Emo is still quite an elusive term, but is the subculture that defined the early 2000s a dying breed? Does today’s TikTok e-culture and “emo rap” mean that emo is dead? Let’s learn more about the emo revival and why emo is still a thing in the 2020s.
TL;DR: Emo is not dead. It’s having a revival. It probably won’t hit the same as it did in the 2000s and early 2010s. The fashion might change. The new artists might be different from the old ones. It might not even reach the heights it originally did. With an emo revival, change is going to come.
There was a lot of issues the first time round. I’m confident we’ll do it better now.
A Brief History Of Emo
I was first introduced to emo circa 2007 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.
First Wave Of Emo
True emo began in the 80s.
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.
Second Wave Of Emo
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.
Third Wave Of Emo: Emo As We Know It
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.
A lot of older fans are adamant that this era wasn’t emo at all, but sub-cultures evolve. My Chemical Romance is what the average person pictures when someone says emo.
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.
One theory for why it was a trinity, with the exclusion of Paramore, is that it refers to the holy trinity in Christianity. My Chemical Romance is the holy spirit, Fall Out Boy the father, and Panic! At The Disco the son, since Pete Wentz basically discovered them.
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?
[2023 edit: Panic! At The Disco broke up. I guess the Emo Trinity is cursed.]
The Emo Cult
Despite not pioneering the genre and rejecting the label, 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, if the bands preached about getting help and staying alive, and even if the lyrics were hopeful and defiant.
This was a really scary time to be emo. Kids in school, even adults, reacted aggressively, when I would say I liked FOB or MCR. Which is pretty hypocritical. You say the bands are telling me to kill myself, but you, someone who is not emo, was telling me – a preteen at the time – to kill myself?
Accountability Within The Scene
It’s not that some of the issues in the scene weren’t coming from inside the house. There was a few people coming up with bs rules, suggesting you need to harm yourself to be emo. Then they’d also have bs rules about what counted. Any form is self-harm is self-harm and is concerning.
Like all groups, there’s always that small bunch of people making everyone look bad. I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we acted like it was always other people pushing those narratives.
Overwhelmingly though, the other emos wanted everyone to be safe and happy. Other emos would be pretty sad when they saw friends going through a hard time and wanted them to get better.
The people being aggressive and telling emos to harm themselves, were “normal.” They weren’t concerned if an emo was going through a hard time, they felt weirdly vindicated. It just put kids off reaching out for help, because they didn’t wanna prove anyone right.
Anecdotally, I noticed at the time that One Direction fans and Justin Bieber fans were just as likely to be struggling with their mental health as My Chemical Romance fans. It’s not the clothes or the music. Being a teenager is hard, some people are predisposed to mental illness. Treat the kids with compassion.
If you or a loved one is struggling, please reach out for help.
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 Trinity represents the golden era of emo and Hot Topic, and 21 Pilots came in much later. For me, 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. They brought something new to the scene. I’d also say they held down the fort when emo was declining.
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 bands who were fans of them 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. You might also be interested in my bimbocore essay.
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 and scene have evolved to. E-boys and e-girls are heavily inspired by emo fashion as well as Japanese street style. They are big social media users, in particular TikTok. Like scene kids, a lot are big into anime and K-pop. The e stands for “electronic,” not “emo.”
They don’t look like 2006 emos with dead straight hair, and somewhat tight clothing. E-boys and girls (and whatever the gender neutral name is, if there is one) tend to wear baggy jeans or trousers, lots of layers and a heavy dose of chunky necklaces and rings.
A requirement does seem to be with being on TikTok, but the emos and scene kids ruled MySpace, while goths were big on VampireFreaks so it’s fair they have their own platform too.
The Impact Of The Pandemic
Being an e-girl or whatever was pretty big in 2020, while much of the world was in lockdown. However, people first started writing about it in 2019. With people not having the worry about being judged in public, fashion, hair and, makeup became more eccentric and fun in lockdowns.
It felt safer to wear the E-fashion (I’m really showing my age here by not knowing what you’re supposed to call it) in your room.
So, today, being an e-girl isn’t really the thing anymore. Now, on TikTok, it seems for some, it was a phase or they were trend hopping. Some former e-girls, are now into Y2K. Others, just adapted a more “traditional” emo look. With every sub-culture, there are always the people who hold onto it, so I wouldn’t say e-girls are dead; they just slowed down.
I guess it says a lot about fast-fashion that by 2022, 2020 style was considered outdated. I still own clothes from 2012!
Is Emo Back? The Return Of My Chemical Romance
My Chemical Romance made my life when they announced their Return on Halloween 2019. I can finally fulfil my life long dream of seeing them live. 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 person and listen to the music. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for what MCR will do to the alt-scene all the same.
Is Rock Dying?
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 old emo or pop punk bands changed genre. Magazines went out of business. People don’t watch music channels on TV anymore. The traditional rock festival Reading & Leeds has slowly but surely began adopting a more mainstream line-up over recent years. The Vans Warped Tour 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. People love to gatekeep, but without newcomers, the culture becomes stagnant and dies.
That said, there was a lot of problems with some of the bands who went on Warped Tour. If it ever comes back, or something similar is created to replace it, we need to seriously improve the culture.
The Future Of Emo
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.
My parent’s reminisce about Queen in the 80s, and we’ll reminisce about My Chemical Romance. After all, emo nite doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I think that answers the question “Is emo dead?” It basically is 80s night for millennials.
Emo had its day, but emo is not dead. Emo as we know it probably won’t come back. That said, with the way things are going an emo revival could breath new life, bring new fans, and see our favourite bands get popular again.
Plus, we’ve grown up now. We don’t get a re-do. We need to look forward to the future rather than trying to relive the past. It was a time I cherish, but being an emo teen in the late 2000s throughout the 2010s wasn’t all fun and games either. Hopefully, the new wave of emo will be a more positive, safer place.
Emo Vs. Alt Subcultures
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 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.
Most of all, goth is a music based sub-culture. You like goth music? You’re goth. You don’t need to dress the part.
Goths tend to like bands such as The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, 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 too, Urban Dictionary 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.
That said, the late 2000s was a scary time to be emo. It really felt like everyone hated us. You might like my eco-goth guide.
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. Yikes.
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. The 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, but the one band I will judge someone for liking is BOTDF.
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. To be honest, I think we all loved Tim Burton so much because we didn’t have Hot Topic where I live, so we had to make do with Disney merch.
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 Rawring 20s Are Here
Welcome to the rawring 20s, do you think emo is dead? If you like emo content more than what I typically post here, you can find me on TikTok instead.
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 and horrifying internet moments like My Immortal and the milk-fic.