When Maryland pop-punk veterans All Time Low (Alex Gaskarth, Jack Barakat, Zack Merrick and Rian Dawson) released their eighth studio album Wake Up, Sunshine in April 2020, they couldn’t have predicted it would turn out to produce the biggest radio hit of their career.
In September 2020, ”Monsters” became All Time Low’s first No. 1 on any airplay chart when it topped the Alternative Airplay listing — and parked there for 18 nonconsecutive weeks, tying with Foo Fighters’ “The Pretender” for the third-longest reign at No. 1 in the chart’s 32-year history. Four months later, “Monsters” broke out of the alternative sphere and became ATL’s second-ever Hot 100 chart entry, reaching No. 67 — “Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don’t)” being their sole entry in 2009 — where it’s peaked at No. 64, as of this week’s Feb. 13-dated chart.
Meanwhile, as the group is in the throes of that particular song’s, ahem, monstrous success, one of their other signature hits is experiencing a surprise revival. Their 2007 single “Dear Maria, Count Me In” blew up on TikTok in December 2020 when user @yungricepatty shared a clip of himself singing along to the track, thereby launching the “it’s not a phase” trend. “Dear Maria” eventually entered the Rock Streaming Songs chart, where it peaked at No. 5 this January.
The band has been rolling with every new development — leaning in when necessary, whether it’s recruiting pal Demi Lovato for a remix, recording acoustically, or submitting their own TikTok clip to the fold — all during a global pandemic that has continuously forced the band to adjust all of their plans for the past 12 months.
In 2003, ATL started out as a pop-punk cover band, performing songs by acts like Blink-182. A deal with Emerald Moon Records followed, and they unleashed their debut album in 2005. Multiple Top 10 albums, Warped Tour gigs, label switch-ups and headlining tours later, the band endured well into their second decade, still putting up impressive numbers in a streaming era where many of their late-’00s peers have fallen off.
But All Time Low was thrown for a loop in early 2020, when it became apparent that the coronavirus wasn’t going away. Still, they went ahead with releasing Wake Up, Sunshine in April (via their current label Fueled by Ramen), even though they wouldn’t be able to support it with a tour. “It was scary career-wise for us, but at the same time it gave us an opportunity to find new ways to get the job done,” frontman Gaskarth says about the band recalibrating. “I’m glad we stuck to our guns and released it and did what we did,” adds lead guitarist Barakat.
As the pandemic chugged on, so too did the band. They rented soundstages for livestreamed performances, and held virtual meet and greets with fans. “It was an experiment in finding new, unusual and exciting ways to engage with our audience without being able to do what we do, which is be on the road, tour and play shows in front of people,” Gaskarth says.
Simultaneously, their album’s stomping fourth single, about being unable to let go of a toxic relationship, was gathering steam — even outside of their core fanbase. “Monsters” didn’t originally feature a guest, but as the band crafted songs for what would become Wake Up, Sunshine in a Palm Springs studio, co-writer Andrew Goldstein had the idea to send the unfinished track to his friend Matthew Tyler Musto — who performs as Blackbear — to see what he thought.
Blackbear recalls how he “heard the catchy guitar line,” swiftly jumped on board, and recorded his verse. “It was new and nostalgic at the same time,” the singer-songwriter and producer adds. “I’ve always been a huge fan of All Time Low, so [to be on a record of theirs] is a dream come true.”
The team at Fueled by Ramen and Elektra Music Group was standing by for the new material. When EMG A&R vp Johnny Minardi listened to the Blackbear version, he knew it was the one. “Adding Bear to it [took it to] that level,” Minardi confirms. “There was no question of which song to take to radio.”
Likewise, radio took to “Monsters.” Fans and critics proved receptive to the band’s return to a more traditional pop-punk sound with Wake Up, Sunshine, and by late summer the album’s fourth single was a bona fide radio hit, too. “Monsters” topped the Alternative Airplay chart on the Sept. 19-dated ranking — which, despite the band’s alt-rock-loving fanbase, was actually All Time Low’s first-ever hit on the chart.
“Radio station to radio station, we were surprised by the guys who jumped in early — the guys who thought they’d never play All Time Low,” says Elektra Music Group co-president Mike Easterlin. “Especially 15 years into their career. Then to see it really start to stream, and then to see the thing start to call out in research…it was like, this is really happening.” Senior director of programming Jeff Regan, whose Alt Nation station has long been a supporter of ATL’s, laughs off stations who opt not to play the group. “I’m like, ‘You programmers out there in radio land, keep thinking that way!’ It keeps us doing what we’re doing,” he says. “A good song is a good song, and when it comes from an established band, it’s kind of a no-brainer there.”
Regan began spinning “Monsters” upon its release date in early April 2020, and says the response was massive. “Alt Nation listeners will tell you pretty quick. It’s like a crystal ball — you know what it’s gonna be,” he says of the rapid feedback. “Monsters” spent a total of 13 weeks on Alt Nation’s Alt-18 Countdown, and eventually landed on the station’s year-end recap at No. 12.
“Monsters” was a confirmed alternative smash. But when iHeartMedia national programming group president Tom Poleman suggested to the band that they consider a new version of the song — one that could cross it over to pop radio, too — the band recalibrated once again and considered a second guest artist; someone who’d be more immediately familiar to pop radio audiences. (“A lot of this past year has been a lot of changes in perspective,” Barakat notes.)
Demi Lovato, a longtime friend of the band’s, turned out to be game for it. “I was so excited when they asked me to jump on the song,” Lovato says now. “I’ve known these guys for over 10 years, and to see them having so much success has brought me a lot of joy.”
Once Lovato cut her vocals, the label rushed to release “Monsters” 2.0 before the holidays, when many radio stations traditionally pivot to Christmas music. Gaskarth had shown the Lovato version to “a couple key radio people, and they started bugging us [about a release date],” says Easterlin. Not wanting to lose pop radio’s excitement over the track, FBR quickly cleared Lovato’s part with her label, Island, and officially released the new track on Dec. 4, 2020. “The remix with Demi on it was one of those added layers of, ‘This can’t possibly get bigger or better, [can it]?’” Minardi remembers.
It did indeed. The new version made it to pop radio under the wire, and resonated with listeners right away. “It was a surprise to everybody that the song came along when it did, and it happened to really fit what we were looking for at that time at pop radio,” Poleman says of the melodic, rock-leaning track. “It’s a sound that we haven’t had in a while that provided an extra balance to all the other hip-hop and rhythm stuff we’ve been playing.”
By early January, All Time Low became a “core artist” at SirusXM’s Hits 1 channel, too, according to Regan. (“Monsters” has peaked at No. 21 on Pop Airplay so far.) “There’s a difference between a well-crafted song and an earworm,” the radio vet says of the song’s stickiness. “An earworm has the tendency to fizzle out a little bit, and wouldn’t be a record you and I would be talking about this many months later.”
By the week of Jan. 9, “Monsters” entered the Hot 100 at No. 88. The band was thrilled to officially have their biggest hit in a decade. “It kind of re-energized us and made us realize, ‘This is still rolling,’ Barakat says of the latest in what’s now a long line of triumphs for the song. “It’s just so unexpected and insanely cool.”
Amid all of this, “Dear Maria, Count Me In” began making the rounds on TikTok. After @yungricepatty declared that liking emo and pop-punk music is, in fact, a lifestyle, everyone from a Domino’s delivery guy to Derek Hough got in on the action. (To participate, one yells, “Mooom, it was never a phase, it’s a lifestyle,” before singing along to the final chorus of “Dear Maria.”) Fans who were reminded of the song, or had just found out about it for the first time, rushed to streaming services to hear it in full. Now, the 14-year-old track is currently sitting on the Alternative Streaming Songs chart at No. 23 — not so far below “Monsters,” at No. 11.
“It’s just wild to see it come full-circle like it has, and have another moment in the sun,” Gaskarth muses. “There’s nostalgia at play for the era that the song existed in originally, but there’s also this new wave of fans just discovering All Time Low and this genre of music.” The band has contributed their own TikToks to the trend, but otherwise don’t have plans to touch the song. “We didn’t expect this or see it coming, so there was no way to know it was going to blow up again!” Gaskarth says. “We’re kind of just seeing what happens and enjoying the rekindled energy around the song.”
Next, ATL and FBR intend to continue chipping away at pop radio and Hot AC, where Poleman says “Monsters” will continue to grow (“The more it gets familiar, the more it’s going to continue to go up the charts”). The band recently returned to the studio, too, and Poleman already sounds excited about the early material he’s heard. “I think they’ll be able to follow this up with another hit and then hopefully a longer string,” he hints. “They’re in a good groove right now.”
While the band may be busy plotting their next creative move (“it’s felt good to stay sharp and keep the gears turning since we haven’t had anything else, really, to do,” says Gaskarth of being back in the studio), they’re also taking the time to appreciate the moment for what it is. “It’s wild to us that sixteen years into a career, we’re having a song resonate with people the way it is,” he says. “It’s amazing to still be making music that feels current and relevant and has the place in the world.”