My first emo group, like a lot of kids from the 2000s, was My Chemical Romance. In 2005, my mother was a big fan of the new version that would become a poster of the genre: “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge”. While not as popular as their sequel, “Welcome to the Black Parade,” the aggressive yet pop sound of “Three Cheers” created the model for the emo. At least that’s what we the kids of the 2000s would like you to believe.
Emo has a much longer history than Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, who took his first steps in eyeliner. The term “emo” is actually short for “emotional hardcore,” and it comes from the hardcore punk movement of the 80s. Rites of Spring is often cited as the creators of the genre, mixing the harsh tones of hardcore with melodic vocals. and introspective. However, singer Guy Picciotto (also of the punk band Fugazi) said in a 2003 interview with music critic Mark Prindle: “I never recognized emo as a genre of music.
Although emo is now a well-known and somewhat popular genre, the roots of emo still lie on the outside, never receiving the attention they deserve. Emo is an outsider subculture, rooted in difference, but relegates its own predecessors to their own underdogs.
There are artists in all genres who push the boundaries and exist outside, but many other genres recognize their roots. If you’re a metal fan, you’ve almost certainly heard of Black Sabbath. If you are a fan of pop or pop-rock, you can trace your music back to the Beatles. Emo fans seem to miss that connection. This could be because the genre has evolved so quickly into a sound that is not characterized by its origins, which are a perfect storm of dissonance, unexpected tonal changes, and characteristic playing over time.
This evolution really started in the 90s when the groups split into two sound spheres. Mineral and Sunny Day Real Estate would ease the chaos of Rites of Spring and emphasize the inner voice with more relaxed, yet complex songs. Meanwhile, bands like Saetia and Orchid were embracing the “hardcore” of emotional hardcore with extreme vocal techniques and frequent changes in time signature and tone.
When Thursday exploded onto the scene with their debut album “Waiting” in 1999, hardcore and indie sounds synthesized with influences from metal, jazz and electronic music. Many now popular emo groups cite one of their biggest influences on Thursday, with singer Geoff Rickly even producing My Chemical Romance’s debut album. I brought you my balls, you brought me your love. The success of their chart-topping second album “Full Collapse” put them in the spotlight and led to a transition to the mid-2000s emo brand that would create a cultural phenomenon.
Amid the buzz of finally achieving commercial success, many bands were left behind. The advent of adapted emo for radio killed any chance for early bands to gain the popularity they deserved. The star belonged to Taking Back Sunday, Panic! At the Disco and Paramore, which still reign supreme in the ranks of the genre. While their ingenuity shouldn’t be overlooked, their credit is solely for bringing the genre into the mainstream. Still there, playing basement concerts and recording unique EPs, there was a circle of bands continually breaking the boundaries of vocal expression and mixing contrasting musical styles.
One of the popular emo posters, Fall Out Boy, now has over 18 million listeners on Spotify. My Chemical Romance has 12 million monthly listeners. Mineral, despite their contributions to the foundation that My Chemical Romance would build on, has a paltry 45,146 monthly listeners. Of course, there are plenty of reasons why some bands are gaining popularity while others stay closer to their DIY roots. Nonetheless, it is a shame that these groups can slowly be lost in time.
In September, my boyfriend and I saw Thursday open for Resume Sunday in Pontiac. Halfway through the Taking Back Sunday set, I already knew Thursday had put on a better show, and I couldn’t help but feel offended. This innovative and eccentric group who inspired countless acts in their own genre only had time to play ten songs, and hardly anyone sang or laughed at them. The problem clearly wasn’t that people didn’t like it – heads all around me were swaying – it was rather that they didn’t know the music.
Earlier this year my boyfriend introduced me to late 90s and early 2000s emo bands that shaped the genre, from Get Up Kids and The Saddest Landscape to Pg. 99. L Listening to the range of these early bands reminded me that genres don’t start out of nowhere. The uniqueness does not come from the “Songs Every Former Emo Kid Remembers” lists. Hidden on the edges, between “too hard” and “too soft”, on tiptoe the line separating “hardcore” and “emotional”, hides a musical richness that resists categorization. Maybe this is what Guy Picciotto meant: Emo is not a genre, it is a mixture of decades of very different musical influences in a singular sound experience.
Emo was born out of a need for self-expression that was unfulfilled within the confines of other genres in the ’80s. At its core, the genre calls out to strangers and asks them to be who they need to be. Early emos go from whispers to screams, from 80 beats per minute to 180, as easily as we all go through times of joy and sadness in our lives. The hits that brought the genre into the mainstream are iconic and powerful, but outside of the underdogs lies a collection of sounds like no other, a passion that cannot be lost over time.
Daily Arts writer Harper Klotz can be contacted at [email protected]