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.
Emo isn't just a subculture, you know. It's a form of music.
A woefully misunderstood form of music, emo (short for "emotive hardcore") has a long and varied history that touches the early 2000's and extends all the way back to the 1980's. 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-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 '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 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 Hardcore Punk) 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.
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", "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, 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 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 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 and profound musical artistry 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 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 30 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 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, Motion City Soundtrack and Saves the Day, for instance), 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 was 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, before abandoning all semblances of emo-ness in 2013. 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. When people who don't like emo despite minimal exposure to the genre say that it's all about teenage self-absorption, whining about one's parents/girlfriend/life, they're actually referring to emo-pop. 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. Emo-pop continues to be hugely successful into The New '10s, with Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Paramore, Twenty One Pilots and All Time Low more popular than ever.
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 And 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.
"Classic" Emo (Emocore) bands:
- AFI (mixes this with Hardcore Punk and Gothic rock; also Trope Maker for the more dark and Gothic-iinfluenced emo look that would rise to prominence in the mid-2000's)
- American Football
- The Appleseed Cast
- At the Drive-In
- Autopulver (A rare and short-lived Norwegian emo band)
- Bright Eyes note
- Capn Jazz (see also American Football, Owen, other Kinsella Bros. bands)
- Christie Front Drive
- Dag Nasty
- Death Cab for Cutie
- Drive Like Jehu
- Embrace (Ur-Example)
- Fire Party
- 1990 - Repeater
- The Get Up Kids
- Hot Water Music
- I Hate Myself
- Indian Summer
- Jawbreaker (Trope Codifier)
- Jimmy Eat World (The Trope Maker for emo-pop)
- Moss Icon
- The Promise Ring
- Rites of Spring (Ur-Example)
- Saves the Day
- Sense Field
- Silent Majority
- Sunny Day Real Estate (The Trope Codifier)
- 1994 - Diary
- Texas Is The Reason
2000s Post-hardcore/Emo bands:
- Alkaline Trio (also Hardcore Punk)
- Armor For Sleep
- The Beautiful Mistake
- Billy Talent
- Bleed The Dream
- Blue October
- Brand New (Mixed with indie rock)
- Circa Survive (also Progressive Rock)
- Coheed and Cambria (early material, also Progressive Rock, though they have had occasional flirtations with this in their later material as well)
- Dance Gavin Dance (also Screamo)
- Dashboard Confessional
- The Early November
- Emery (a Christian emo band)
- The Fall of Troy
- Funeral for a Friend (Emotive hardcore from a Welsh perspective)
- Hawthorne Heights
- I Am Ghost (also Goth Rock)
- Jets To Brazil
- KEN mode (bit of a Genre-Busting example, but emo was a significant component of their style up until Success)
- Kill Hannah (also Dark Wave)
- La Dispute
- Lostprophets (a Welsh emo band ended by a highly publicized court case)
- Madina Lake
- Matchbook Romance
- Mewithout You (early material— among many other things)
- Motion City Soundtrack (also Pop Punk)
- The Movielife
- My American Heart
- My Chemical Romance (Their first three albums were emotive hardcore and hardcore punk.Their fourth album is standard pop punk. Also served as the Trope Codifier for the Gothic, AFI-influenced emo look that came into vogue by 2004)
- Off Minor
- The Postal Service
- The Receiving End Of Sirens
- The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
- Say Anything... (also Indie Rock)
- Senses Fail (also Metalcore)
- Silverstein (also Screamo)
- The Sleeping
- Something Corporate
- A Static Lullaby (also Screamo)
- Story Of The Year
- Straylight Run
- A Thorn For Every Heart
- Taking Back Sunday (also indie rock and alternative rock)
- Title Fight (Starting with Floral Green, mixed this with Shoegaze)
- Thrice (A mix of emo and punk rock for their first few albums, at least. More recent releases dabble in, well, everything)
- Thursday (The Trope Codifier)
- The Used (Also Alternative Rock and Punk Rock, among other things)
- Vendetta Red
"Emo-Pop" bands (the controversial bit):
- A Rocket To The Moon
- The Academy Is...
- All Time Low
- The All-American Rejects (Their first few albums, before switching to Power Pop)
- Boys Like Girls
- The Cab
- Cute Is What We Aim For
- The Downtown Fiction
- Every Avenue
- Fall Out Boy (2001-2008— a critically acclaimed emo-pop band)
- Forever The Sickest Kids
- The Front Bottoms
- Good Charlotte
- Hellogoodbye (First album only)
- Joyce Manor
- Los Campesinos!
- Mayday Parade
- Never Shout Never
- New Found Glory
- Panic! at the Disco (Another critically acclaimed emo-pop band, mainly because they added elements of vaudeville, Psychedelic Rock and Dance-Punk to their sound instead of the usual formula, along with interesting lyrics.)
- Paramore (Along with Panic! and Fall Out Boy, they are one of the acclaimed emo-pop bands, especially because they are clearly influenced by old school emo such as Sunny Day Real Estate.)
- Secondhand Serenade (it's just one guy)
- Simple Plan
- The Spill Canvas
- The Starting Line
- The Summer Set
- Tokio Hotel (they're German)
- Twenty One Pilots (also Rap Rock and Electronicore
- We Are The In Crowd
- Weezer (possibly the Ur-Example)
- We The Kings
- The Wonder Years
- Yellowcard (they're the ones with the classical violinist)
- You Me At Six (Distinctly influenced by the Lostprophets)
"Emo Revival" bands (the indie takeover of the sound):
- Phoebe Bridgers
- Deer Leap
- Guitar Fight From Fooly Cooly
- Into It Over It
- Modern Baseball
- Mom Jeans
- Moose Blood
- Remo Drive
- Rozwell Kid
- Sorority Noise
- The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die (with an "ever-changing, ever-evolving lineup")
- Title Fight (Trope Maker for this style of emo)
- Touche Amore
- Iron Chic
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
- AFI - "God Called in Sick Today."
- At the Drive In - "One-Armed Scissor."
- Death Cab For Cutie - "Title Track."
- Sunny Day Real Estate - "Seven."
- Braid - "A Dozen Roses."
- The Get Up Kids - "Holiday."
- Jawbreaker - " Kiss the Bottle"
- Cap'n Jazz - "Little League."
- Rites of Spring - "For Want Of"
- Texas is The Reason - "Back and to the Left."
- American Football - "Never Meant."
Some definitive 2000's Post-Hardcore Emo tunes
- Brand New - "Jesus Christ"
- AFI - "The Leaving Song Pt. II."
- Thursday - "Counting 5-4-3-2-1."
- Taking Back Sunday - "Cute Without the E."
- The Used - "All That I've Got."
- My Chemical Romance - "Helena."
- Circa Survive - "Act Appalled."
- Saosin - "3rd Measurement in C."
- Thrice - "Cold Cash and Colder Hearts."
- Glassjaw - "Tip Your Bartender."
- Alkaline Trio - "Time to Waste."
- Armor For Sleep - "Awkward Last Words."
- Hawthorne Heights - "Niki FM."
- The Chiodos - "Baby, You Wouldn't Last a Minute on the Creek."
- Senses Fail - "Can't Be Saved."
Some Definitive Emo-Pop tunes
- Jimmy Eat World - "Sweetness."
- All Time Low - "Dear Maria, Count Me In."
- Fall Out Boy - "Dance Dance."
- Cute is What We Aim For - "The Curse of Curves."
- Panic! At the Disco - "I Write Sins Not Tragedies."
- Say Anything - " Alive With The Glory of Love"
- Simple Plan - "Welcome to My Life."
- Paramore - "Misery Business."
- The Downtown Fiction - "I Just Wanna Run."
And finally, a few definitive Classic Emo Revival tracks:
- Foxing - "Rory."
- La Dispute - "Such Small Hands."
- The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - "Heartbeat in the Brain."
- Modern Baseball - "Your Graduation."