I’ve been taking a few months to really gather my thoughts on what emo music is, and how it has shaped my listening habits since I was a teenager. This is the first in a series of posts about early, middle, and modern emo and what all of that means to me. I’m not going to pretend that I understand everything about emo’s long and varied history- these are just my thoughts on the subject. Follow the tag Three Cheers For Emo (#threecheersforemo or #3cheersforemo) to read more.
If you’ve hung around “the scene” long enough, you’ve probably noticed that there is a ton of debate about the genre of emo.
So what is emo music, exactly? Is there one, all-encompassing, Oxford English Dictionary definition?
You can go to “Is This Band Emo?” and type in a band and get someone’s snarky opinion. That’s kind of an “emo by example” orthodoxy. You can read the Wikipedia article about emo music, which is actually really interesting and pretty in-depth. You can find an emo playlist on Spotify and pick it to pieces when a Fall Out Boy song pops up.
I, personally, am one of those annoying people who really thinks that what constitutes emo music is largely up to you.
It used to be super uncool for a band to be labelled as “emo,” and some people still think that way- as you can see from the likes of My Chemical Romance and Death Cab For Cutie speaking out against being called emo. But at the same time, there’s been an emo music revival with the likes of Modern Baseball, Mom Jeans, Julien Baker, and The Front Bottomes, to name a few. I haven’t heard those guys shying away from the word emo (you can correct me if I’m wrong).
There’s a weird dichotomy with the word emo and whether it has positive or negative connotations, that’s for sure. And the word has a long and varied history that includes arguments and misunderstandings.
For me, emo music is music that makes you feel something, whose lyrics express discontent or insight about life and relationships, and whose music trends toward punk, alternative, and indie roots.
There are 3 eras of emo that I recognize:
- The original emo of the late eighties and nineties, which has roots in New Wave and punk (Rites of Spring, Jawbreaker, The Promise Ring, American Football etc.).
- The pop-punk, theatrical emo of the early 2000s, which made emo more of a mainstream culture as fans of emo adopted a certain aesthetic of heavy eyeliner, tight clothes, straight hair, and skate shoes (My Chemical Romance- yes, I love them and consider them to be emo (all apologies to Gerard on our differing opinions), Panic! At The Disco, Fall Out Boy, Motion City Soundtrack, Bright Eyes, Brand New, etc.).
- The modern emo of the twenty-teens, which pays homage to the original emo and adds a little millennial and Gen-Z flair with technology and current pop culture references (Modern Baseball, Mom Jeans, The Front Bottoms, Sorority Noise, Julien Baker).
Now, these 3 different eras are vastly different from each other, and even some of the artists that technically fall in the same era can belong to other genres and don’t really look all that similar at first glance. BUT if enough fans have called you emo, and you’ve been heavily featured on emo playlists and in the news as emo, and your lyrics are kind of sad & about awkward relationships & about the American Midwest…I think that means you probably are, in fact, emo. And there’s nothing wrong with that, honey.
What do you think? Am I completely off base? Is the only true emo from the nineties? Tell me your thoughts.