Emo Music

And I don't know God
And I don't anyone
And I don't know God
And I don't know if anything at all will be all right
I've got my hands on the one hand,
but I don't know where to put them.
The Promise Ring, "Nothing Feels Good"

Emo isn't just a subculture, you know. It's a form of music.

A very woefully misjudged form of music, actually, emo music has a long and varied history that touches the early 2000s and extends all the way back to the 1980s. Despite the fact that emo has become a... polarizing term in our current critical establishment, emo music has produced a great deal of highly talented but highly underrated (and often multi-platinum selling) acts who aren't quite given proper critical respect due to the rise of modern hipsterdom.

The history can be seperated into three different eras, four if you count screamo, which is emo with lots of screaming and is often considered to be musically closer to metalcore than to emotive hardcore.

Emo itself (the music) is typically characterized by melodic musicianship and bluntly expressive, often confessional lyrics. It grew out of the Hardcore Punk and Post-Hardcore scenes in Washington, DC in the mid-eighties, with bands like Rites of Spring, Fugazi, and Embrace rising in popularity as a response to the perceived violence in the punk movement. While the DC scene would fade out by the end of The '80s, by then it had spread across the country, with bands like Seattle's Sunny Day Real Estate and San Francisco's Jawbreaker carrying the torch of emo through The Nineties. Thanks to the rise of grunge and the boom in underground music in the early part of the decade, bands later labelled "emo" first got mainstream exposure during this period.

It was in the later part of The Nineties when emo began to capitalize on its increased appeal. In 1996, Weezer released their sophomore album Pinkerton which, despite being initially bashed by critics and listeners alike, is now regarded as one of the greatest albums of the decade, and is viewed as having introduced emo to the mainstream (emo bands that had gotten famous before were, at the time, mostly associated with grunge) and influenced the genre. Emo firmly broke into the mainstream in 2001, when Jimmy Eat World released their hit album Bleed American, with its hit single "The Middle". Thanks to Jimmy, a whole new subculture evolved. The emo scene, once associated with underground music, developed and evolved as a result of mainstream exposure, and out of it grew the Emo Teens. For the exact definition of an emo, go see the article. We're describing the music, not the person who listens to it, and emo music is listened to by people of all ages, genders, cultures and ethnicities.

Now, for the "three forms of music" thing. The three are commonly just known as "emo". To avoid confusion, we'll name the three types: "classic emo", "2000's post-hardcore", and "emo-pop".

Classic emo is essentially Hardcore Punk with an artsy and emotional twist, with some of it even predicating Post-Rock. This is the form both sides of the fence will agree has mettle. Despite this, the bands never quite touched the mainstream. The key bands from this genre each had a different and unique variation on the sound: from Sunny Day Real Estate's anthemic, artsy blood-lettings, Braid's math pop, the hardcore punk revivalists (and dabbling post-industrialists) called AFI, Weezer's album Pinkerton and The Get Up Kids' emotional power pop filled with crunchy guitars and nerdy sexual frustration, Texas is the Reason's sensitive, hardcore derived punch, Jimmy Eat World's grand ambition and "guy next door" song writing, and Mineral's pure, raw emotion.

Of the emotive hardcore bands only Weezer, The Get Up Kids, and Jimmy Eat World had real commercial success due to their greater reliance on conventional pop song structure.

After Jimmy Eat World hit multi-platinum it also popularized a new darker variation of the sound. This early 2000's movement known as the 2000's post-hardcore Emo movement managed to balance a dark hardcore punch with introspective indie craft to create a powerful and moving variation of the emo sound that was edgier than the first, but was also more accessible. Many bands of this genre are greatly influenced by Goth Rock and Post-Punk. The bands in this genre became widely popular with many groups and are sometimes confused with emo-pop by people who haven't actually listened to them despite their innovative songwriting, extremely skilled musicianship and eloquent, profound lyrics, as well as their intense hardcore derived sound. The most well known members of this genre are: the suburban art rockers that make up Brand New, the quiet, introverted Death Cab for Cutie, intellectual and expressive countertenor Anthony Green's bands Circa Survive and Saosin, the gothic, theatrical, and delightfully over-the-top Post-Hardcore meets Glam Rock act My Chemical Romance, eclectic screamers The Used and Thursday, the bunch of indie ironists and music philosophers known as Say Anything, and Taking Back Sunday who pretty much personified the whole movements combination of darkly romantic hardcore punk and catchy, melodic indie rock.

Emo-Pop was born in the mid-2000's and combines elements of pop rock, classic emo introspection, and punk rock. The first and most well known of these is Fall Out Boy. Although many earlier emo bands had a poppy sound (i.e. Jimmy Eat World and Blink182, for instance) and Fall Out Boy was the first to take emo into an overtly pop direction. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing, since Fall Out Boy is generally treated more favorably by the critical spectrum by often going against the stock formula used by their emo-pop followers: adding elements of Soul, R&B, orchestral flourishes, and even Hardcore Punk. This is much less common among their emo-pop contemporaries, who often are more than a bit formulaic, and lacks the emotion, depth and sensitivity of the previous emo scenes. Along with Metalcore and post-grunge, emo-pop is a Love It or Hate It genre — it is insanely popular with some groups, while the rest... well, you know.

There's been a recent influx of Indie Emo bands reinvigorating the Classic Emo and Post-Hardcore sound, many notably on the Count Your Lucky Stars label. Empire! Empire! I Was a Lonely Estate, The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die and Snowing are just a few of them. There's also the Defend Pop Punk scene, which has revived elements of Emo with Pop Punk and Melodic Hardcore. Big names include Transit (also part of the above Indie Emo revivalists with their recent American Football-influenced output), Man Overboard, The Wonder Years, most of Rise Records' roster, etc. Bands from The Wave (La Dispute, Pianos Become the Teeth) have also taken cues from this particular genre.

So, there you have it. The basic history of Emo. A genre that captures and defines a point in time just like what Psychedelic Rock, Disco, New Wave, Hair Metal and Grunge did for past decades.


"Classic" Emo (Emocore) bands:

2000s Post-hardcore/Emo bands:

"Emo-Pop" bands (the controversial bit):

And... that's it. Oh, one more thing: if you plan to cause a sizable amount of Internet Backdraft, remember to clean it up afterward, won't you? After all, Internet Backdraft is bad for the environment!


Some Classic Emo tunes include


Some definitive 2000's Post-Hardcore Emo tunes


Some Definitive Emo-Pop tunes


Alternative Title(s):

Screamo, Emo, Emo Pop