By Jessica Norton
Texas-based hyperactive pop-rock trio Waterparks decided it was time to go off. The band, made up of Awsten Knight, Geoff Wigington, and Otto Wood, take hellacious swings at music and fan culture on their third studio album, appropriately titled FANDOM. The tea? Piping. Harsh but honest? Full send. And we have no choice but to stan.
Tackling what it’s like to be on the receiving end of tweets begging for follows (“Please, it’s my birthday!”) and the confusingly nice, but wildly aggressive threat comments (“Release the music video, you cowards”) is a sensitive area. Though Vans Warped Tour alums have reached a certain level of popularity — boasting shirts at Hot Topic, an exclusive hair-dye collaboration with Manic Panic, and an explicit but hilariously re-recorded clean song on Radio Disney — they’re still rising, which means they don’t want to scare off any existing or potential fans. But their point must be made: Lyrics from FANDOM may cause some heartburn, proving to be just as acidic and pungent as the orange juice shown on the album’s cover art.
“It’s all word vomit, and then I’m like, ah, should I say that?” lead singer Knight expressed his worry to MTV News over the phone.
On the chorus of the album’s lead single “Watch What Happens Next,” he defeatedly cries, “You don’t love me the same / It’s such a fucking shame” and “You wanna hear my art, but only on your terms.” The following verse leaves a sting, nodding to the extremes of fan culture online: “I don’t think people realize how they’re fucking us up.”
Despite Waterpark’s frenetic internet presence — constant Caps Lock and zealous messages of unrequited love to Victoria Justice — Knight is the only member heavily immersed in social media and meme culture, claiming Wigington and Wood are not “irony poisoned” and don’t always understand internet humor. The plus side of not being on social media is obviously avoiding the not-so-supportive corners of their following, where high expectations and cruel interactions have resulted in Knight’s own negativity-fueled downward spirals. These have been intense enough to prompt the band to be outspoken and expressive on the topic of unhealthy treatment in fan culture.
“Here’s the thing… I don’t think anyone’s gonna treat me differently after hearing what I have to say, but I think they’ll think twice about it first, and I think that’s a start,” Knight admits.
While FANDOM could be considered a tangy spit in the face, the album does have a refreshingly sweet aftertaste. It’s clear that Waterparks don’t hate their fans. They are continually shocked by, and appreciative of, the support they receive, which includes but is not limited to the ability to get topics to trend on Twitter immediately and having Target shelves wiped clean. The band is happy to provide the familiarity of their zany and upbeat sound in hopes that decisions to experiment will be welcomed and received with open minds. Fandom is a topic they feel comfortable taking on personally, as each member admits to belonging to more than one fandom and has deep familiarity with the positive communities and friendships that are created within them, the act of stanning, and the overall joy it can bring. They just get it.
“I stan Taylor Swift. Ke$ha. Shawn Mendes. 5 Seconds of Summer. Definitely One Direction,” Knight reveals while scrolling through his phone. “I stan so many people.”
On the track “War Crimes,” he crushingly admits, “Bands I loved don’t want the best for me / Scared they’re falling off and take it out on me.” He was quick to confirm the line is “definitely not” throwing shade at longtime hype men and current managers Benji and Joel Madden of Good Charlotte, who the ‘Parks boys consistently cite as their all-time faves. The Maddens plucked Waterparks out of their Texan obscurity in 2015 and have since assisted the “Turbulent” band in fighting for creative rights, encouraging them to sign their current deal with Hopeless Records after a previous contract and label relationship went sour. “I trust the Maddens with my life,” Knight said.
Support and encouragement has also come from Fall Out Boy‘s Pete Wentz, who once, after a super casual coffee date with Knight, dropped by the studio to listen to demos during the early creative stages of FANDOM. Wentz approved a track on the spot where he is savagely name-dropped in the opening line — arguably the ultimate pop-punk/emo-kid blessing.
“Pete was like, ‘With how excited you are about all this, you straight-up remind me of a young Brendon Urie.’ Like, what the fuck?” Knight said, still in disbelief over what he calls his “biggest fan girl moment.” “I played it cool.”
While still overzealous — an endearing and continually on-brand attitude for the band — there has been a rare sense of peace among them after FANDOM‘s October 11 release. Now that the potentially unsavory but still fun and unique third studio album is out for the world to hear — along with a fall tour alongside Yung Pinch and Kitten — they have no regrets. “This is our first real label release that feels like an album of ours has actually stood a chance and it feels nice to have support,” Knight said.
“I’ve been in bands since I was 13 and it definitely was not always this way. Waterparks is probably my first band that anyone has given a shit about,” he continued, “which is fine because all of the other bands were really bad.”