What is Emo Anyway?


I’ve been largely oblivious to the emo movement in music and youth culture, but being a pop music fan I feel I should find out a little about this recent mass-market outgrowth of the hardcore punk scene. Opportunity struck in the most recent issue of kids’ mag Kamratposten left on the john by my 9-y-o son. Enthroned, I found a feature piece about a heavily eyelinered 14-y-o Stockholm emo-subculture girl, with a list of five emo bands deemed important by her. I read up about them on Allmusic, and offer the list with my commentary in the following for anyone who wants to learn about emo music.

  • My Chemical Romance. USA. Album debut 2002. Big MTV band with a platinum-selling album. Pic above.
  • Tokio Hotel. Germany. Album debut 2005. A single topped the German pop chart in August ’05. “The follow-ups ‘Rette Mich’ and ‘Der Letzte Tag’ also hit number one, although the former appeared in a re-recorded version dramatically different from its LP version thanks to Kaulitz’s post-pubescent vocal changes.”
  • Panic! At the Disco. USA. Album debut 2005. MTV Video of the Year 2006.
  • From First to Last. USA. Album debut 2004, titled Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Bodycount. Second album on US Top-40.
  • Jimmy Eat World. USA. Album debut 1996. A 2001 album sold 1.3 million copies in the U.S.

Says an anonymous writer at Allmusic:

“Originally an arty outgrowth of hardcore punk, emo became an important force in underground rock by the late ’90s, appealing to modern-day punks and indie-rockers alike. 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. Emo lyrics are deeply personal, usually either free-associative poetry or intimate confessionals. Though it’s far less macho, emo is a direct descendant of hardcore’s preoccupations with authenticity and anti-commercialism; it grew out of the conviction that commercially oriented music was too artificial and calculated to express any genuine emotion. Because the emo ideal is authentic, deeply felt emotion that defies rational analysis, the style can be prone to excess in its quest for ever-bigger peaks and releases. But at its best, emo has a sweeping power that manages to be visceral, challenging, and intimate all at once.”

I wonder what was wrong with me at fourteen. Back then I loved Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk, who were neither visceral, challenging nor intimate. And I was at least sixteen before I wore any eyeliner.

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11 thoughts on “What is Emo Anyway?

  1. I was fairly into “emo” when I started college, but since then I’ve fallen out of it (being married doesn’t give me any real relationship angst to cry about). In fact, this article seems to be a little bit late; most analysis I’ve seen on the genre trace it back to bands like Fugazi, then on to the artsy work of Jimmy Eat World, Death Cab for Cutie, and Sunny Day Real Estate, then on to the more poppy acoustic style of Dashboard Confessional, culminating in the more aggressive songs of Hawthorne Heights, My Chemical Romance, etc. Overall, I find the whole genre to be immature; lines about suicide, cutting wrists, thoughts of homicide because of unrequited love, etc. abound in a lot of hits from popular emo groups, and the rise & fall of the modern emo band is almost like a vicious cycle; garage band gets together and sings saccharine songs about members of the opposite sex that they can’t be with, band gets signed to an indie label but can’t foster any relationship because they have to tour, band writes about failed relationships and becomes more nasty/aggressive (Fall Out Boy is the best example of this).

    Anyway, apologies for the long comment, but I just thought I would throw in my thoughts on a genre that I used to identify with 6 years ago, but which I’ve thankfully realized is little more than passive-aggressive whining.


  2. From my point of view, emo (and everything else on MTV) is the business of 14-y-os. I don’t know what the genre meant six years ago, but currently it seems to mean the five listed bands among Swedish kids.


  3. The very same issue of Kamratposten was sampled by me as well a few days ago and caused me to try out some stuff by My Chemical Romance which I found pretty listenable.


  4. I wonder if the marketing people are aware of this meme vector: dads in their early middle age reading their kids’ mags and picking up on stuff aimed at teens. (-;


  5. Martin! Not you too! Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode is terrific stuff, but the EMO thing is horrific and evil by itself. The EMO-meme is horrible sentimental shite and must be stopped! Why aren’t anybody doing something?


  6. Emo is dangerous! I’ve seen it with my own eyes. When you see a group of kids that dress in a similar way, listen to the same type of music, and cut together in groups, you reach that conclusion. Anyway. Look at this site:


    You’ll get all the information you need there! I’m a teacher, I see this most every day. Get informed!


  7. Emo is a scourge on society. It promotes bullying and harassment and all sorts of mental disorders.

    For an insight into the minds of Emo’s I recommend that you check out the comments section of the a lot of the posts that appear in the blog below.


    They are clearly posted by seriously deranged invididuals.


  8. well …. emo is actually just an art in music and not supposed to be an attitude. some kids like doing those things cause they think it’s good on doing it. it was an idiocy on making it a style in your life.


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