Punk rock has roots outside. It grew up from the cracks in the sidewalk like so many intrepid weeds. Even so, there’s a case to be made for punk that closes its blinds and locks its doors, too. On their new single, “Projection,” glittercore duo PWR BTTM peer out their window into a world that looks hell-bent on scorching them if they dare to step out into it. "When the kids go out to play, I like to stay inside / Even though it looks like fun, I'd probably burn and die,” Ben Hopkins sings between big, satisfying gulps of crunchy guitar riffs. “’Cause my skin isn’t made for the weather."
That tenuous line between the inside world and the one outside has appeared in PWR BTTM's songs before. On “Dairy Queen,” from their 2015 debut Ugly Cherries, Liv Bruce sings about getting into all kinds of speculative trouble — applying press-on nails, drinking beer from a sippy cup, starting a riot at a Disney theme park — but ends each scenario with the qualifier, “But right now, I’m in the shower.”
Unlike “Dairy Queen,” though, “Projection” isn’t about hesitating before going out into the world and living your best, most raucous life. That kind of trouble doesn’t even cross Bruce and Hopkins’s minds here. Instead, the danger on its flipside weighs heavy on them: Am I safe in this skin? Will I be hurt for looking the way I look in public?
Guitars slip muted under Hopkins’s words on “Projection,” smooth in a way Ugly Cherries never sounded. If PWR BTTM’s debut album was a coming-out party for punk rock’s most fabulous band, this next round of music has started to unravel the fear and despair that necessarily lie tangled inside all that beautiful pride.
Pride isn’t something you show in the absence of danger; it’s a face you wear in spite of danger to show that danger won’t change you, no matter how scary it gets. In the wake of the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, PWR BTTM started performing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at their concerts — a song associated with queerness owing to its color spectrum, but also to the way it envisions a world better than the one we’re stuck in now, a world where "the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true."
That’s not this world, not now. Until we vault that rainbow, we’re stuck daring to dream without the promise of our dreams’ fulfillment. Some days you have the energy to dare, to throw on your best glitter and run through the world in full color. And some days you just have to lie in your room, exhausted, until the rain passes.