror / Tell yourself it’s never gonna happen again / You cry alone and then he swears he loves you.” When the crusading chorus kicks in, Winter addresses the abuser: “Do you feel like a man when you push her around? / Do you feel better now as she falls to the ground?” The song ends with the woman leaving, as Winter scream-sings, “Face down in the dirt / She said ‘This doesn’t hurt’ / She said ‘I finally had enough.’”
The video for "Face Down" portrays the song's narrative. A woman enters a house and uncovers bruises on her body. As she picks up a t-shirt belonging to her abuser, household items around her begin to shatter: Glass breaks, chairs are thrown around as if controlled by an unseen force. She makes her way around the house, holding items owned by her partner, and the chaos escalates. In the video's final moments, she leaves and throws away everything she was holding on to.
A decade on, “Face Down” remains progressive, dedicated in its awareness of toxic cycles of abuse. In the mid-aughts, pop-punk, hardcore, and emo were invested in bringing awareness to certain causes, but only to a specific few. The nonprofit tents at Warped Tour were (and are!) dedicated to subjects like suicide prevention, animal rights, the environment, breast cancer awareness, and anti-smoking initiatives. It's a space that historically ignores most issues around gender. The pop-punk scene, much like the rest of culture, has a persistent problem: cases of sexual harassment and assault by musicians, and/or at festivals, shows, and within the scene, that get swept under the rug. That unsafe dynamic is only underscored by the genre's persistent boys-on-stage, girls-in-the-crowd imbalance. Women can only hope for groupiedom, while men are written into history.
Many aspects of modern pop-punk can be traced back to Dookie, Green Day's 1994 mainstream breakthrough and still their most iconic album. There’s one moment on the canonized LP that mentions domestic abuse, found in the song “Pulling Teeth,” in which frontman Billie Joe Armstrong plays a battered boyfriend, singing about his abusive, female partner: “I’m all busted up / Broken bones and nasty cuts / Accidents will happen / But this time I can’t get up / She comes to check on me / Making sure I’m on my knees / After all she’s the one / Who put me in this state.” While domestic violence against men exists and is a problem, the fact remains that women are overwhelmingly the victims of this experience: The National Domestic Violence Hotline points out that from 1994 to 2010, about four in five victims of intimate-partner violence were female. And “Pulling Teeth” wasn’t written as a political gesture but a humorous one. The song was inspired by a pillow fight bassist Mike Dirnt had with his first wife that left him with two broken elbows; Armstrong thought it was funny and wrote a song about it. That unsettlingly glib backstory is one of those lost moments of pop-punk folklore you’d really have to search out to uncover when you hear Dookie.
Pop-punk as a genre — especially in the 2000s, as it intertwined with emo — is riddled with songs where men play victim to a woman’s whim, an endless series of tedious tales of how horribly cruel girlfriends and unrequited crushes are. (Just take a quick perusal of Taking Back Sunday’s early repertoire and it’s impossible to miss.) Against this backdrop, “Face Down” is downright progressive. Finally, we had a pop-punk hit that didn't cast women as evil monsters out to destroy the hearts of men, but instead one that put some skin in the game and stood up for them.
The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus realized the resonance of the song and soon became involved with nonprofit organizations. In 2007, Ronnie Winter starred in a domestic-violence PSA, reading the following fact: “Did you know that about 1 in every 3 high school students is involved in an abusive relationship? If you know someone who has been abused, you can have them contact the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.” Women still weren't the explicit focus of the spot, but the message felt poignant enough. The band participated on the 2007 Take Action tour, spreading its message alongside other acts from the scene and their respective causes.
The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus are rarely remembered as a politically charged punk band, at least not by today's standards. And it's not as though they went on to spend the rest of their career spreading awareness of intimate-partner violence and related issues. They were subject to the same pressures as every other band in a scene that wasn't particularly friendly to extra-musical concerns (unless you count blink-182's love of toilet humor). Today, they’re still a band, but their activity has slowed; had The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus ended up having the career longevity of a band like Fall Out Boy, perhaps the story would be different. As it stands, “Face Down” remains a beautiful blip in the history of the genre, arriving at a time when teenage mall punks needed it most. At the very least, it’s a hopeful song that served to inform and educate, instead of criticizing and othering women in a scene that was already unwelcoming to them. Maybe that’s enough.