Emo is still quite an elusive term, but is the subculture that defined the early 2000s a dying breed? Does today’s tik tok e-culture and “emo rap” mean that emo is dead?
A Brief History of Emo
I was first introduced to Emo circa 2006/7 when The Black Parade and Riot! were the huge new releases. However, emo goes further back than the mid-2000 days of eyeliner, skinny jeans, fringes, and the infamous combo of red and black.
Washington DC band, Rites Of Spring, were the pioneers of emo in the mid-80s when they took the sound of D.Cs hardcore scene but took the messages of “it’s us against the world” and turned it against themselves. Emo is short for emotional after all. This was the first wave of emo with Rites of Spring and Embrace leading the charge.
The second-wave of emo hit in the 90s with bands like Chicago’s Cap’n Jazz when emo spread across the rest of the US, having previously been more of a coastal scene.
The arguable third wave of emo is the mid-2000s days of the emo trinity reigning supreme over a new generation of disillusioned youth.
From the get-go emo has been an insult, but also impossible to define. All the emo bands had emotional lyrics to unite them, but their sound and look is vastly different. Emo is more of a feeling and subculture rather than a definitive sound and look like punk.
The Emo Trinity
My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Panic! at the Disco were the biggest emo bands of the 2000s. They sound nothing alike, and the only thing they had in common was guyliner.
Despite not pioneering the genre, My Chemical Romance were the ones to become the face of the subculture which was massive in the mid-2000s, to the extent of being branded a cult.
Somewhere along the way, the emotional lyrics that defined emo was used against the bands. When black-and-red clad teens expressed suicidal ideation, self-harm, or depression, it was the emo bands who were blamed. Even if the kids said differently, and even if the lyrics were about getting help and surviving.
For the Emo Trinity, it did seem to be a case of neither can live while one survives, as MCR broke up as FOB came back – until now because all three bands are active, so does this mean emo is not dead?
Emo vs the rest of the alternative subculture
Emo vs goth
A lot of people use the terms emo and goth interchangeably when they’re trying to insult someone, or just to refer to someone who wears all black.
I get called both, I now also call myself both ironically and to sort of take the words back but if we’re gonna get into the nitty-gritty; they’re different. So what is the difference between emo and goth?
When it comes to music, both emo and goth were influenced by punk. There are so many different variations of goth now like steampunk, victorian, glitter-goths, but overall, goths tend to wear black and almost black alone whereas emos lean towards skinny jeans and band merch.
Goths tend to like bands such as The Cure, Evanescence, and Sisters of Mercy, whereas emos tend to like the Emo Trinity bands and bands like Pierce the Veil, Black Veil Brides, and Sleeping with Sirens.
How they think can be different two, Urban Dictorory summed it up as goths hate the world, and emos think the world hates them.
If you’ve seen the emo vs goth South Park episode you might have figured that these groups don’t always like each other, but this isn’t always the case in real life. A lot of alternative people don’t strictly fall into the emo or goth category and can be a bit of both and take influence from other alternative subcultures.
Emo vs mosher
Mosher was pretty much what people called emos before they had a word for emo, so mosher and emo are one and the same, but punks also get called mosher. This is because the phrase comes from moshing in the pit at gigs.
It’s more of a UK slang term because I’ve never heard it in real life, and once emo trinity emo took off, the word got less popular. It’s less of a case of emo vs mosher, and more emo = mosher.
You might get a chuckle at the Mosher entries on Urban Dictionary from 2005 which did not age well. Apparently hating “chavs” is a requirement to be a mosher…
Emo vs Scene
Emo and scene might be the most difficult to differentiate because the big sweeping fringes both have can be indistinguishable. The difference between emo and scene is less of a case of emo vs scene and more emo = scene to an extent, but they still have differences.
At its core emo was about music, feelings, and self-expression. Emo clothing is quite casual as the skinny jeans, converse, and band merch look is a pretty effortless one. Scene was more about fashion. Scene kids liked brighter neon colours, compared to emos who wore black, and often red or purple with black. Scene music was also more electronic and dance-y, with *shudders* Blood on the Dance Floor leading the way. I don’t have a problem with the whole “emo-scene-electronic” sound, I just have a massive vendetta against Davhie Vanity, so go listen to Mindless Self Indulgence instead.
Anectodely I noticed that emos love the Nightmare Before Christmas but scene kids were all about anime. Scene is less of a thing today but pastel goth, k-pop, and anime is still going strong.
There was often an overlap with emo and scene kids liking the same bands and style but the two different terms do exist for a reason. As I said earlier, there are no strict rules in alt-culture so if you’re some emo-boho-goth hybrid, good for you!
The Emo Quartet: rock emo is dead, so here comes emo rap
I am a very nostalgic soul which is why I have always been against the notion of the Emo Quartet, which is My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, and 21 Pilots.
I actually have a lot of respect for 21 Pilots, so it’s nothing personal. I think the Emo Trinty represents the golden era of emo and Hot Topic, and 21 Pilots came in much later. I also think it’s insulting to Paramore to exclude them if we are to open up the Emo Trinity. Hayley Williams was the queen of the genre in the mid-2000s. Don’t do Paramore dirty like that.
21 Pilots did mark the beginning of a change in emo, so maybe emo isn’t dead, emo has just adapted.
21 Pilots got big as MCR broke up, and then Panic!, FOB, and Paramore drastically changed their sounds to a more commercial and sometimes rap & hip hop inspired tone.
With MCR gone, a lot of MCR inspired bands came onto the scene, like Palaye Royale, but what seemed to capture the kids born in the 2000s was emo rap, and alternative-pop rock musicians like Billie Eilish and 21 Pilots.
Emo rap is the subgenre for rappers like Lil Peep, or Lil Xan who’s lyrics are just as emotional and expressive as emo, but of course, the overall music genre is different.
What the hell is e-culture?
I was also asking myself what the f*ck an e-boy is not to long ago, which made me feel very old and out of touch.
E-culture is where emo has evolved to, as e-boys and e-girls are heavily inspired by emo fashion but are big social media users, in particular Tik tok. Like scene kids, a lot are big into anime and k-pop.
They don’t look like 2006 emos with dead straight hair, and somewhat tight clothing, e-boys tend to wear bagging jeans, and lots of layers (usually a long black shirt under a t-shirt) and a heavy dose of chunky necklaces and rings.
A requirement does seem to be with being on tik tok, but the emos and scene kids ruled MySpace, while goths were big on VampireFreaks so it’s fair they have their own platform too.
Is emo back? The Return of My Chemical Romance
My Chemical Romance made my life when they announced their Return on Halloween 2019. With the leaders of the Emo Trinity back, does that mean emo is back?
For me, emo never died because I’m still all eyeliner and skinny jeans every day but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for what MCR will do to the alt-scene.
Rock, in general, has been declining, while Green Day, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, and Muse are still massive big rock bands, the genre doesn’t seem to reach the heights it did in the 80s and 90s. Nirvana was arguably the last “legendary” band. Many bands changed the genre, and the traditional rock festival Reading & Leeds has slowly but surely began adopting a more mainstream line up over recent years. The Vans Warped Tour straight up just died, which leaves a big hole in the culture, and leaves new bands without a platform and right of passage to embark on. While alt-people are content not being mainstream, I’d hate to see the whole subculture die down so much it’s inaccessible.
We’re probably never getting a proper emo revival like the mid-2000s. Every subculture and movement have its time. While Nirvana and Hole are still popular bands, and the grunge aesthetic is still somewhat popular, grunge’s definitive time was in the 90s. Emo had its day, but emo is not dead.
If you liked this blog post you might like my super emo school throwback playlist, and my post about fan-fiction where I talk about band culture nad horrifying internet moments like My Immortal and the milk-fic.
Welcome to the rawring 20s, do you think emo is dead?