From long side fringes to the ever-so-emotional lyrical content that caused a cultural phenomenon, and a global obsession with rock stars like Gerard Way and Pete Wentz was the emo revolution. Ten years on from its peak in mainstream music, where does the scene fit now?
Quite frankly, it is dead.
But like most old genres that die out, resurgence is usually on the cards, and a comeback is made which is seen as either hip and inventive or satirical. So what does emo music mean in 2017 and what are the bands that are keeping this scene alive today?
To clarify, the current emo scene wildly differs from the days of My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy, whose dedicated fan bases defined a subculture and a large portion of today’s young adults. Gone is the tacky pop punk aesthetic equipped with tight jeaned fashion and an edgy depressive demeanor. What’s become more prevalent is music now are the undertones of emo-pop with a more direct emphasis on the Midwest emo movement of the 90s, channeling bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and the post-hardcore indie rock sounds of Fugazi, with their lo-fi production values, empty raw drumming and off key wailing on lyrical content that is obviously so, well, emo.
The other pivotal moment in emo is claimed to have come from 1996’s Pinkerton by the one and only Weezer, a bottomless jar of feelings for frontman Rivers Cuomo to spill his emotions and tears into. The album has an interesting history, initially panned by critics all over for its more raw sound and “terrible” lyrics. The album went on to become one of the most highly regarded LPs of the nineties. Now twenty years on, the album has become scrutinised for its now polarising lyrical content, with many people claiming Cuomo’s style is full of misogynistic lines and references, and the other half taking it as a tongue-in-cheek woe-is-me approach to songwriting. Yet this debate extends beyond Weezer, with multiple claims in the ensuing years that many bands in the emo craze of the 2000s do hold sexist undertones within their lyrics, which could also be due to the startling lack of female presence in the scene during its peaks in the mainstream light.
With major popularity comes excessive stereotyping and trope formations that can often override a genre’s origins. It is considered that the emo genre can stem back as far as the early 80s; an offshoot of the hardcore punk scene, trading passionate, often politically fuelled lyrics for something more sincere and emotive. Two decades later and the arrival of emo-pop groups like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy was unavoidable, dragging in with them the labelling of the term ‘emo’ which began to be assigned to a pivotal subculture of teenagers and young adults who have little to do with its actual origins.
So in the emo hangover that is the 2010s, what exactly is keeping the genre thriving in a time where rock fads are dead in exchange for dope beats? Well it depends what you would classify as emo. On one end of the spectrum is the indie rock influenced side of things that originated in the 90s, and on the other is the media label that defines the music that appealed to a generation of misunderstood teens that pioneered the mid 2000s.
The result seems like a blend of the two. Enter Remo Drive, who dropped their debut album Greatest Hits this year (still hitting that mid 2000s emo wit on the head, perhaps in a less obnoxious way), a ten track album of emo gold, exemplifying a cocktail of everything that has contributed to the emo genre and phenomena since the early 80s. We have the sappy, and oh so dramatic wit infused lyrics, with a more lo-fi production value and indie rock approach musically. Where some songs channel the peak of mid-2000s emo, others end up in a more complicated musical vortex of jamming and post-hardcore outros that last for minutes, all found in the LP’s lead single ‘Yer Killin Me’, Erik Paulson sings “you make me want to start smoking cigarettes so I die slowly” in a howl of anguish.
On more subtle note, the genre saw a small boom in 2013 and 2014 with a brief rise of emo-influenced pop punk albums from bands like Cloud Nothings (Here and Nowhere Else) and The Hotelier (Home, Like No Place Is There). These breakthrough LPs embodied the emo sound, only to take a shift similar to that of Remo Drive, where elements of Indie Rock and midwest emo have come into play.
If we are to apply these same definitions of emo under the above mentioned artists’ sound we can also counter for bands like The Smith Street Band and Camp Cope as having emo influences within their music. Just look at their lyrical content, which teeters between the passionately political in some tunes and then the nostalgic heartbreak in the others. Yet what is tricky about the term now is the influx of negative connotations attached to it. If we take it in its stride from its humble origins as an alternative to the menacing, angry punk rock, and replace it with punk songs that have emotion and sincerity, then acts like Smith Street and Camp Cope certainly resonate with it.
All in all it appears that after years of being defunct, the emo genre is still slipping through the cracks, channeling the sound of its origins more than a poppy mainstream emo group (which would have similar ramifications of a hair metal or AOR comeback tour from the 80s). While there is probably not a direct resurgence of the emo-pop craze that plagued the 2000s, there is still hope that the more whiney rock tracks hold a little bit of traction. If not, there will always be an endless back catalogue of old bands to listen to.