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Emo

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Emo /ˈm/ is a genre of rock music characterized by an emphasis on emotional expression, sometimes through confessional lyrics. It emerged as a style of post-hardcore from the mid-1980s hardcore punk movement in Washington, D.C., where it was known as emotional hardcore or emocore and pioneered by bands such as Rites of Spring and Embrace. In the early 1990s, emo was adopted and reinvented by alternative/indie rock and pop punk bands such as Jawbreaker, Sunny Day Real Estate, Weezer and Jimmy Eat World. By the mid-1990s, emo bands such as Braid, the Promise Ring and the Get Up Kids emerged from the burgeoning Midwest emo scene, and several independent record labels began to specialize in the genre. Meanwhile, screamo, a more aggressive style of emo using screamed vocals, also emerged, pioneered by the San Diego bands Heroin and Antioch Arrow.

Emo entered mainstream culture during the early 2000s with the success of Jimmy Eat World and Dashboard Confessional, and many emo bands were signed to major record labels. During the mid to late-2000s, emo bands such as My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy and the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus continued to be popular. During the early 2010s, the popularity of emo began to wane, with some groups moving away from the genre and others disbanding. A mainly underground emo revival emerged during the decade, with bands such as Modern Baseball and Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) drawing on the sounds and aesthetics of 1990s and early-2000s emo.

Often seen as a subculture, emo also generally signifies a relationship between fans and artists and describes aspects of fashion, culture and behavior. The emo subculture has been associated with fans in skinny jeans; tight, usually short-sleeved t-shirts (often with the names of emo bands), studded belts and flat, straight, jet-black hair with long bangs. Emo has been associated with a stereotype of emotion, sensitivity, misanthropy, shyness, introversion and angst, and with depression, self-harm and suicide. Emo also has inspired a backlash movement in response to its rapid growth, with some bands described as emo, such as My Chemical Romance and Panic! at the Disco, rejecting the emo label for the social stigma and controversy surrounding the emo label.

Characteristics

Hawthorne Heights, a five-man emo band
The emo band Hawthorne Heights in 2007

Although emo originated in hardcore punk[1][2] and is considered a subgenre of post-hardcore,[3] it has also been associated with indie rock[4][5] and pop punk.[4][6] According to AllMusic, "Some emo leans toward the progressive side, full of complex guitar work, unorthodox song structures, arty noise, and extreme dynamic shifts; some emo is much closer to punk-pop, though it's a bit more intricate".[1] Lyrics (a focus in the genre) are typically emotional and often personal, dealing with topics such as failed romance;[7] AllMusic described emo lyrics as "usually either free-associative poetry or intimate confessionals".[1] According to AllMusic, early emo bands were hardcore punk bands who "favored expressive vocals over the typical barking rants" of regular hardcore punk; most 1990s emo bands "borrowed from some combination of Fugazi, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Weezer".[1] The New York Times described emo as "emotional punk or post-hardcore or pop-punk. That is, punk that wears its heart on its sleeve and tries a little tenderness to leaven its sonic attack. If it helps, imagine Ricky Nelson singing in the Sex Pistols."[8] Author Matt Diehl called emo a "more sensitive interpolation of punk's mission".[7] Dean Kuipers of the Los Angeles Times described emo as "guitar dynamics that explored both the softs and louds of punk in the same song with—most important—brutally confessional and even self-loathing lyrics".[9] According to Kuipers,

Emo songs are mostly about pain. As a body, they are like middle-of-the-night journal entries exposing insecurity and suicidal thoughts. Or wanting the girl and even getting the girl, then going down under a swarm of conflicts and self-inflicted wounds and losing the girl to mopey confusion.[9]

History

Precursors

Minor Threat, a young hardcore punk band, onstage
Hardcore punk band Minor Threat performing at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. in 1981

Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys' 1966 album, was called "the first emo album" by Treblezine's Ernest Simpson[10] and Wild Nothing's Jack Tatum.[11] According to writer Sean Cureton, "With several singles lending themselves to an underlying tension bordering on agoraphobic paranoia, Pet Sounds is an intensely melancholic recording disguised as a pop album. In some ways, one could find trace elements of [the album] in early emo albums of the 2000s."[12]

During the 1980s, many hardcore punk and post-hardcore bands formed in Washington, D.C.. Post-hardcore, an experimental offshoot of hardcore punk, was inspired by post-punk.[13] Hardcore punk bands and post-hardcore bands who influenced early emo bands include Minor Threat,[14] The Faith,[15] Black Flag and Hüsker Dü.[16]

1984–1991: Origins

Emo was an outgrowth of the early-1980s hardcore punk[1] scene in Washington, D.C. as a reaction to the scene's violence and an extension of the politics espoused by Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, who returned the music's focus from the community to the individual.[17][18] Minor Threat fan Guy Picciotto formed Rites of Spring in 1984, breaking free of hardcore punk's self-imposed boundaries in favor of melodic guitars, varied rhythms and personal, impassioned lyrics.[14] Many of the band's themes, including nostalgia, romantic bitterness and poetic desperation, became familiar tropes of later emo music.[19] Its performances were public, emotional purges where audience members sometimes wept.[20] MacKaye became a Rites of Spring fan (recording their only album and being their roadie) and formed the band Embrace, which explored similar themes of self-searching and emotional release.[21]

Guitarist Guy Picciotto onstage
Guy Picciotto, vocalist and guitarist of Rites of Spring, performing with Fugazi. Rites of Spring's sound was considered considerably different from previous hardcore punk bands at the time.

Similar bands followed in connection with the "Revolution Summer" of 1985, an attempt by members of the Washington scene to break from the rigid constraints of hardcore punk to a renewed spirit of creativity.[18] Bands such as Gray Matter, Beefeater, Fire Party, Dag Nasty, Soulside and Kingface were associated with the movement.[21][18]

Although the origins of the word "emo" are uncertain, it dates back to at least 1985. According to Andy Greenwald, author of Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo, "The origins of the term 'emo' are shrouded in mystery ... but it first came into common practice in 1985. If Minor Threat was hardcore, then Rites of Spring, with its altered focus, was emotional hardcore or emocore."[21] Michael Azerrad, author of Our Band Could Be Your Life, also traces the word's origins to the mid-1980s: "The style was soon dubbed 'emo-core,' a term everyone involved bitterly detested, although the term and the approach thrived for at least another fifteen years, spawning countless bands."[22] MacKaye traces it to 1985, attributing it to an article in Thrasher magazine referring to Embrace and other Washington, D.C. bands as "emo-core" (which he called "the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard in my entire life").[23] Other accounts attribute the word to an audience member at an Embrace show, who shouted as an insult that the band was "emocore".[24][25] Others have said that MacKaye coined the word when he used it self-mockingly in a magazine, or that it originated with Rites of Spring.[25]

The Oxford English Dictionary dates the earliest usage of "emo-core" to 1992 and "emo" to 1993, with "emo" first appearing in print in New Musical Express in 1995.[26][27]

The "emocore" label quickly spread through the DC punk scene, and was associated with many bands associated with Ian MacKaye's Dischord Records.[24] Although many of the bands rejected the term, it stayed. Jenny Toomey recalled, "The only people who used it at first were the ones that were jealous over how big and fanatical a scene it was. [Rites of Spring] existed well before the term did and they hated it. But there was this weird moment, like when people started calling music 'grunge,' where you were using the term even though you hated it."[28]

The Washington, D.C. emo scene lasted only a few years, and by 1986 most of its major bands (including Rites of Spring, Embrace, Gray Matter and Beefeater) had broken up.[29] However, its ideas and aesthetics spread quickly across the country through a network of homemade zines, vinyl records and hearsay.[30] According to Greenwald, the Washington, D.C. scene laid the groundwork for emo's subsequent incarnations:

What had happened in D.C. in the mid-eighties—the shift from anger to action, from extroverted rage to internal turmoil, from an individualized mass to a mass of individuals—was in many ways a test case for the transformation of the national punk scene over the next two decades. The imagery, the power of the music, the way people responded to it, and the way the bands burned out instead of fading away—all have their origins in those first few performances by Rites of Spring. The roots of emo were laid, however unintentionally, by fifty or so people in the nation's capital. And in some ways, it was never as good and surely never as pure again. Certainly, the Washington scene was the only time "emocore" had any consensus definition as a genre.[31]

MacKaye, Picciotto and Rites of Spring drummer Brendan Canty formed Fugazi, which (despite sometimes being connected with the term), are not usually viewed as an emo band.[32]

1991–1994: Reinvention

As the Washington, D.C. emo movement spread across the United States, local bands began to emulate its sound to marry hardcore punk with the emotions of growing older.[33] Emo combined the fatalism, theatricality and isolation of The Smiths with hardcore punk's uncompromising, dramatic worldview.[33] Despite the number of bands and the variety of locales, emocore's late-1980s aesthetics remained more-or-less the same: "over-the-top lyrics about feelings wedded to dramatic but decidedly punk music."[33]

Several new bands reinvented emo and carried its core characteristic, the intimacy between bands and fans, into the early 1990s.[34] Chief among them were Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate, who inspired cult followings, redefined emo and brought it a step closer to the mainstream.[34] According to Andy Greenwald,

Sunny Day Real Estate was emo's head and Jawbreaker its busted gut—the two overlapped in the heart, then broke up before they made it big. Each had a lasting impact on the world of independent music. The bands shared little else but fans, and yet somehow the combination of the two lays down a fairly effective blueprint for everything that was labeled emo for the next decade.[34]

In the wake of the 1991 success of Nirvana's Nevermind, underground music and subcultures were widely noticed in the United States. New distribution networks emerged, touring routes were codified, and regional and independent acts accessed the national stage.[34] Young people across the country became fans of independent music, and punk culture became mainstream.[34] In this new musical climate, the aesthetics of emo also expanded into the mainstream and altered its perception. "Punk rock no-nos like the cult of personality and artistic abstraction suddenly become de rigueur", writes Greenwald. "If one definition of emo has always been music that felt like a secret, Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate were cast in the roles of the biggest gossips of all, reigning as the largest influences on every emo band that came after them."[35]

Andy Greenwald called Jawbreaker "the Rosetta Stone of contemporary emo".[35] Emerging from the late-1980s and early-1990s San Francisco punk-rock scene and forming in New York City, Jawbreaker's songs combined hardcore punk with pop punk sensibilities and mid-1980s emocore.[35][37] Singer-guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach focused his lyrics on personal, immediate topics often taken from his journal.[38] Often obscure and cloaked in metaphors, their relationship to Schwarzenbach's concerns gave his words a bitterness and frustration which made them universal and attractive to audiences.[39]

Schwarzenbach became emo's first idol, as listeners related to the singer even more than to his songs.[39] Jawbreaker's 1994 album, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, was popular with fans and is a touchstone of mid-1990s emo.[40] Although the band signed with Geffen Records and toured with Nirvana and Green Day, their 1995 album Dear You sold poorly; they broke up soon afterwards, with Schwarzenbach forming Jets to Brazil.[41] Jawbreaker influenced later successful emo and pop-punk bands.[42]

Sunny Day Real Estate formed in Seattle at the height of the early-1990s grunge boom.[44] Unlike Jawbreaker, its members were accomplished musicians with good equipment, musical ambitions, intricate songwriting and a sweeping sound.[43] Frontman Jeremy Enigk sang desperately in falsetto about losing himself in something greater, often with haphazard lyrics and made-up words.[45] The music video for "Seven", lead track of the band's romantic debut album Diary (1994), was played on MTV.[46] Sunny Day Real Estate's ambitious sound challenged other bands to reach further in sentiment, instrumentation and metaphor, and was a generational shift from grunge to emo.[43] Another emo band which emerged at the same time was California's Weezer,[47] which also released its debut album in 1994. Known as Weezer and the Blue Album, it sold over 3,300,000 copies in the United States.[48] According to NME, Weezer's debut album "pretty much invented emo's melodic wing".[49] Jimmy Eat World, an Arizona emo band, also emerged at this time. Influenced by pop-punk bands such as the Mr. T Experience and Horace Pinker,[50] Jimmy Eat World released its self-titled debut album in 1994.[51]

Other emo-leaning punk bands soon followed suit, and the word "emo" began to lose its vagueness and refer to romantic, emotionally-overbearing music distant from the political nature of punk rock.[52] Sunny Day Real Estate broke up after Diary; guitarist Jeremy Enigk became a born-again Christian and began a solo career, and the other members drifted into new projects (including the Foo Fighters). Releasing three more albums in a series of breakups and reunions, they are remembered primarily for their debut album and the shift it made in the tastes of underground-rock fans.[53] Despite emo's reinvention in the 1990s, bands such as Policy of 3[54] and Hoover[55][56][56] retained a post-hardcore-oriented emo sound.

1994–1997: Underground popularity

The American punk and indie rock movements, which had been largely underground since the early 1980s, became part of mainstream culture during the mid-1990s. With Nirvana's success, major record labels capitalized on the popularity of alternative rock and other underground music by signing and promoting independent bands.[57] In 1994, the same year that Jawbreaker's 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and Sunny Day Real Estate's Diary were released, Green Day and the Offspring had multi-platinum success with Dookie and Smash. After underground music went mainstream, emo retreated and reformed as a national subculture over the next few years.[57] Inspired by Jawbreaker, Drive Like Jehu and Fugazi, the new emo was a mixture of hardcore punk passion and indie-rock intelligence, with punk rock's anthemic power and do-it-yourself work ethic but smoother songs, sloppier melodies and yearning vocals.[58]

Cap'n Jazz onstage
Cap'n Jazz live in 2010

Many new emo bands—such as Chicago's Cap'n Jazz,[59] ChampaignUrbana, Illinois' Braid, Denver's Christie Front Drive, Austin, Texas' Mineral, Mesa, Arizona's Jimmy Eat World, Kansas City, Missouri's the Get Up Kids and Milwaukee's the Promise Ring—originated in the central U.S.[60] According to Andy Greenwald, "This was the period when emo earned many, if not all, of the stereotypes that have lasted to this day: boy-driven, glasses-wearing, overly sensitive, overly brainy, chiming-guitar-driven college music."[58] Many of the bands had a distinct vocal style and guitar melodies, which was later called midwest emo.[61]

New York City-based Texas Is the Reason bridged the gap between indie rock and emo in their three-year lifespan on the East Coast, melding Sunny Day Real Estate's melodies and punk musicianship and singing directly to the listener.[62] In New Jersey, the melodic hardcore Lifetime played shows in fans' basements.[63] Their 1995 album, Hello Bastards on Jade Tree Records, fused hardcore with emo and eschewed cynicism and irony in favor of love songs.[63] The album sold tens of thousands of copies,[64] and Lifetime inspired the New Jersey and Long Island emo bands Brand New, Glassjaw, Midtown,[65] The Movielife, My Chemical Romance,[65] Saves the Day,[65][66] Senses Fail,[65] Taking Back Sunday[64][65] and Thursday.[65][67]

The Promise Ring's music took a slower, smoother, pop punk approach to hardcore riffs, blending them with singer Davey von Bohlen's imagist lyrics delivered in a froggy croon and pronounced lisp and playing shows in basements and VFW halls.[68] Jade Tree released their debut album, 30° Everywhere, in 1996; it sold tens of thousands of copies and was successful by independent standards.[69] Greenwald describes the album as "like being hit in the head with cotton candy."[70] Other bands, such as Karate, the Van Pelt, Joan of Arc and the Shyness Clinic, incorporated post-rock and noise rock into emo.[71] Their common lyrical thread was "applying big questions to small scenarios."[71]

A cornerstone of mid-1990s emo was Weezer's 1996 album, Pinkerton.[73] After the success of their multi-platinum debut, Pinkerton moved from the multi-platinum debut's sound to a darker, more-abrasive sound.[74][75] Frontman Rivers Cuomo's songs focused on messy, manipulative sex and his insecurity about dealing with celebrity.[75] A critical and commercial failure,[75][76] Rolling Stone called it the second-worst album of the year.[77] Cuomo retreated from the public eye,[75] later referring to the album as "hideous" and "a hugely painful mistake".[78] However, Pinkerton found enduring appeal with young people who were discovering alternative rock and identified with its confessional lyrics and theme of rejection.[72] Sales grew steadily due to word of mouth, online message boards and Napster.[72] "Although no one was paying attention", writes Greenwald, "perhaps because no one was paying attention—Pinkerton became the most important emo album of the decade."[72]

Weezer returned in 2000 with a pop-oriented sound. Cuomo refused to play songs from Pinkerton, calling it "ugly" and "embarrassing".[79] However, the album maintained its appeal and attained good sales and critical praise for introducing emo to a mainstream audience.[80]

Mid-1990s emo was embodied by Mineral, whose The Power of Failing (1997) and EndSerenading (1998) encapsulated emo tropes: somber music, accompanied by a shy narrator singing seriously about mundane problems.[81] Greenwald calls "If I Could" "the ultimate expression of mid-nineties emo. The song's short synopsis—she is beautiful, I am weak, dumb, and shy; I am alone but am surprisingly poetic when left alone—sums up everything that emo's adherents admired and its detractors detested."[81] Another significant band was Braid, whose 1998 album Frame and Canvas and B-side song "Forever Got Shorter" blurred the line between band and listener; the group mirrored their audience in passion and sentiment, and sang in their fans' voice.[82]

Although mid-1990s emo had thousands of young fans, it did not enter the national consciousness.[84] A few bands were offered contracts with major record labels, but most broke up before they could capitalize on the opportunity.[85] Jimmy Eat World signed to Capitol Records in 1995 and developed a following with their album, Static Prevails, but did not break into the mainstream; their music was largely obscured by the popularity of ska punk.[86] The Promise Ring were the most commercially successful emo band of the time, with sales of their 1997 album Nothing Feels Good reaching the mid-five figures.[84] Greenwald calls the album "the pinnacle of its generation of emo: a convergence of pop and punk, of resignation and celebration, of the lure of girlfriends and the pull of friends, bandmates, and the road";[87] mid-1990s emo was "the last subculture made of vinyl and paper instead of plastic and megabytes."[88]

1997–2002: Increased popularity

Emo's popularity grew during the late 1990s, laying the foundation for mainstream success. However, older emo bands distanced themselves as the music business began to see the genre's marketing potential:

As the '90s wore to a close, the music that was being labeled emo was making a connection with a larger and larger group of people. the aspects of it that were the most contagious—the sensitivity, hooks, and average-guy appeal—were also the easiest to latch onto, replicate, and mass market. As with any phenomenon—exactly like what happened with Sunny Day [Real Estate]—when business enters into a high-stakes, highly personal sphere, things tend to go awry very quickly ... As fans threatened to storm the emo bandwagon, the groups couldn't jump off of it fast enough. The popularity and bankability of the word—if not the music—transformed an affiliation with the mid-nineties version of emo into an albatross.[89]

Deep Elm Records releas a series of eleven compilation albums, The Emo Diaries, from 1997 to 2007.[90] Emphasizing unreleased music from unsigned bands, the series included Jimmy Eat World, Further Seems Forever, Samiam and The Movielife.[90] Its diversity of bands and musical styles indicated that emo was more of a shared aesthetic than a genre, and the series helped define the term in the underground-music community.[89]

Jimmy Eat World's 1999 album, Clarity, was a touchstone for later emo bands.[93] In 2003, Andy Greenwald called it "one of the most fiercely beloved rock 'n' roll records of the last decade. It is name-checked by every single contemporary emo band as their favorite album, as a mind-bending milemarker that proved that punk rock could be tuneful, emotional, wide-ranging, and ambitious."[93] Despite a warm critical reception and the promotion of "Lucky Denver Mint" in the Drew Barrymore comedy Never Been Kissed, Clarity was commercially unsuccessful in a musical climate dominated by teen pop and the band left Capitol Records the following year.[91][92] Nevertheless, the album had steady word-of-mouth popularity and eventually sold over 70,000 copies.[94] Jimmy Eat World self-financed their next album, Bleed American (2001), before signing with Dreamworks Records. The album sold 30,000 copies in its first week, went gold shortly afterwards and went platinum in 2002 as emo entered the mainstream.[95]

Drive-Thru Records (founded in 1996) developed a roster of primarily pop punk bands with emo characteristics, including Midtown, The Starting Line, The Movielife and Something Corporate.[96] Drive-Thru's partnership with MCA Records enabled its brand of emo-inflected pop to reach a wider audience.[97] The label's greatest early success was New Found Glory,[97] whose eponymous 2000 album reached number 107 on the Billboard 200[98] and single "Hit or Miss" reached number 15 on the Alternative Songs chart.[99] Drive-Thru's unabashedly populist, capitalist approach to music allowed its bands' albums and merchandise to sell in stores such as Hot Topic:[100]

In a world where cars are advertised as punk, Green Day members are platinum rock stars, and getting pierced and tatted up is as natural as a sweet-sixteen party, everyone is free to come up with their own definition of punk—and everyone is ready to embrace it. Emo had always connected with young people—it had just never aggressively marketed itself to them.[101]

the four-man Saves the Day, photographed against a white clapboard wall with peeling paint
Saves the Day was called an "emo flagship band" by the Los Angeles Times.[9]

Independent label Vagrant Records signed several successful late-1990s and early-2000s emo bands. The Get Up Kids had sold over 15,000 copies of their debut album, Four Minute Mile (1997), before signing with Vagrant. The label promoted them aggressively, sending them on tours opening for Green Day and Weezer.[102] Their 1999 album, Something to Write Home About, reaching number 31 on Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart.[103] Vagrant signed and recorded a number of other emo-related bands over the next two years, including The Anniversary, Reggie and the Full Effect, The New Amsterdams, Alkaline Trio, Saves the Day, Dashboard Confessional, Hey Mercedes and Hot Rod Circuit.[104] Saves the Day had developed a substantial East Coast following and sold almost 50,000 copies of their second album, Through Being Cool (1999),[66] before signing with Vagrant and releasing Stay What You Are (2001). The latter sold 15,000 copies in its first week,[105] reached number 100 on the Billboard 200[106] and sold over 200,000 copies.[107] Blink-182, not otherwise known as an emo band, recorded "Adam's Song" in 1999.[108] The song, from Blink-182's multi-platinum[109] album Enema of the State, was number two on the Alternative Songs chart.[110]

Vagrant organized a national tour with every band on its label, sponsored by corporations including Microsoft and Coca-Cola, during the summer of 2001. Its populist approach and use of the internet as a marketing tool made it one of the country's most-successful independent labels and helped popularize the word "emo".[111] According to Greenwald, "More than any other event, it was Vagrant America that defined emo to masses—mainly because it had the gumption to hit the road and bring it to them."[105]

2002–2010: Mainstream

Guitarist singing onstage, backlit by a green light
Jimmy Eat World's 2001 single "The Middle" topped Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart, bringing emo to a mainstream audience.

Emo broke into the mainstream media during the summer of 2002.[112] Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American album went platinum on the strength of "The Middle", which topped Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart.[112][113][114] Dashboard Confessional reached number 22 on the chart with "Screaming Infidelities"[115] from their Vagrant Records debut album, The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most (which was number five on the Independent Albums chart),[116] and was the first non-platinum-selling artist to record an episode of MTV Unplugged.[112] The resulting live album topped the Independent Albums chart in 2003, and went platinum.[116][117] New Found Glory's album, Sticks and Stones, debuted at number four on the Billboard 200.[112][118] The Get Up Kids' 2002 album, On a Wire, peaked at number 57 on the Billboard 200 and number three on Top Independent Albums chart. Their 2004 album, Guilt Show, peaked at number 58 on the Billboard 200.[119]

Saves the Day toured with Green Day, Blink-182 and Weezer, playing in large arenas such as Madison Square Garden.[120] By the end of the year they had performed on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, appeared on the cover of Alternative Press and had music videos for "At Your Funeral" and "Freakish" in rotation on MTV2.[105][107] Taking Back Sunday released their debut album, Tell All Your Friends, on Victory Records in 2002. The album gave the band a taste of success in the emo scene with singles such as "Cute Without the 'E' (Cut from the Team)" and "You're So Last Summer". Initially charting at number 183 on the Billboard 200, Tell All Your Friends was eventually certified gold by the RIAA and is considered one of emo's most-influential albums. Articles on Vagrant Records appeared in Time and Newsweek,[121] and the word "emo" became a catchall term for non-mainstream pop music.[122] Andy Greenwald attributes emo's explosion into the mainstream to a media search for the "next big thing" in the wake of the September 11 attacks:

The media business, so desperate for its self-obsessed, post-9/11 predictions of a return to austerity and the death of irony to come true, had found its next big thing. But it was barely a "thing", because no one had heard of it, and those who had couldn't define it. Despite the fact that the hedonistic, materialistic hip-hop of Nelly was still dominating the charts, magazine readers in the summer of '02 were informed that the nation was deep in an introverted healing process, and the way it was healing was by wearing thick black glasses and vintage striped shirts. Emo, we were told, would heal us all through fashion.[123]

Taking Back Sunday on a smoky stage
Taking Back Sunday performing on August 24, 2007
The All-American Rejects on a less-smoky stage
The All-American Rejects performing on December 4, 2006

In the wake of this success, many emo bands were signed to major record labels and the genre became marketable.[124] According to Dreamworks Records senior A&R representative Luke Wood, "The industry really does look at emo as the new raprock, or the new grunge. I don't think that anyone is listening to the music that's being made—they're thinking of how they're going to take advantage of the sound's popularity at retail."[125] Emo's apolitical nature, catchy music and accessible themes had a broad appeal for the young, mainstream audience. Taking Back Sunday had continued success in the next few years, with their 2004 album Where You Want To Be reaching number three on the Billboard 200. The album's second single, "This Photograph is Proof (I Know You Know)", appeared on the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack. The band's 2006 album, Louder Now, reached number two on the Billboard 200. Both albums were certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America; Where You Want To Be sold 667,000 copies by September 2005, and Louder Now sold over 900,000 copies by June 9, 2008. The All-American Rejects' self-titled album was certified platinum by the RIAA;[126] "Swing, Swing", a track from the album, reached number 60 on the Billboard Hot 100.[127] Their album Move Along was certified double platinum by the RIAA;[128] its single, "Dirty Little Secret", reached number nine on the Billboard Hot 100[127] and was certified platinum by the RIAA.[129] Canadian emo band Simple Plan's 2002 album, No Pads, No Helmets...Just Balls was certified double platinum by the RIAA[130] and Music Canada;[131] their 2004 album, Still Not Getting Any..., was certified platinum by the RIAA[132] and quadruple platinum by Music Canada.[133] Hawthorne Heights' 2004 album, The Silence in Black and White, sold 929,000 copies in the United States.[134] Their 2006 album, If Only You Were Lonely, sold 114,000 copies in its first week of release.[135]

My Chemical Romance, dressed in black, onstage
My Chemical Romance in February 2007
AFI onstage, backlit by blue-and-purple lights
AFI concert in July 2006

Other emo bands which achieved mainstream success during the 2000s included My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, AFI, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Boys Like Girls, Panic! at the Disco and Paramore. My Chemical Romance's second album, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, was certified platinum by the RIAA in 2005.[136] The band's success continued with its third album, The Black Parade, which sold 240,000 copies in its first week of release[137] and was certified platinum by the RIAA in less than a year.[138] Fall Out Boy's album, From Under the Cork Tree, sold 2,700,000 copies in the United States.[139] The band's album, Infinity on High, topped the Billboard 200, sold 260,000 copies in its first week of release[140] and sold 1,400,000 copies in the United States.[139] "Sugar, We're Goin' Down" reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100,[141] and "Dance, Dance" reached number nine on the chart.[141] Also, Fall Out Boy's song "Thnks fr th Mmrs" went to number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.[141] Panic! at the Disco's album, A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, was certified double platinum by the RIAA;[142] its single, "I Write Sins Not Tragedies", reached number seven on the Billboard Hot 100[143] and was certified quadruple platinum by the RIAA.[144] The Boys Like Girls singles "Hero/Heroine",[145] "The Great Escape"[146] and "Thunder"[147] were certified gold or platinum by the RIAA. The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus' "Face Down" peaked at number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100[148] and its album, Don't You Fake It, sold 852,000 copies in the United States.[149] AFI's albums Sing the Sorrow and Decemberunderground were certified platinum by the RIAA,[150][151] with the latter topping the Billboard 200.[152] Paramore's album, Riot!, was certified double platinum by the RIAA;[153] their song, "Misery Business", peaked at number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100[154] and was certified triple platinum by the RIAA.[155]

Underoath onstage, gesturing to the crowd
Screamo band Underoath in 2005

A darker, more aggressive style of emo was also becoming popular. New Jersey–based Thursday signed a multimillion-dollar, multi-album contract with Island Def Jam after their 2001 album, Full Collapse, reached umber 178 on the Billboard 200.[156] Their music was more political and lacked pop hooks and anthems, influenced instead by The Smiths, Joy Division, and The Cure However, the band's accessibility, basement-show roots and touring with Saves the Day made them part of the emo movement.[157] Thursday's 2003 album, War All the Time, reached number seven on the Billboard 200.[158]

Hawthorne Heights, Story of the Year, Underoath, and Alexisonfire, four bands frequently featured on MTV, have popularized screamo.[159] Other American screamo bands include Comadre,[160] Off Minor, Men As Trees,[161] Senses Fail[162][163] and Vendetta Red.[159] Screamo bands, including Funeral for a Friend and Le Pré Où Je Suis Mort, are popular in Europe.[164][165] Underoath's albums They're Only Chasing Safety (2004)[166] and Define the Great Line (2006)[167] were certified gold by the RIAA, and the Used's self-titled album (2002)[168] and In Love and Death (2004)[169] were also certified gold. Four Alexisonfire albums were certified gold or platinum in Canada.[170][171][172][173]

2010s: Decline and mainly underground revival

During the early 2010s, emo's popularity began to wane. Some bands broke up or moved away from their emo roots;[174] My Chemical Romance's album, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, has a traditional pop punk style.[175] Paramore and Fall Out Boy's 2013 albums, Paramore and Save Rock and Roll, distanced themselves from emo.[176] Panic! at the Disco moved away from their emo pop roots to a synth-pop style on Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!.[177] Many bands (including My Chemical Romance,[178][179] Alexisonfire,[180] and Thursday)[181] broke up, raising concerns about the genre's viability.[182]

In a later-2010s emo revival,[183][184][185] bands have been inspired by the sound and aesthetics of 1990s and early-2000s emo. Mainly underground artists who have been part of the movement are Modern Baseball,[186] The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die,[183][187][185] A Great Big Pile of Leaves,[183] Pianos Become the Teeth,[185] Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate),[183] Touché Amoré,[183][187] Into It. Over It.,[183][187] and the Hotelier.[188] Modern emo bands with a more hardcore punk style include Title Fight[189] and Small Brown Bike.[190]

Subgenres

Emo pop

Emo pop (also known as emo pop punk) is a subgenre of both emo and pop punk,[191] known for its more concise songs and hook-filled choruses. AllMusic describes emo pop as blending "youthful angst" with "slick production" and mainstream appeal, using "high-pitched melodies, rhythmic guitars, and lyrics concerning adolescence, relationships, and heartbreak."[192] The Guardian described emo pop as a cross between "saccharine boy-band pop" and emo.[193]

Weezer's Pinkerton (1996) was seen by Spin as "a groundbreaking record for all the emo-pop that would follow."[194] According to Nicole Keiper of CMJ, Sense Field's Building (1996) pushed the band "into the emo-pop camp with the likes of the Get Up Kids and Jejune".[195] As emo became commercially successful in the early 2000s, emo pop became popular with Jimmy Eat World's 2001 album Bleed American and the success of its single "The Middle".[192]

Blurry photo of the Get Up Kids onstage
The Get Up Kids at the Bowery Ballroom in 2000

Emo pop developed during the 1990s. Bands like Jawbreaker and Samiam are known for formulating the emo pop punk style.[196] Jimmy Eat World,[192] the Get Up Kids[197] and the Promise Ring[198] also are early emo pop bands. The emo pop style of Jimmy Eat World's album, Clarity[199] influenced later emo.[200]

Emo pop became successful during the late 1990s, with its popularity increasing in the early 2000s. The Get Up Kids sold over 15,000 copies of their debut album, Four Minute Mile (1997), before signing with Vagrant Records. The label promoted them, sending them on tours to open for Green Day and Weezer.[102] Their 1999 album, Something to Write Home About, reached number 31 on Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart.[103]

Band performing onstage
Fall Out Boy performing in 2006

As emo pop coalesced, the Fueled by Ramen label became a center of the movement and signed Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, and Paramore (all of whom had been successful).[192] Two regional scenes developed. The Florida scene was created by Fueled by Ramen; midwest emo-pop was promoted by Pete Wentz, whose Fall Out Boy rose to the forefront of the style during the mid-2000s.[192][201][202] Cash Cash released Take It to the Floor (2008); according to AllMusic, it could be "the definitive statement of airheaded, glittery, and content-free emo-pop[203] ... the transformation of emo from the expression of intensely felt, ripped-from-the-throat feelings played by bands directly influenced by post-punk and hardcore to mall-friendly Day-Glo pop played by kids who look about as authentic as the "punks" on an old episode of Quincy did back in the '70s was made pretty much complete".[203] You Me at Six released their 2008 debut album, Take Off Your Colours, described by AllMusic's Jon O'Brien as "follow[ing] the 'emo-pop for dummies' handbook word-for-word."[204] The album was certified gold in the UK.[205]

Screamo

A vocalist among fans
The screamo band Pg. 99

The term "screamo" was initially applied to an aggressive offshoot of emo which developed in San Diego in 1991 and used short songs grafting "spastic intensity to willfully experimental dissonance and dynamics."[206] Screamo is a dissonant form of emo influenced by hardcore punk,[159] with typical rock instrumentation and noted for short songs, chaotic execution and screaming vocals.

The Used, a musical quartet
The Used's self-titled album was called "one of the masterworks of the screamo movement" by The Kansas City Star.[207]

The genre is "generally based in the aggressive side of the overarching punk-revival scene."[159] It began at the Ché Café[208] with groups such as Heroin, Antioch Arrow,[209] Angel Hair, Mohinder, Swing Kids, and Portraits of Past.[210] They were influenced by Washington, D.C. post-hardcore (particularly Fugazi and Nation of Ulysses),[206] straight edge, the Chicago group Articles of Faith, the hardcore-punk band Die Kreuzen[211] and the post-punk and gothic rock bands like Bauhaus.[206] I Hate Myself is a band described as "a cornerstone of the 'screamo' genre" by author Matt Walker:[212] "Musically, I Hate Myself relied on being very slow and deliberate, with sharp contrasts between quiet, almost meditative segments that rip into loud and heavy portions driven by Jim Marburger's tidal wave scream."[213]

The Used, Thursday, Thrice and Poison the Well, who all formed in the United States during the late 1990s and early 2000s and remained active throughout the 2000s, helped popularize screamo.[159] Post-hardcore bands such as Refused and At the Drive-In paved the way for these bands.[159] Screamo bands from the Canadian emo scene such as Silverstein[214] and Alexisonfire[215] also emerged at this time. By the mid-2000s, the saturation of the screamo scene caused many bands to expand beyond the genre and incorporate more-experimental elements.[159] Non-screamo bands used the genre's characteristic guttural vocal style.[159]

Jeff Mitchell of the Iowa State Daily wrote, "There is no set definition of what screamo sounds like but screaming over once deafeningly loud rocking noise and suddenly quiet, melodic guitar lines is a theme commonly affiliated with the genre."[216] Comadre vocalist Juan Gabe said that the term "has been kind of tainted in a way, especially in the States."[160]

Emo hip hop


Young man with both pink hair and a red shirt
Emo hip hop musician Lil Peep in August 2016

Emo hip hop is a genre that fuses hip hop with emo that emerged in the mid-2010s. Emo hip hop has been noted to stray away from the more "street life" tone and lyrics from regular hip hop and use more emotional and personal lyrics as a substitute.[217] It also goes for a softer sound, often found in conscious hip hop, using indie rock instruments and other instruments normally found in emo music.[218] Horse Head of the emo hip hop collective Gothboiclique has described the genre as "...sort of nostalgic, but it's new too...no one's really done shit like this. It's like emo rap and melodic trap".[219]

Although emo hip hop typically uses real instruments and sampling is often kept to a bare minimum, some artists sample 2000s pop punk and emo songs, a fusion first popularized by MC Lars in 2004.[220][221][222][223] A lot of the sampling is due to the artists who inspired the genre, such as Underoath and Brand New,[224] and is usually accompanied by original instruments. Prominent artists of emo hip hop include Lil Peep,[225] XXXTentacion,[226] and nothing,nowhere.[227][228]

Fashion and subculture

Young man and woman in dark emo dress
During the 2000s, emo fashion changed from being clean-cut to more punk.

Emo fashion was originally clean-cut and tended towards geek chic.[229] A 2002 Honolulu Advertiser article compared the style to Fred Rogers', noting differences between emo and goth or hip-hop styles: V-neck sweaters, white dress shirts and fitted, cuffed jeans.[229] The Advertiser described emo fashion as sweaters, tight shirts, horn-rimmed glasses (like those worn by Buddy Holly), dyed black hair and fitted, flat-front jeans.[229]

As emo entered the mainstream, it became a subculture.[230] Emo fashion included skinny jeans, tight T-shirts (usually short-sleeved, and often with the names of emo bands), studded belts, Converse sneakers, Vans and black wristbands.[231][232] Thick, horn-rimmed glasses remained in style,[231] and eyeliner and black fingernails became common during the mid-2000s.[233][230] The best-known facet of emo fashion is its hairstyle: flat, straight, usually jet-black hair with long bangs covering much of the face,[232] which has been called a fad.[232] Emo fashion has been confused with goth[234] and scene fashion.[235]

As emo became a subculture, people who dressed in emo fashion and associated themselves with its music were known as "emo kids" or "emos".[232] My Chemical Romance,[233][232] Hawthorne Heights,[232] AFI,[232] Dashboard Confessional,[236][237] Simple Plan,[238][237] Brand New,[237] From First to Last,[237] Armor for Sleep,[237] Aiden,[230] Fall Out Boy,[232][239] Taking Back Sunday,[240] Death Cab for Cutie, the Used,[230] Finch,[230] Panic! at the Disco[238] and Paramore[238] all are bands that people of the emo subculture are known for listening to.

Criticism and controversy

Stereotypes

Emo has been associated with a stereotype of emotion, sensitivity, shyness, introversion or angst.[8][241][242] Other stereotypes include depression, self-harm and suicide.[243][232]

Suicide and self harm

Emo music was blamed for the suicide by hanging of teenager Hannah Bond by the coroner at her inquest and her mother, Heather Bond, with emo music reportedly glamorizing suicide; Hannah's apparent obsession with My Chemical Romance was said to be linked to her death. It was said at the inquest that she was part of an Internet "emo cult",[244] and an image of an emo girl with bloody wrists was on her Bebo page.[245] Hannah reportedly discussed the "glamour" of hanging online,[244] and told her parents that her self-harm was an "emo initiation ceremony".[245] Heather Bond criticised emo culture: "There are 'emo' websites that show pink teddies hanging themselves."[245] After the coroner's verdict was reported in NME, fans of emo music contacted the magazine to deny that it promoted self-harm and suicide.[246] My Chemical Romance reacted online to the suicide of Hannah Bond: "We have recently learned of the suicide and tragic loss of Hannah Bond. We’d like to send our condolences to her family during this time of mourning. Our hearts and thoughts are with them".[247] The band also posted that they "are and always have been vocally anti-violence and anti-suicide".[247]

Paramore onstage
Paramore is an emo band with a female vocalist.

Gender bias

Emo has been criticized for its androcentrism.[248] According to Andy Greenwald, there are few women in emo bands and they have little influence on lyrical content: "Though emo—and to a certain degree, punk—has always been a typically male province, the monotony of the labels' gender perspective can be overwhelming."[249] Emo's popularity and its "lonely boy's aesthetic" have led to a litany of one-sided songs in which men vent their fury at the women who have wronged them.[249] Some emo bands' lyrics disguise violent anti-women sentiments with a pop-music veneer.[250]

Despite emo's frequent portrayal of women as powerless victims, the genre is popular with both genders and some bands are more popular with women than with men.[251] Greenwald writes that emo's unifying appeal, its expression of emotional devastation, can be appreciated by both sexes regardless of a song's specific subject.[252]

See caption
"Fuck emo" graffiti in Mexico

Backlash

The genre experienced a backlash in response to its rapid growth. Some bands, such as Panic! at the Disco[253] and My Chemical Romance,[254] rejected the emo label for its social stigma and controversy. Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman said that there was a "real backlash" by bands on the tour against emo groups, but he dismissed the hostility as "juvenile".[255] The backlash intensified, with Time reporting in 2008 that anti-emo groups attacked teenagers in Mexico City, Querétaro, and Tijuana.[256][257] Legislation was proposed in Russia's Duma regulating emo websites and banning emo attire in schools and government buildings, with the subculture perceived as a "dangerous teen trend" promoting anti-social behaviour, depression, social withdrawal and suicide.[258][259] The BBC reported that in March 2012, Shia militias in Iraq shot or beat to death as many as 58 young Iraqi emos.[260]

See also

References

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Bibliography

External links