|Cultural origins||Mid-1980s, Washington, D.C., United States|
Emo // is a loosely categorized rock music genre characterized by expressive, often confessional, lyrics. It emerged as a style of post-hardcore from the mid-1980s hardcore punk movement of Washington, D.C., where it was known as "emotional hardcore" or "emocore" and pioneered by bands such as Rites of Spring and Embrace. However, as emo was echoed by contemporary American punk rock bands, its sound and meaning shifted and changed and it was reinvented as a style of indie rock and pop punk encapsulated in the early 1990s by bands such as Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate. By the mid-1990s, numerous emo acts formed in the Midwestern and Central United States, and several independent record labels began to specialize in the genre. Meanwhile, a more aggressive style of emo, screamo, had also emerged.
Emo broke into mainstream culture in the early 2000s with the platinum-selling success of Jimmy Eat World and Dashboard Confessional. In the wake of this success, many emo bands were signed to major record labels and the style became a marketable product. By the early 2010s, the popularity of emo began to decrease. Some bands moved away from their emo roots and some bands disbanded. An underground "emo revival" emerged in the 2010s, with bands drawing on the sounds and aesthetics of emo of the 1990s and early 2000s.
The term "emo" has been applied by critics and journalists to a variety of artists, including multi-platinum acts and groups with disparate styles and sounds. In addition to music, "emo" is often used more generally to signify a particular relationship between fans and artists, and to describe related aspects of fashion, culture, and behavior. Emo has been associated with a stereotype that includes being particularly emotional, sensitive, shy, introverted, or angst-ridden. It has also been associated with stereotypes like depression, self-harm, and suicide.
While emo originated in hardcore punk and has been considered a subgenre of post-hardcore, it has also been associated with indie rock and pop punk. The fusion of emo with pop punk is also known as emo pop. 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". Lyrics, which are a key focus in the genre, are typically emotional and often personal, dealing with topics such as failed romance; AllMusic described emo lyrics as "usually either free-associative poetry or intimate confessionals". According to AllMusic, early emo bands were hardcore bands that "favored expressive vocals over the typical barking rants" of regular hardcore and most 1990s emo bands "borrowed from some combination of Fugazi, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Weezer". The New York Times described as 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." Author Matt Diehl described emo as a "more sensitive interpolation of punk's mission".
The 1966 album Pet Sounds by the American rock band the Beach Boys has been characterized as "the first emo album" by Treblezine's Ernest Simpson and Wild Nothing's Jack Tatum. Writer Sean Cureton believes: "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."
In the 1980s, the Washington, D.C. hardcore scene swelled in size with the formation of many hardcore punk and post-hardcore bands. Post-hardcore itself is a more melodic and experimental offshoot of hardcore inspired by post-punk. Hardcore bands that were influential on many early emo bands include Minor Threat, The Faith, Black Flag, and Hüsker Dü.
"Remainder" by Rites of Spring
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Emo originated as an outgrowth of the hardcore punk scene of early 1980s Washington, D.C., both as a reaction to the increased violence within the scene and as an extension of the personal politics espoused by Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, who had turned the focus of the music from the community back towards the individual. Minor Threat fan Guy Picciotto formed Rites of Spring in 1984, breaking free of hardcore's self-imposed boundaries in favor of melodic guitars, varied rhythms, and deeply personal, impassioned lyrics. Many of the band's themes would become familiar tropes in later generations of emo music, including nostalgia, romantic bitterness, and poetic desperation. Their performances became public emotional purges where audience members would sometimes weep. MacKaye became a huge Rites of Spring fan, recording their only album and serving as their roadie, and soon formed a new band of his own called Embrace which explored similar themes of self-searching and emotional release.
Similar bands soon followed in connection with the "Revolution Summer" of 1985, a deliberate attempt by members of the Washington, D.C. scene to break from the rigid constraints of hardcore in favor of a renewed spirit of creativity. Bands such as Gray Matter, Beefeater, Fire Party, Dag Nasty, Soulside, and Kingface were connected to this movement.
The exact origins of the term "emo" are uncertain, but date 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." Michael Azerrad, author of Our Band Could Be Your Life, also traces the word's origins to this time: "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." MacKaye also 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." Other accounts attribute the term to an audience member at an Embrace show, who yelled that the band was "emocore" as an insult. Others contend that MacKaye coined the term when he used it self-mockingly in a magazine, or that it originated with Rites of Spring.
The "emocore" label quickly spread around the Washington, D.C. punk scene and became attached to many of the bands associated with Ian MacKaye's Dischord Records label. Although many of these bands simultaneously rejected the term, it stuck nonetheless. Scene veteran Jenny Toomey has recalled that "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."
The Washington, D.C. emo scene lasted only a few years. By 1986 most of the major bands of the movement—including Rites of Spring, Embrace, Gray Matter, and Beefeater—had broken up. Even so, the ideas and aesthetics originating from the scene spread quickly across the country via a network of homemade zines, vinyl records, and hearsay. According to Greenwald, the Washington, D.C. scene laid the groundwork for all subsequent incarnations of emo:
MacKaye and Picciotto, along with Rites of Spring drummer Brendan Canty, went on to form the highly influential band named Fugazi who, despite sometimes being connected with the term "emo", are not commonly recognized as an emo band.
Reinvention: Early 1990s
As the ideals of the Washington, D.C. emo movement spread across the United States, many bands in numerous local scenes began to emulate the sound as a way to marry the intensity of hardcore with the complex emotions associated with growing older. The style combined the fatalism, theatricality, and outsiderness of The Smiths with the uncompromising and dramatic worldview of hardcore. Although the bands were numerous and the locales varied, the aesthetics of emocore in the late 1980s remained more or less the same: "over-the-top lyrics about feelings wedded to dramatic but decidedly punk music."
However, in the early 1990s, several new bands reinvented the emo style and carried its core characteristic, the intimacy between bands and fans, into the new decade. Chief among these were Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate, both of whom fostered cult followings, recontextualized the word "emo", and brought it a step closer to the mainstream. According to Andy Greenwald:
In the wake of the 1991 success of Nirvana's Nevermind, underground music and subcultures in the United States became big business. New distribution networks emerged, touring routes were codified, and regional and independent acts were able to access the national stage. Teenagers across the country declared themselves fans of independent music, and being punk became mainstream. In this new musical climate, the aesthetics of emo expanded into the mainstream and altered the way the music was perceived: "Punk rock no-nos like the cult of personality and artistic abstraction suddenly become de rigueur", says 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."
"Kiss the Bottle" by Jawbreaker
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Jawbreaker has been referred to as "the Rosetta Stone of contemporary emo". Emerging from the San Francisco punk rock scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s, their songwriting combined the heft of hardcore punk with pop punk sensibilities and the tortured artistry of mid-1980s emocore. Singer/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach focused his lyrics on topics that were personal, immediate, and lived, often lifting them directly from his journal. Though they were often obscure and cloaked in metaphors, their specificity to Schwarzenbach's own concerns gave the words a bitterness and frustration that made them universal and magnetic to audiences.
Schwarzenbach became emo's first idol as listeners related to the singer more than the songs themselves. Jawbreaker's 1994 album 24 Hour Revenge Therapy became their most-loved amongst fans and is a touchstone of mid-1990s emo. The band signed to major label Geffen Records and toured with Nirvana and Green Day, but their 1995 album Dear You sold poorly and they broke up soon after, with Schwarzenbach later forming Jets to Brazil. Their influence lived on, however, through later successful emo and pop punk bands openly indebted to Jawbreaker's sound.
"Seven" by Sunny Day Real Estate
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Sunny Day Real Estate formed in Seattle during the height of the early-1990s grunge boom. In contrast to Jawbreaker, its members were accomplished musicians with high-quality gear, lofty musical ambitions, intricate songwriting, and a sweeping, epic sound. Frontman Jeremy Enigk sang desperately, in a falsetto register, about losing himself and subsuming himself in something greater, often using haphazard lyrics and made-up words. The band's debut album Diary (1994) was over-the-top and romantic, and the music video for "Seven" received airplay on MTV. The band's ambitious sound challenged other bands to reach further with their own music in sentiment, instrumentation, and metaphor, and represented a generational shift between grunge and emo.
Other emo-leaning punk bands soon followed suit, and the word "emo" began to shift from being vague and undefined to referring to a specific type of emotionally overbearing music that was romantic but distanced from the political nature of punk rock. Sunny Day Real Estate fell apart after Diary, as Enigk became a born-again Christian and launched a solo career while the other members drifted into new projects such as the Foo Fighters. They released three more albums through a series of breakups and occasional reunions, but are remembered primarily for the promise of their debut and the shift it engendered in the tastes of underground rock fans.
Underground popularity: Mid-1990s
In the mid-1990s the American punk and indie rock movements, which had been largely underground since the early 1980s, became part of mainstream culture. After Nirvana's success, major record labels capitalized on the popularity of alternative rock and other underground music by signing numerous independent bands and spending large amounts of capital promoting them. In 1994, the same year that Jawbreaker's 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and Sunny Day Real Estate's Diary were released, punk rock acts Green Day and The Offspring had multiplatinum successes with their respective albums Dookie and Smash. In the wake of the underground going mainstream, over the next several years emo as a genre retreated, reformed, and morphed into a national subculture, then eventually something more. Drawing inspiration from bands like Jawbreaker, Drive Like Jehu, and Fugazi, the new sound of emo was a mixture of hardcore's passion and indie rock's intelligence, bearing the anthemic power of punk rock and its do-it-yourself work ethic but with smoother songs, sloppier melodies, and yearning vocals.
Many of the new emo bands originated from the Midwestern and Central United States, such as Cap'n Jazz from Chicago, Illinois, Braid from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, Christie Front Drive from Denver, Colorado, Mineral from Austin, Texas, Jimmy Eat World from Mesa, Arizona, The Get Up Kids from Kansas City, Missouri, and The Promise Ring from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 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."
"If It's Here When We Get Back It's Ours" by Texas Is the Reason
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On the east coast, New York City-based Texas Is the Reason bridged the gap between indie rock and emo in their brief three-year lifespan by melding the melodies of Sunny Day Real Estate to churning punk musicianship and singing directly to the listener. In New Jersey, Lifetime gained a reputation as a melodic hardcore act, playing shows in fans' basements. Their 1995 album Hello Bastards on rising independent label Jade Tree Records fused hardcore with emo's tunefulness, turning its back on cynicism and irony in favor of love songs. The album sold tens of thousands of copies and the band inspired a number of later New Jersey and Long Island emo acts such as Brand New, Glassjaw, Midtown, The Movielife, My Chemical Romance, Saves the Day, Senses Fail, Taking Back Sunday, and Thursday.
The Promise Ring were one of the premier bands of the new emo style. Their music took a slower, smoother, pop punk approach to hardcore riffs, blending them with singer Davey von Bohlen's imagist lyrics delivered with a froggy croon and pronounced lisp, and they played shows in basements and VFW halls Jade Tree released their debut 30° Everywhere in 1996 and it sold tens of thousands of copies, a blockbuster by independent standards. Greenwald describes the effect of the album as "like being hit in the head with cotton candy." Other bands such as Karate, The Van Pelt, Joan of Arc, and The Shyness Clinic incorporated elements of post-rock and noise rock into the emo sound. The common lyrical thread between these bands was "applying big questions to small scenarios."
"El Scorcho" by Weezer
Pinkerton's abrasive sound and confessional lyrics led to critical and commercial failure in the short term, but in retrospect it is regarded as the most important emo album of the 1990s.
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A cornerstone of mid-1990s emo was Weezer's 1996 album Pinkerton. Following the success of their multiplatinum debut, Pinkerton turned from their power pop sound to a much darker, more abrasive character. Frontman Rivers Cuomo's songs were obsessed with messy, manipulative sex and his own insecurities of dealing with celebrity. A critical and commercial failure, it was ranked by Rolling Stone as the second-worst album of the year. Cuomo retreated from the public eye, later referring to the album as "hideous" and "a hugely painful mistake". However, Pinkerton found enduring appeal with teenagers just discovering alternative rock, who were drawn to its confessional lyrics and themes of rejection and came to believe that it was directed at them. Sales grew steadily as word of the album passed between fans, over online messageboards, and via Napster. "Although no one was paying attention", says Greenwald, "perhaps because no one was paying attention—Pinkerton became the most important emo album of the decade."
When Weezer returned in 2000, however, they did so with a decidedly pop sound. Cuomo refused to play songs from Pinkerton, dismissing it as "ugly" and "embarrassing". Nevertheless, the album held its appeal and eventually achieved both high sales and critical praise, and is noted for introducing emo to larger and more mainstream audiences.
"If I Could" by Mineral
Andy Greenwald calls "If I Could" "the ultimate expression of mid-nineties emo."
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The emo aesthetic of the mid-1990s was embodied in Mineral, whose albums The Power of Failing (1997) and EndSerenading (1998) encapsulated the emo tropes of somber music accompanied by a shy narrator singing seriously about mundane problems. Greenwald calls their song "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." Another significant band of the era was Braid, whose 1998 album Frame and Canvas and B-side song "Forever Got Shorter" blurred the lines between band and listener, as the group was a mirror-image of its own audience in passion and sentiment and sang in the voice of their fans.
"Why Did We Ever Meet" by The Promise Ring
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Though the emo style of the mid-1990s had thousands of young fans, it never broke into the national consciousness. A few bands were offered contracts with major record labels, but most broke up before they could capitalize on the opportunity. Jimmy Eat World signed to Capitol Records in 1995 and built a following among the emo community with their album Static Prevails, but did not break into the mainstream despite their major-label association as their music was mostly lost amongst the popular ska movement of the period. The Promise Ring were the most commercially successful emo band of the time, with sales of their 1997 album Nothing Feels Good topping out in the mid-five figures. 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." He refers to mid-1990s emo as "the last subculture made of vinyl and paper instead of plastic and megabytes."
Independent success: Late 1990s and early 2000s
Beginning in the late 1990s emo had a surge of popularity in the realm of independent music, as a number of notable acts and record labels experienced successes that would lay the foundation for the style's later mainstream breakthrough. As emo gained a larger fanbase the music business began see its marketing potential, and as big business entered the picture many of the acts previously associated with the term intentionally distanced themselves from it:
In 1997 Deep Elm Records launched a series of compilation albums entitled The Emo Diaries, which continued until 2007 with eleven installments. Featuring mostly unreleased music from unsigned bands, the series included acts such as Jimmy Eat World, Further Seems Forever, Samiam, and The Movielife. The diversity of bands and musical styles made the case for emo as more of a shared aesthetic than a genre, and the series helped to codify the term "emo" and spread it throughout the community of underground music.
"Lucky Denver Mint" by Jimmy Eat World
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Jimmy Eat World's 1999 album Clarity was one of the most significant emo albums of the late 1990s and became a touchstone for later emo bands. Writing 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." However, despite warm critical reception and promotion of the single "Lucky Denver Mint" in the Drew Barrymore comedy film Never Been Kissed, Clarity was commercially unsuccessful in a musical climate dominated by teen pop, and the band left major label Capitol Records the following year. Nevertheless, the album gained steady popularity via word-of-mouth and was treasured by fans, eventually selling over 70,000 copies. Jimmy Eat World self-financed the recording of their next album Bleed American (2001) before signing to Dreamworks Records. The album sold 30,000 copies in its first week and went gold shortly after. In 2002 it went platinum as emo broke into the mainstream.
Drive-Thru Records, founded in 1996, steadily built up a roster of primarily pop punk bands with emo characteristics such as Midtown, The Starting Line, The Movielife, and Something Corporate. Drive-Thru's partnership with major label MCA enabled their brand of emo-inflected pop to reach wider audiences. The label's biggest early success was New Found Glory, whose 2000 eponymous album reached No. 107 on the Billboard 200 with the single "Hit or Miss" reaching No. 15 on Modern Rock Tracks. Drive-Thru's unabashedly populist and capitalist approach to music allowed its bands' albums and merchandise to sell heavily through popular outlets such as Hot Topic:
"Action & Action" by The Get Up Kids
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Independent label Vagrant Records was behind several successful emo acts of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Get Up Kids had sold over 15,000 copies of their debut album Four Minute Mile (1997) before signing to Vagrant, who promoted the band aggressively and put them on tours opening for big-name acts like Green Day and Weezer. Their 1999 album Something to Write Home About was an independent success, reaching No. 31 on Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart. Vagrant signed and released albums by a number of other emo and emo-related acts 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. Saves the Day had built a large following on the east coast and sold almost 50,000 copies of their second album Through Being Cool (1999) before signing to Vagrant and releasing Stay What You Are (2001), which sold 15,000 copies in its first week, reached No. 100 on the Billboard 200, and went on to sell over 200,000 copies.
In the summer of 2001 Vagrant organized a national tour featuring every band on the label, sponsored by corporations such as Microsoft and Coca-Cola. This populist approach and the use of the internet as a marketing tool helped Vagrant become one of the country's most successful independent labels and also helped to popularize the term "emo". 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."
Mainstream popularity: 2000s
"Screaming Infidelities" by Dashboard Confessional
"The Middle" by Jimmy Eat World
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Emo broke into the mainstream media in the summer of 2002 with a number of notable events: Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American album went platinum on the strength of "The Middle", which reached No. 1 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart. Dashboard Confessional reached No. 22 on the same chart with "Screaming Infidelities" from their Vagrant Records debut The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, which was No. 5 on Independent Albums, and became the first non-platinum-selling artist to record an episode of MTV Unplugged (the resultant live album itself was a No. 1 Independent Album in 2003 and quickly went platinum). New Found Glory's album Sticks and Stones debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200. Also, The Get Up Kids' 2002 release On a Wire had a lot of underground success as it peaked at No. 57 on the Billboard 200 and No. 3 on the Top Independent Albums chart. Their 2004 release Guilt Show also had mainstream success as it peaked at No. 58 on the Billboard 200.
Saves the Day toured with Green Day, Blink-182, and Weezer, playing large arenas such as Madison Square Garden, and by the end of the year 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 heavy rotation on MTV2. Taking Back Sunday would release their debut album Tell All Your Friends through Victory Records in 2002. The album would give the band a taste of success inside the emo scene thanks to singles like "Cute Without the 'E' (Cut from the Team)", and "You're So Last Summer". Although initially charting at #183 on the Billboard 200, Tell All Your Friends would eventually lead up to be certified gold by the RIAA in latter years and is now considered a landmark and one of the most influential albums in the emo scene. Articles on Vagrant Records were published in Time and Newsweek, while the word "emo" began appearing on numerous magazine covers and became a catchall term for any music outside of mainstream pop. Andy Greenwald attributes emo's sudden explosion into the mainstream to media outlets looking for the "next big thing" in the wake of the September 11 attacks:
In the wake of this success, many emo bands were signed to major record labels and the style became a marketable product. Dreamworks Records senior A&R representative Luke Wood remarked that "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." The depoliticized nature of emo, coupled with its catchy music and accessible themes, gave it a broad appeal to young mainstream audiences. Emo staple band Taking Back Sunday would continue to find major success in the years that followed, with their 2004 album Where You Want To Be charting at #3 in the Billboard 200, with the second single of the album "This Photograph is Proof (I Know You Know)" being featured in the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack, and their 2006 album Louder Now, with Louder Now being the band's breakout into the mainstream and charting at #2 in the Billboard 200, notably because of the popularity of its lead single "MakeDamnSure", both albums would be certified gold by the RIAA with Where You Want To Be having sold 667,000 copies as of September 2005, and Louder Now having sold over 900,000 copies as of June 9, 2008. Other emo bands that achieved mainstream success during the 2000s included My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, AFI, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and Paramore. My Chemical Romance broke into the mainstream with its second studio album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, which was certified platinum by the RIAA in 2005. The mainstream success of My Chemical Romance continued with the band's third studio album The Black Parade, which sold 240,000 copies in its first week of being released and was certified platinum by the RIAA in less than 1 year of being released. Fall Out Boy broke into the mainstream during the 2000s; the band's album From Under the Cork Tree sold at least 2,700,000 copies. Also, the band Fall Out Boy continued to be mainstream with its album Infinity on High, which peaked at number 1 on the Billboard 200, sold 260,000 copies in its first week of being released and sold at least 1,400,000 copies. The song "Face Down" by the band The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus peaked at number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the band's album Don't You Fake It sold at least 852,000 copies in the United States. With its albums Sing the Sorrow and Decemberunderground, the band AFI achieved success; both albums were certified platinum by the RIAA and Decemberunderground peaked at number 1 on the Billboard 200. Paramore broke into the mainstream in the 2000s; the band's album Riot! was certified 2x platinum by the RIAA. Riot!'s song "Misery Business" peaked at number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified 3x platinum by the RIAA.
At the same time, a darker, more aggressive style of emo gained popularity. New Jersey–based Thursday signed a multimillion-dollar, multi-album contract with Island Def Jam on the strength of their 2001 album Full Collapse, which reached No. 178 on the Billboard 200. Their music differed from the prominent emo bands of the time in that it was more politicized and lacked dominant pop hooks and anthems, drawing influence from more maudlin bands such as The Smiths, Joy Division, and The Cure. However, the band's accessibility, openness, basement-show roots, and touring alongside bands like Saves the Day made them part of the emo movement.
Screamo, a subgenre of emo, also has been popular. Hawthorne Heights, Story of the Year, Underoath, and Alexisonfire, four bands frequently featured on MTV, have been noted for their popularization of contemporary screamo. Other active American screamo acts include Comadre, Off Minor, Men As Trees, Senses Fail, and Vendetta Red. The contemporary screamo scene is also particularly active in Europe, with bands such as Funeral For a Friend, and Le Pré Où Je Suis Mort all being prime examples of their scene.
Decline in popularity and "emo revival": 2010s
By the early 2010s, emo's popularity began to decrease. Some bands moved away from their emo roots or disbanded. For example, My Chemical Romance's album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys moved away from their emo roots in favor of a traditional pop punk style. Additionally, Paramore and Fall Out Boy both moved away from their emo roots during 2013 with albums like the former's self-titled and the latter's Save Rock and Roll. Moreover, Panic! at the Disco moved away from their emo pop roots with albums like Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!, moving to a more synthpop style. Also, by this time many bands associated with the emo genre disbanded, which included bands like My Chemical Romance, Alexisonfire, and Thursday. This has led to arguments on what happened to emo music.
The "emo revival" is a 2010s development in the emo genre in which bands have taken inspiration from the sounds and aesthetics of emo from the 1990s and early 2000s. A largely underground movement, bands that have been characterized under this genre are The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, A Great Big Pile of Leaves, Pianos Become the Teeth, Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate), Touché Amoré, The Hotelier, and Into It. Over It., Moose Blood, Sorority Noise, Grey Gordon, and other bands with strong indie aesthetics.
"Emo pop," also called "emo pop punk," emerged as an offshoot from emo that also embraces pop music influences, such as more concise songs and hook filled choruses. AllMusic describes the style as blending "youthful angst" with "slick production" and mainstream appeal, using "high-pitched melodies, rhythmic guitars, and lyrics concerning adolescence, relationships, and heartbreak." Britain's The Guardian described the style as a cross between "saccharine boy-band pop" and emo. Modern emo pop bands have toned down extremities in loud/soft variations to provide a more widespread appeal.
As emo became more successful in the mid-1990s due to the rise of grunge, emo pop was set as blueprints by bands such as The Wrens, which pioneered a form of emo-pop on 1996's Secaucus, and Weezer, which in 1996 released the definitive emo album Pinkerton. Other bands which put out releases in the 90s to set up the blueprints for emo pop included Sense Field, Jejune, Alkaline Trio and The Get Up Kids. As emo became commercially successful in the early 2000s, the emo pop movement was birthed by Jimmy Eat World's 2001 release Bleed American and the success of that album's single "The Middle". Bands like Weezer and The Wrens both saw great success in this new movement, the former with its release The Green Album and the latter with Meadowlands, which reinvented punk-pop for the new generation.
Emo pop began in the 1990s. Bands like Jimmy Eat World, The Get Up Kids, The Promise Ring, The Starting Line, Saves the Day, and The Movielife were bands who started the emo pop style. Jimmy Eat World made an early emo pop sound off their album Static Prevails and their Clarity album, which was very influential on modern emo.
Emo pop became really popular in the early 2000s and began to have some success in the late 1990s, which was becoming increasingly successful commercially. The Get Up Kids sold over 15,000 copies of their debut album Four Minute Mile (1997) before signing to Vagrant Records, which promoted the band strongly and put them on tours, opening for famous bands like Green Day and Weezer. Their 1999 album Something to Write Home About was a success, reaching No. 31 on Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart. Saves the Day had built a large following on the east coast and sold almost 50,000 copies of their second album Through Being Cool (1999) before signing to Vagrant and releasing Stay What You Are (2001), which sold 15,000 copies in its first week.
As the genre coalesced, the record label Fueled by Ramen became a center of the movement, releasing platinum selling albums from bands like Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, and Paramore. Two main regional scenes developed; in Florida the scene was created by the label Fueled by Ramen and the band Dashboard Confessional, and in the Midwest emo-pop was promoted by Pete Wentz, whose band Fall Out Boy rose to the front of the style in the mid-2000s. In 2008, the band Cash Cash released Take It to the Floor, which Allmusic stated could be "the definitive statement of airheaded, glittery, and content-free emo-pop". Allmusic further stated that with this release "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".
The term "screamo" was initially applied to a more aggressive offshoot of emo that developed in San Diego in 1991, which used short songs that grafted "spastic intensity to willfully experimental dissonance and dynamics." Screamo is a particularly dissonant style of emo influenced by hardcore punk and uses typical rock instrumentation, but is noted for its brief compositions, chaotic execution, and screaming vocals.
The genre is "generally based in the aggressive side of the overarching punk-revival scene." The style began in 1991, in San Diego, at the Ché Café, with groups such as Heroin, Antioch Arrow, Angel Hair, Mohinder, Swing Kids, and Portraits of Past. These groups were influenced by Washington D.C. post-hardcore (particularly Fugazi and Nation of Ulysses), straight edge, the Chicago group Articles of Faith, hardcore punk band Die Kreuzen and post-punk, such as Joy Division and Bauhaus.
Some bands that formed in the United States during the late 1990s and remained active throughout the 2000s, such as Thursday, Thrice, and Poison the Well made screamo much more popular. Many of these bands took influence from the likes of post-hardcore bands like Refused and At the Drive-In. By the mid-2000s, the over-saturation of the screamo scene caused many bands to purposefully expand past the genre's trademarks and incorporate more experimental elements. Even bands that weren't necessarily screamo would often use the style's characteristic guttural vocal style. Derek Miller, guitarist for the post-hardcore band Poison the Well, claimed that the term screamo "describes a thousand different genres."
According to Jeff Mitchell of Iowa State Daily, "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." Juan Gabe, vocalist for the band Comadre, alleged that the term "has been kind of tainted in a way, especially in the States."
Prior to its shift into the mainstream, fashion within the emo music scene was fairly clean cut, associated with a trend towards geek chic. An 2002 article in the Honolulu Advertiser compared the style to that of Mr. Rogers, and noted the substantial differences between emo and goth or hip-hop styles, noting the prevalence of V-neck sweaters, white dress shirts and fitted, often cuffed jeans. In 2003, emo fashion was described similarly, with an emphasis on sweater vests, tight shirts, horned rimmed glasses, shaggy or "Spock-Rock" hair and vintage thrift store type apparel.
As emo entered the mainstream, it became as tied to fashion and emo subculture as to the music genre. The term "emo" was associated with wearing jeans, sometimes in bright colors and often close-fitting, as well as t-shirts (usually short-sleeved) which often bear the names of emo bands. Studded belts and black wristbands also became associated with emo fashion.
Emo fashion became especially recognized for its hairstyles. Popular looks in the 2010s include thin, flat and smooth hair with lots of hair on the sides and back of the head with long side-swept bangs, sometimes covering one or both eyes. Also popular is hair that is straightened or dyed black. Bright colors, such as blue, pink, red or bleached blond, are also typical as highlights in emo hairstyles. Short, choppy layers of hair are also common.
Criticism and controversy
Emo has been associated with a stereotype that includes being particularly emotional, sensitive, shy, introverted, or angst-ridden. It has also been associated with stereotypes like depression, self-injury, and suicide.
Suicide and self harm
Emo music has been blamed for the suicide by hanging of teenager Hannah Bond by both the coroner at the inquest into her death and her mother, Heather Bond, after it was claimed that emo music glamorized suicide and her apparent obsession with My Chemical Romance was said to be linked to her suicide. The inquest heard that she was part of an Internet "emo cult" and her Bebo page contained an image of an "emo girl" with bloody wrists. It also heard that she had discussed the "glamour" of hanging online and had explained to her parents that her self-harming was an "emo initiation ceremony". Heather Bond criticised emo fashion, saying: "There are "emo" websites that show pink teddies hanging themselves." After the verdict was reported in NME, fans of emo music contacted the magazine to defend against accusations that it promotes self-harm and suicide.
Emo has been criticized for its androcentrism. Andy Greenwald notes that there are very few women in emo bands, and that even those few do not typically have an active voice in the songs' subject matter: "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." The triumph of the "lonely boy's aesthetic" in emo, coupled with the style's popularity, has led to a litany of one-sided songs in which males vent their fury at the women who have wronged them: Some emo bands' lyrics disguise violent anti-women sentiments in a veneer of pop music.
However, despite emo's frequent portrayal of women as powerless victims, fans of the style are from both genders, and some acts have even greater popularity with women than with men. One explanation for this is that the unifying appeal of emo, its expression of emotional devastation, can be appreciated equally by both sexes regardless of the songs' specific subjects.
The genre emo inspired a backlash movement in response to its rapid growth. Several bands considered to be "emo" rejected the label for the social stigma and controversy surrounding it. Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman stated that there was a "real backlash" among bands on the tour towards emo groups, but he dismissed the hostility as "juvenile" in nature. The movement grew with intensity over time. Time reported in 2008 that "anti-emo" groups attacked teenagers in Mexico City, Querétaro, and Tijuana.
In Russia, a law was presented at the Duma to regulate emo websites and forbid emo style at schools and government buildings, for fears of emo being a "dangerous teen trend" promoting anti-social behaviour, depression, social withdrawal and even suicide.
In March 2012 reports by human rights activists suggested that, in a single month, Shia militias in Iraq had shot or beaten to death up to 58 young Iraqi emos.
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