The term "emo" has all of these negative misconceptions floating around it, and I never understood why. Most people when they hear emo tend to think of tight jeans, long hair, and band tees. Well, it's not really like that at all. It's just a genre of music that unfortunately grew around the time "MySpace" was a thing.
And there are some fantastic songs from the 1990's-2000's era of emo that still hold up exceptionally well today. Here's a short, but sweet list of a few standouts.
1. "You're So Last Summer" - Taking Back Sunday
Ah, Taking Back Sunday. So here's a funny story.
In high school, I drove a car in which, among the numerous other issues, didn't have functioning locks. I was always taking a gamble leaving valuable things in my car as literally anyone could open the door and take whatever they wanted. One day after class, I came out to my car and discovered that someone stole all the spare change I had overflowing in a cup holder, and my case full of CDs.
I was devastated because that CD case was full of custom-made discs I have created over the year along. So I was a bit upset because I was thinking I would have to go without music in my car for a while, but guess where the thief forgot to check?
THE RADIO PLAYER! And what did I find was still in the slot? Taking Back Sundays debut album, "Tell All Your Friends". Let's just say I got REALLY into this album over the following couple weeks as it was the only thing I listened to.
2. The Music Or The Misery" - Fall Out Boy
Believe it or not, Fall Out Boy used to be a pop-punk band. I know it might be hard to believe judging from the music they produce nowadays, but it's true! And their sophomore album "From Under The Cork Tree" is a perfect example of how far they have come.
Once just a band from Chicago playing basement and bar gigs, they have now become famous worldwide and are still creating chart-topping hits to this day. This band defined my junior year of high school. Growing up in a town that lived for the summer and died by the winter, there wasn't much to do in the fall and winter. So my friends and I did one of two things: play video games, or drive aimlessly around with music blasting. We did the later more often than I care to admit.
We listened to pretty much every artist on this list regularly, but it seemed like we would always sneak Fall Out Boy in the playlist somehow. More specifically, "The Music Or The Misery". This was actually a bonus track off of "From Under The Cork Tree", but it's honestly the best song off the record in my opinion.
Please, if you only take one thing away from this article, check this song out. You won't regret it.
3. "I'm Not Okay (I Promise) - My Chemical Romance
While many consider the 2007 hit "The Black Parade" to be My Chemical Romance's stand out album, I still stand by the opinion that "Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge" is not only their best but their most important album. You have classics like "Helena" and "The Ghost of You", but c'mon.
It's near impossible to not scream along to the chorus of "I'm Not Okay" in your car. I've been listening to this song for about 10 years now, and it never gets old. It's upbeat, fast, and catchy. Perfect.
4. "Jude Law And A Semester Abroad" - Brand New
I have been torn between this song and "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows". While I do think Quiet Things is an objectively better song because of it's lyrical structure and tone, it doesn't get me feeling as excited or "Jude Law And A Semester Abroad".
Coming off of Brand New's 2001 album "Your Favorite Weapon", Jude Law is the standout song in my opinion. The build-up and pay off in the ending gets me every, single, time.
5. "Holiday" - The Get Up Kids
Pioneers of the genre as we know it today, The Get Up Kids helped define the sound of emo music with 1999's, "Something To Write Home About". The opening track sets the mood of the rest of the album with scratchy vocals, catchy lyrics, and an iconic chorus. They went on record as influencing many popular emo bands of the 2000's like My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday.
The Get Up Kids are luckily still around and touring occasionally, but I don't think anything will ever top this song. This song just emanates feelings of pure, adolescent bliss.
6. "I Want To Hear You Sad" - The Early November
Featuring one of the best opening bass lines I have ever heard in a song from this genre, The Early November got their big break with the heavy radio play this song got back when it released. A bit slower and more melodic than most other bands in the scene, I find that they have a unique sound I haven't heard properly replicated by another band.
As a plus, I recently had the opportunity to see this band live. And let me tell you, "I Want To Hear You Sad" is is a song that demands to be heard live in a small room with about a hundred other people yelling along.
7. "Pressure" - Paramore
Now I know what you're probably thinking. "Jacob, how could you choose Pressure over something like Misery Business?". Well, I'll tell you why.
While I do enjoy most of Paramore's work, I feel as though some of their albums are a little TOO polished, like 2007's "RIOT!". As fantastic of an album that is, I love the slightly more raw, amateur sound that their debut album "All We Know Is Falling" had.
I think that the songs "Pressure" and "Brighter" are great examples of that. Plus, Pressure was covered in The Sims 2. I think that's reason enough.
8. "The Taste Of Ink" - The Used
The Used is a unique band because of how different they change their style album-to-album. The one that resonated the most with me is their self-titled EP, and I think that's partially due to where and when I listened to it the most.
Like most other teenagers, I was in the food industry for most of my high school career. Goodbye nights, hello dish-washing. I enjoyed it for the most part because I worked with my two best friends, so we would just jam out to music and wash dishes all night together.
The music we listened to nightly was all over the place. Some nights would be Fall Out Boy, others would be Minor Threat, and a couple were Bad Religion. On weeknights when I was the only dishwasher scheduled, I would have full reign of the tiny speaker we had stationed near the sinks.
For whatever reason, I remember playing this album a TON. Like I wish I could see how many times I listened to this album over the years. The one standout song was "The Taste Of Ink" though. The lyrics and beat to this are way too catchy, so listen at your own risk.
9. "Bite To Break Skin" - Senses Fail
This a bit heavier than most other songs on this because front-man Buddy Nielsen mixes clean vocals with screaming vocals. Coming off of their debut album "Let It Enfold You", it was difficult to narrow it down to a single song because every track is so damn good.
The last 30 or so seconds of this song is insane though. The breakdown and screaming is enough to make you want to jump around and scream along.
By the way, this song is an absolute treat to hear live. The band adds a new breakdown between the second chorus and ending of the song, and it's just absolutely insane. I've never been to a show with that much high energy and moshing from everybody since, and I don't think it will be matched anytime soon.
10. "Smile In Your Sleep" - Silverstein
Following off the heels of Senses Fail, Silverstein does indeed opt for a bit more of a heavy sound. A classic among many listeners of the genre, "Smile In Your Sleep" has everything you could ever want in an emo song: clean chorus, harsh screaming, and melodic guitar action. Also, the album art is incredible. Just look at it!
11. Understanding In A Car Crash" - Thursday
I find that Thursday is a polarizing band, you either love them or hate them. I am on the side of loving. "Understanding In A Car Crash" is the best song Thursday has produced, hands down.
Mixing the lead vocalists higher, scratchy voice with screaming in the background is a perfect combination. I find that "Full Collapse" is an album I'll pop in for long car drives because of the quality and lyrical content, but MAN is the opening song a banger.
12. "Those Days You Felt Alive" - Spitalfield
It's a shame that Spitalfield never got the attention they deserved. Hailing from Chicago at the same time as Fall Out Boy, these guys had a unique sound with their emphasis on the bass and slower verses.
I'd be surprised if many people recognized them on this list, but hey. Might as well give an old band a little bit of deserved exposure, right?
13. "Face Down" - Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
It was great back then, it's still great today. I guarantee you have heard this song at least once in your life, it seemed like this was the only song on the radio back when it came out.
I saw Red Jumpsuit Apparatus over the summer, and the lead vocalist made an interesting point. The crowd was unfortunately very unenthusiastic and was just kind of standing around like zombies, and you could tell the band was getting tired of it. So the lead vocalist asked what song we wanted to hear, and the overwhelming majority of people shouted, you guess, Face Down.
He played it, but made a point to say that they have multiple number one hits, even though that's all people want to hear. I could only imagine how frustrating it must be for them, but hey, it's a great song.
14. "The Kill" - Thirty Seconds To Mars
Jared Leto is a name everyone recognizes, right? Famous actor, played Joker in Suicide Squad and Harry Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream? Yeah, you know him. Did you know he also heads an incredibly popular band called Thirty Seconds To Mars? You did? Oh. Have you heard "The Kill" before? Probably. Is it still good? Yes. It's still phenomenal.
15. "Never Meant" - American Football
We are going to end this list with a somber, yet hopeful classic. American Football is a band you listen to either when your feeling incredibly down, or when you just want to chill out and relax to some tunes. "Never Meant" is a very dream-like song in terms of its sound.
It's all about a failed relationship and the baggage that comes with it, but you can interpret that however you wish. You could stay stuck on the person and mope around, or be happy for the time you two shared and look back on it positively.
Whatever you are feeling, this is the quintessential emo song.