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Emo Music

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I don't know God
And I don't know 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"
Primary Stylistic Influences:
Secondary Stylistic Influences:

Emo isn't just a subculture, you know. It's a form of music — and woefully misunderstood, if that.

Emo (short for "emotive/emotional hardcore") 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.

Emo 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, D.C. in the mid-'80s, 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 decade, 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 '90s. 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 '90s when emo began to capitalize on its increased appeal. In 1996, Weezer released their sophomore album Pinkerton; despite being initially bashed by critics and listeners alike, it is now regarded as one of the greatest albums of the decade, and is viewed as having started emo's introduction to the mainstream with it's greater emphasis on pop-songwriting and very little hardcore influences. Emo firmly broke into the mainstream in 2001, when Jimmy Eat World released their fourth album Bleed American, which was a great success and spawned the #1 hit single "The Middle". Thanks to the album's success, 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.

The history can be separated into three different eras (or four if you count screamo, a more Hardcore Punk-influenced offshoot of emo mostly defined by the use of Harsh Vocals). We'll name the three types "classic emo", "2000s Post-Hardcore", and "2000s emo-pop".

Classic emo started out as essentially Hardcore Punk with an artsy and emotional twist, later evolving into the much more Alternative Rock-leaning 'midwest emo' sound in the mid 1990s. This is the form both sides of the fence will agree has mettle. Despite this, many bands from this genre never quite touched the mainstream. The key bands from this genre each had a different and unique variation on the sound, with examples including Sunny Day Real Estate's anthemic, artsy blood-lettings, Braid's math pop, Hum's spacey, languid-yet-aggressive post-hardcore, Drive Like Jehu's discordant, technically demanding noise rock, the hardcore punk revivalists (and dabbling post-industrialists) called AFI, Weezer's album Pinkerton, 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" songwriting, and Mineral's pure, raw emotion.

Of the emotive hardcore bands, only 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 2000s movement, known as the 2000s post-hardcore emo movement, managed to balance a dark hardcore punch with introspective indie craft and profound musical artistry to create a powerful and moving variation of the emo sound that was edgier than the first, but also more accessible. Many bands of this genre were additionally influenced by Post-Punk and oftentimes Goth Rock. 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, raw hardcore punk-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, melancholy music philosophers Thursday, literary experimenters Thrice and Taking Back Sunday who pretty much personified the whole movements combination of darkly romantic hardcore punk and catchy, melodic indie rock. Other bands frequently dabbled with emo musical style in this period, such as in Progressive Rock bands Thirty Seconds to Mars and Coheed and Cambria's respective albums A Beautiful Lie and In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3. In addition, the UK has provided the genre with bands such as the Lostprophets and Funeral for a Friend, as has Canada with Billy Talent and Alexisonfire.

Emo-pop is a subgenre that was born in the late-1990s with artists such as the aforementioned The Get Up Kids and Jimmy Eat World, combining standard emo introspection with pop punk/pop rock. This would become the dominant form of emo when the genre hit the mainstream in the early-to-mid 2000s, helped by one of the subgenres' biggest artists Fall Out Boy crossing it over with mainstream pop. When people who don't like emo despite minimal exposure to the genre say that it's all about teenage self-absorption and whining about one's parents/girlfriend/life, they're likely referring to a lot of emo-pop, as these tropes are almost never found in the other two types. Along with Metalcore and post-grunge, emo-pop is a divisive genre — it is insanely popular with some groups, while the rest... well, you know. In the late 2010s, rappers influenced by emo began to appear, resulting in the "Emo Rap" subgenre associated with artists like XXXTentacion, Lil Peep and Juice WRLD.

In addition to the constant output of new, acclaimed music from AFI, The Used and Taking Back Sunday, and the recent resurgence of Thrice, At the Drive-In, Thursday, Glassjaw, American Football, and Saosin, 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 & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, Get Scared and Snowing are just a few of them. These particular bands also seem to be mixing in elements of Post-Rock, Noise Rock and Shoegazing music to great acclaim from fans of indie rock, as well as the related and parallel Defend Pop Punk movement. 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:

2000s "Emo-Pop" bands (the controversial bit):

"Emo Revival" bands (the indie takeover of the sound):

And... that's it. Oh, one more thing: if you plan to cause a sizable amount of Flame War, remember to clean it up afterward, won't you?

Some Classic Emo tunes

Some definitive 2000s Post-Hardcore emo tunes

Some Definitive Emo-Pop tunes

And finally, a few definitive Classic Emo Revival tracks:

Alternative Title(s): Emo, Emo Pop