Beauty School Dropout Are Bringing the Edge Back To Rock

It’s Halloween in Chicago, and Verswire’s debutantes, Beauty School Dropout, are about to play Beat Kitchen, one of the band’s most intimate shows to date. Outside of the Roscoe Village rock bar, next to the bay windows and comic-dice-like signs, a small group of costumed teenagers are slumped against the wall, shifting impatiently. The venue’s staff—bald, dyed goatees, KISS shirts—are exchanging concerns about the alleged underage drinking going on outside. Meanwhile, inside, Beauty School Dropout and their entourage are banging endlessly back and forth through the doors between the stage, the bar, and the green room, hands deep in the pockets of their hoodies and heads down, each on a mission of some kind.

At long last, Beauty School Dropout take the stage.  All three are in punky private-schoolgirl uniforms, with boxer shorts and fishnets peeking out from their skirts. Their curiously named bassist, Beepus Burdett, sports Mother-Mary eyeliner tears under a mop of stiff bleached-blonde curls, a dangerously short yellow micro-mini, and a jacket patched with printed skulls and the words “IT’S HAPPIER IN HELL.” Their equally blond guitarist goes by the sole moniker of “Bardo;” they sport a white shirt unbuttoned and tied up to reveal both pale abs and sparse chest hair, a black skirt adorned with white crosses along the hem, and matching black-and-white Doc Martens. Finally, vocalist and frontman Colie Hutzler is dressed in a safety-pinned red blazer, white shirt, tartan skirt, and tie, modest compared to his bandmates. (Their touring drummer, Mike, keeps it simple with a red suit adorned with pins over a black shirt.) It’s all the Sex Pistols, it’s all The New York Dolls, it’s all My Chemical Romance.

I’ll be introduced to the band later— offstage, in the back of a bar, illuminated by the yellow glow of lamplight. Hutzler sits down earlier than the rest. He’s more petite in person than expected, and much more tense and serious than when I first met him—albeit over Zoom—ten months previously. You can tell he’s perspicacious based off how he orders his words. Bardo, on the other hand, is just as extroverted as he seems while performing; he serves as the jokester and the diplomat, bringing us pizza before sliding into the other side of the booth. Finally, Burdett arrives—he’s just as gangly as he appeared from a distance, and he’s grinning just as much as he did onstage—that is, in between furtive whispers with their manager. Mike, their more reserved touring drummer, stands by his side.

The show Beauty School Dropout put on goes above and beyond typical bar-show fare, likely designed for the larger venues they’re more accustomed to playing. Their stage presence is impressive and unrelenting, with each member unafraid of trading places and using every inch of the stage. Fraternal-twin-esque blond bombshells, guitarist Bardo and bassist Beepus Burdett seem at ease—lanky and grinning, their fluid and dancer-like movements are punctuated by jerkier kicks and headbangs as they bask in the glow of the crowd. Hutzler, however, sings like his life depends on it, pounding the floor, popping his boots out as he sinks into oddly endearing Disney knees, sweat dripping from his dark curls, his eyes exophthalmic with desperation.  

Later, nearly two hours after the show, in the back of the bar, Hutzler will seem almost rattled. (At first, anyway—he’ll unwind later, once his bandmates join us). Knees pressed demurely together and politely removing the peppers from his pizza and placing them on my plate (he doesn’t have one), he’ll begin with a confession that the caliber of dedication of their fanbase can be intense. This, in combination with the band’s endless and cyclical schedule, can be grueling. He says they’ve been going practically nonstop for something like forty hours. Bardo will reiterate this later: “[This is] countless hours of hard work. Not even shitting you, we run this like a machine. It’s relentless, and it’s the only thing that we want to do, and the only thing that we are going to do. Because plan Bs are your plan A, so this is our only plan.”

Burdett adds, “[We do this] to perform. Like, everything else is cool, but at the end of the day, we make music for y’all and for us to perform it for y’all, so we have to give it 100%.” He’s quick to admit, “I stress the fuck out when everything’s not perfect.”

Judging by tonight’s show, they certainly give these performances their all, executing their set with rehearsed precision. Bardo explained in our first interview ten months ago that, “Our superpower, as we say, is our live shows. Everyone who comes to our live show shits their pants.” This grand claim is one they certainly lived up to. Now, however, Burdett shrugs off accolades: “[It just comes from] a lot of training. We grew up in bands.” He also gives credit where credit is due— “We just look really good. But Mike is actually the nastiest fucking drummer on earth, and he holds us down, so that way we can do the shenanigans… Mike is just perfect.” (Beauty School Dropout are full of distinctly Californian slang like “filthy,” “beat,” and “nasty,” words that sound entirely foreign in the Midwest.)

The matching outfits and grand theatrics are all a return to tradition. In the early 2000s, alt-rock and emo bands like Panic! at the Disco, My Chemical Romance, and AFI sought to create spectacles rather than shows. These spectacles were for those that came of age after rock kicked itself in the teeth with Woodstock ‘99; kids that missed out on both the theatrics of classic rock and heavy metal, and the nonchalant yet angry sludge of grunge and riot grrrl. And now, in the early 2020s, during an era where—as Hutzler puts it—music has “come back so hard sonically,” Beauty School Dropout are carrying that torch for a generation of teens that didn’t just miss out on rock shows—they missed out on any shows at all. “We’re all very theatrical boys,” Bardo confesses. And it’s true—with their matching outfits and choreographed chaos, BSD’s live shows feel more like a spectacle than merely a live set.

Hutzler, Bardo, and Burdett, however, have adapted their shows for a modern audience. One strategy they seem to employ to modernize the pop-punk performance is embracing phones at shows. Smartphones are hardly new, but only recently have they been coupled with a generation that spent a significant portion of their short lives with no choice but to spend every moment in front of a screen with a dopamine-delivering algorithm. This apparent change in audience behavior has led to frustration in artists across generations and genres, including Mitski, Will Wood, Steve Lacy, Pete Wentz, and Billie Joe Armstrong. At BSD’s live shows, however, they take the presence of phones in stride, playfully snatching them from the audience to say hello to friends on FaceTime and take videos of their own.

Beauty School Dropout, essentially born into the isolation of the pandemic, seem to understand this is the world we live in now, for better or for worse, and there is no going back. Bands that played during the heyday of Warped—especially during the latter half, when disposable film’s popularity began to ebb in favor of electronics— reached their first climax during a time of the worst cell phone and digital cameras imaginable, leaving most of the documentation of that time to professionals only. Now, however, things are completely different. Though phones at shows can trigger distraction and disinterest, each time someone posts a video, it means the potential of bringing artists new fans. And BSD seem to embrace this concept, understanding that if they can make that video more personal and more exciting—then all the better.

Somewhat paradoxically, though, it’s much of this brand-new technology that’s driven the return to old emo tradition. Hutzler is somewhat hesitant to wholeheartedly embrace the current state of social media—he voiced in our first interview ten months ago that TikTok is “The worst thing that’s ever happened to art, actually.” Now, he continues in this vein, explaining that the modern internet has made people “a little bit afraid to truly express themselves.” However, he’s quick to point out that this is a powerful force driving the “massive revival” of emo and pop punk from the past, and the success of festivals like When We Were Young. As an example, Hutzler cites “King For a Day,” a song Pierce the Veil released in 2012 that has surged to the top of the charts due to TikTok. 

Beauty School Dropout—self-professed Bring Me The Horizon “stans”—are eternally grateful for this revival. As Hutzler puts it, “We’re on the cusp of kind of breaking as a new band, and so to be in the spot that we are, and being able to do this at this very moment, after being alive for 24, 25 years and seeing [pop punk and emo] happen and wondering if it would ever be cool again, I don’t know, I think it’s exciting as fuck.” (Their other elder musical influences include Letlive and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.)

However, they maintain the caveat that it’s important to not just bring back the past. Though Hutzler remains stoked about the return of major alternative music festivals and the success of When We Were Young, he feels that only reviving a bygone era isn’t enough for the modern age. “The one disappointment about When We Were Young is the whole lineup is fucking white dudes. This year’s, and next year’s,” he says. Burdett agrees: “We need some women and people of color on the lineup.” 

Beyond introducing diversity, the band feels instead of just bringing back old hits, this current wave of pop-punk should also bring Gen Z artists to the forefront. True to form, the band doesn’t just look to the past for inspiration—their more modern idols include 3for3, Turnstile, and Plague Vendor. Regarding the resuscitation of pop-punk, Hutzler says, “It’s this weird thing of like, we’ve seen such a massive revival, but it’s all bands that were already big in the early 2000s…these groups, they’re in their thirties [and] forties. And when you’ve been on the road that long, it’s hard to be that fucking agile onstage and be able to be that rock and roll and edge and stuff.” Bardo chimes in, “Those nostalgia bands are definitely going to bring a crowd… But it’s also important, if you’re going to be doing that, you gotta be putting on artists that are doing it as a new thing.”

It’s fitting, then, that pop-punk legend Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 serves as a mentor to the fresh-faced Beauty School Dropout via their new label, Verswire, while Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy plays a secondary guiding role as Verswire’s strategic advisor. When asked what working with the pair is like, Bardo jokes, “They tie us up and beat us into shape.”

After the laughter has subsided, (and he’s exchanged a few more less-than-surreptitious whispers with their manager), Burdett says, “They’re there more for advice than anything. They don’t try to tell us what to do. They’re there when we need insight, and that’s the coolest part. I feel like a lot of people on labels tell you what to do. And they’ve already done it, so they want us to fulfill our creative vision.”

Beauty School Dropout’s industry backing has likely given them too much media training to discuss these matters with anyone who is not spiritually a business major, so they barrel-roll entirely away from the question of how their NFTs fit into Verswire and their vision of the band’s future. After all, NFTs are so controversial that even strategic advisor Wentz’s own bandmate Andy Hurley has taken a hardline stance against them. 

However, as we wrote in our (officially approved) coverage of Beauty School Dropout’s debut of “Assassin” on Verswire, artists’ hands have been more or less forced in the direction of financial innovation: “Major labels exploiting artists via bad deals is nothing new, the evolution of streaming and unprecedented disruption of live performances that occurred during the pandemic are. Artists have turned to things like NFTs, Patreon, or TikTok’s Creator Fund; however, these aren’t real solutions. These stopgaps can be fruitless and fickle; rooted in tech, they are subject to the whims of the ever-changing algorithms.” 

Things have gotten even worse for fans since then— Ticketmaster’s new “demand pricing” system has forced fans to pay exorbitant prices for major tours like Paramore, Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, and yes, Blink-182. Though they shied away from discussing the matter with us, BSD recently explained to Noise Dao that they view web3 as a long term plan—specifically, as a way to thank the fans who invested in them at the very beginning with “VIP access” when they reach stadium-level. Ostensibly, this seeks to depart from the old model of offering VIP passes to anyone willing to fork over a small fortune, and create something more fan-friendly. 

Again speaking with Noise Dao, Beauty School Dropout cite their “forward thinking” label, Verswire, as encouraging these efforts. Many might view the world of crypto as an environmentally-destructive scam and a Ponzi scheme. However, unlike other shell-game corporations like Theranos, Verswire have actually delivered on a high-polish, high-quality product: Beauty School Dropout. 

This is all beyond our interview, though. Right now, over pizza in the back of a bar, with “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne blasting, the band (plus their blockchain enthusiast manager) are only willing to discuss the rosy, broad strokes of Verswire’s vision. Burdett continues, “We’re the only band signed [to Verswire] right now so we’ve gotten this special family-like treatment, which I think is something a lot of bands don’t get when they’re signing to a label. And also, they’re actually artist friendly. There’s a lot of labels that say they’re artist friendly, but we’re in a deal that’s actually artist friendly.” Hutzler agrees with this, emphasizing that, “Fifty-fifty is not artist friendly.”

“It’s funny,” Hutzler adds, after pausing for a moment to think. “Because I feel like ninety-nine percent of the influence that [Hoppus and Wentz] have on us now is actually what stemmed from our adolescence. Now, it’s like the one percent is the yes or nos or giving us advice on all the things that we present to them.” While Beauty School Dropout maintain their own distinct and modern sound, influenced by everything from Juice WRLD to Justin Bieber to The Smashing Pumpkins, there’s traces of Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy’s influence; we wrote in our review of “Assassin” that “the straightforward cadence of the lyrics calls to mind Blink-182, while the bridge possesses cathedral-sized melodies found in Fall Out Boy.”

Despite Hutzler’s light implication that he and his bandmates looked up to Hoppus and Wentz as young teens, they currently seem largely un-starstruck by their celebrity mentors. “We’ve met a lot of famous people,” Bardo says. “But [the only people] we actually get giddy around [are] Turnstile.” Besides, the band still had star power in their pre-Verswire days—Rob Cavallo, who produced other iconic pop-punk/emo acts like Paramore, My Chemical Romance, Green Day, and Lil Peep, produced Beauty School Dropout’s first EP, Boys Do Cry, in 2021.

However, this all isn’t to say they don’t fanboy from time to time. When asked if they’re into the 2001 film Almost Famous, which coincidentally shares a name with a track on their LP and their tour, Burdett says, “I feel like we fan really hard about things we like, and go to a lot of shows like Penny Lane, and always try to get backstage, we’ve always been that kind of people.” Hutzler agrees too, saying, “[I relate to] William, just because as a kid his age, that’s exactly what I was doing, sneaking in backstage for other people’s concerts and trying to get in.”

When it comes to Hoppus and Wentz, though, they’re taking professional advice—not autographs. Incorporating tried-and-true tactics by established bands into their contemporary vision is an idea Bardo expressed back in our first interview, too. Then, he told us the band (encouraged by one of their managers) believed in doing things the “old fashioned” way, on tour and connecting with fans, was best. And right now—on Beauty School Dropout’s first headlining US tour—they’re breaking on the road.

Currently, they’re hitting 11 US cities on their “Almost Famous” tour, with select support from Quinton Griggs, a 19-year-old semi-controversial Southern heartthrob for TikTok tweens boasting six million followers. These days, Griggs is making the foray into music, and has struck up a seemingly special connection with Wentz. However, Chicago missed out on Griggs. Their touring support at this show instead included Jager Henry, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin’s staggeringly tall grandson, accompanied by a backing band. With his eyeliner, pinstripe suit, and knuckle tattoos, he would have fit perfectly in as a member of Low Shoulder. Sonically, Henry followed more in the creative footsteps of Machine Gun Kelly than Zeppelin, combining bedroom-style beats with pop-punk hooks and relationship woes, a style that makes him a natural fit to open for BSD.

Though their Chicago show was one of the most intimate on the tour, the lineup certainly drew the band’s stans. Amongst the crowd, the presence of Beauty School Dropout’s dedicated base was palpable; nearly everyone knew the words to their set, not just the hooks that had popped off on TikTok. And, despite the venue’s small size, it was populated by a few handfuls of clearly impassioned teens running around in near-identical homemade BSD blazers and matching dyed-red hair, sneering at security trying to herd them away from the band after the show that they were “on the list, actually.” One even lugged an entire guitar for the band to sign.

The matching blazers—and their wearers hugging each other and assuring each other they’d reconvene to see the band again in the next city as they parted ways—demonstrated that Beauty School Dropout have cultivated a dedicated and tight-knit base. Though the band’s streaming numbers have climbed higher and higher by the day, continuing to foster this base is what Hutzler, Bardo, and Burdett see as their priority.

Bardo explains, “What’s really important is the community building aspect of artists’ careers, and I think people are really realizing how important a thousand fans over a million streams is for a career. Because numbers are becoming… You can get numbers just by putting shit on the internet. But selling out a show is a whole lot different. Our game has always been, let’s get a thousand fans, and care about those fans, and know those fans, instead of just trying to rack up streams willy nilly. I think it’s worked out great so far, we have fans that love what we do and they’ve been here since the jump.”

The live set itself also seems to foster the thrill of unity. One highlight of their set included Burdett dashing offstage only to return with a mouthful of quintessentially pop-punk pizza, plus bottles of water to pour on the crowd in spite of the near-November chill, giving everyone a jolt of adrenaline and making them scream. Another major moment was the band’s last song, “Fight Mode,” when Jager Henry, his backing band, and guest star Royal and the Serpent crowded onstage with the band for their hard-hitting finale. It all called to mind the playful gatecrashing of each other’s sets pop-punk bands engaged in in the early 2000s, all to amp up the crowd.

Beyond this, and the other aspects we’ve mentioned, there’s other ways BSD are bringing back tradition. While pop-punk acts in the 2010s were largely filled with pastels and long-winded onstage speeches, Beauty School Dropout— black, white, red, and safety-pinned all over— return to tradition. They keep the bullshit between tracks at zero, preferring to let their show and their music speak for itself, leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions afterwards. 

In the 90s and 2000s, pop punk acts—following in the footsteps of the punk movement before them— pushed against suffocating cultural norms through their performances. Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance masturbating onstage, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performing naked, Blink-182’s early lyrics covering incest and bestiality, Bert McCracken of The Used’s outrageously sexual stage banter, and Gabe Saporta of Cobra Starship’s trash-talking would be largely considered unthinkable today. Besides, any buzz would likely be censored into oblivion by the TikTok algorithm.

Now, in the 2020s, Beauty School Dropout are carrying the torch of pushing boundaries, too—though their live set remains much milder than the examples listed above. Midway through their (strictly 17+) performance, they were joined by Royal and the Serpent (who features on their Juice WRLD cover “Lucid Dreams,” as well as “Starphucker,” off Boys Do Cry). She sported a baggy, masculine red suit, a stark and deliberate contrast to the miniskirts worn by the band. The highlight of her cameo in the show came when Hutzler knelt in front of her, his tongue exposed in ahegao, before Royal climbed on top and kissed him, leaving him blissed-out and panting. (She’d also kiss Burdett later.)

This was somehow equal parts shocking, yet unsurprising—Beauty School Dropout’s lyrics frequently feature lines like “I’m addicted to your type of punishment,” “Tied up in your bedroom,” and “Your touch hurts so good.” BSD’s soft nudging of the envelope— plus their heavy duty industry backing and carefully curated image— return to the tried-and-true traditions of OG punk bands like the Sex Pistols. Yet, they remain gentle enough to land within the range of “pop,” and don’t rise to the level of offense with their live set. This is all presented nearly wordlessly, leaving the audience to interpret its meaning for themselves/.

And though Beauty School Dropout prefer to let actions speak louder than words during their live set, they still seek to open up a serious dialogue through their music. Hutzler explains, “A lot of our songs are about mental health or past mental health that we’ve dealt with.” For example, “Almost Famous,” the track with a feature from Hoppus, contains the lyric, “Everybody wants a piece of me until they start to see I’m struggling.” Obviously, mental health has been a topic of conversation in this genre of music since its inception— “emo” is short for “emotional,” after all.

He explains that the recurring theme of mental health—as well as the emphasis on originality— led to the inclusion of the “who are you?” interlude after the album’s title track, “We Made Plans and God Laughed.” The band explains it was originally part of the aforementioned preceding song, but their label advised them against it due to length; the inclusion of the interlude served as their happy medium.

Hutzler says, “The voices [in “who are you?”] are all pulled from an interview— we had to recreate them—but they’re pulled from an interview with a catatonic schizophrenic, so it’s talking about what he wants to do with his life. It’s all subtle hints towards mental health, and creating more of a dialogue around everything we’re creating and putting out.” Burdett adds, “[It’s] trying to inspire people to… be authentically themselves in a weird, artsy way that we get off to.”

The album cover—a ghostly female figure in a white nightgown with a blank circle for a face, set against a dark background, with the album’s title scrawled in red over top—hits on these themes, too. The band explains the artwork is a still from a music video, the result of their scramble for a cover ahead of the rapidly approaching deadline for the album. According to Burdett, “[It] speaks to everything we talk about, it’s like identity loss, it’s actually a mirror [over the face], so it’s reflecting back to you, but you can tell it’s a human. And even though it happened serendipitously, there’s a reason we were drawn to it.”

And Beauty School Dropout are dead set on spreading their message as far as they can. When asked about the band’s upcoming plans, Hutzler confidently asserts they have their eyes set on stadiums: “I think that’s a good, two-to-three-year plan. That’s the goal.” For now, though, they’re going to give small bars like Beat Kitchen and clubs like The Troubadour their all. “[Performing to] ten million people or ten people, it’s the same thing to us,” Burdett says. However, they have little doubt in their mind they’ll reach stadiums in the not-so-distant future, in part due to their belief in the power of collectively directing their energy towards their objectives. Hutzler says, “We manifest everything. We are big manifesters.”

Though he’d playfully scoffed at the “analysis everyone in LA gives me” about his star sign—Aquarius, if you were wondering—Hutzler and his bandmates have faith in the power of manifestation. (This somehow came as little surprise—probably because Pete Wentz, Verswire’s strategic advisor, has posted on his Instagram account lauding the benefits of meditation and psilocybin on his mental health.) Bardo elaborates on their process: “We basically just get in a circle, and hold hands, and think about the thing, and just put energy towards it. And so far, it’s worked out great.” Hutzler emphasizes that the effects of this exercise are “so immediate it’s absurd,” and reiterates, “We are firm believers.”

In our review of “Assassin”, the first single off “We Made Plans and God Laughed,” we wrote that  “while their 2021 EP Boys Do Cry was wrapped in candy-like pop, it teased harder elements with each track— [now] Beauty School Dropout go all the way with emo rock.” The rest of the album didn’t disappoint. The band has still kept elements of the semi-melancholy straightforwardness present since their first single (“Last Time”), but have evolved into a more mature and nuanced sound, bringing an even harder edge into songs like “Fight Mode.”

“The edge that we talk about is being unafraid to be 100% authentically yourself, even if it’s fucking brutally painful or unfortunate for some of the people around you,” Hutzler explains. Beauty School Dropout’s live shows—and hard-hitting sonic landscape— manifest the teeth that’ve been missing from rock and pop-punk for so long the kids had to revive the fossilized.

Bardo flashes a smile. “It’s rock and roll, baby.”

Keep up with all things Beauty School Dropout

by Sarah // Photos by Weronika Koleda

Significant revisions have been made since this article’s original publishing.

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