For years, the term "emo" has been used as something of a dirty word. Short for "emotional," the term is often used to describe a genre of music and the subculture associated with it. The term's roots can be traced back to the mid-80s, though it only became popular in the late 90s and early 2000s. In recent years, it seems as though those that consider themselves members of this subculture have embraced and reclaimed the title of being emo, though several stereotypes still exist about both the music and people associated with being emo.
I very proudly am one of those people. Allow me to take a few moments to explain the appeal of this type of music as well as to address some of the stereotypes associated with the subculture.
If you've read any of my work before, it's no secret at all that I've dealt with mental health issues my entire life, and when I say "no secret," I mean I literally have it tattooed on my wrist in the form of a semicolon. This is not at all uncommon for people who listen to emo music and subscribe to the emo subculture. Emo music very often explores the darker side of human emotion such as feelings of depression, worthlessness, loneliness, insecurity, suicidal thoughts, addiction, heartbreak, and tragedy. Where for a very long time the discussion of mental health issues was very taboo in society, emo musicians were not afraid to talk about it at all and, in doing so, brought awareness to the subject.
These bands pen lyrics detailing their battles with their inner demons for all the world to see and hear. They speak of their experiences not as something that somehow has made them less than others, but as something that they have survived. They actively fight the stigma that still surrounds mental health and they bring topics such as mental health and addiction into the conversation with each new hit song. More often than not, these musicians also publicly urge fans struggling with similar issues to seek help, and take every opportunity to explicitly reassure them that they are never alone.
Bands like My Chemical Romance, which is perhaps the epitome of emo music (and my personal all-time favorite band), helped thousands of fans all over the world feel like they weren't alone in what they were feeling. They showed fans like me through the subject matter of their lyrics that there were other people going through the same thing that I was and feeling the same way that I was. They showed that we could get through it together and that I wasn't alone in this fight.
My Chemical Romance in particular famously showed the world with songs like "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" that it's alright to not be okay. I'm not exaggerating when I say that through messages like this, emo bands have literally saved my life several times before. When I was suicidal I would very often turn to music. These bands became a confidant for me and countless others. They always seemed to know what I was going through and in sharing their stories helped me realize that I could make it through those feelings just like they did. They made me feel so much less alone and like there was hope for me. I am far from the only person that has been saved by the lyrics of emo bands, as well.
Partially due to the connection between mental health and emo music and partially due to its appeal to young people, there have been a large number of stereotypes that have been formed about emo music and culture. Perhaps the most well-known stereotype that there is about emo music is that liking it and being part of the culture is "just a phase" that young people go through. For some teens, this is true. They see the part of the culture that defies societal norms and brings taboo topics into the conversation and want to be part of something they deem as rebellious.
This type of culture also tends to attract middle school aged kids who are going through that awkward period of growing up that almost everyone goes through where they are struggling to find their identity and aren't comfortable in their own skin. For these kids, they tend to turn to emo music while this part of their life lasts and then grow out of it.
For the majority of fans of emo music, it is not a phase or something they will ever grow out of. These fans have had their lives strongly impacted by their insecurities and status as misfits. The very essence of who they are has been shaped by everything that emo culture is and stands for. Even if they currently have their mental health under control, have more self-confidence than ever, and finally feel as though they are fitting in, the moments in their past where that might not have been true is something that has left a permanent imprint on them and that they will always feel is a part of them.
Due to the apparent correlation between members of the emo subculture and those with mental health issues, it has also become somewhat of an offensive stereotype that all emos self-harm. A lot of this stereotype has to do with the stigma surrounding self-harming itself, which could be an entirely different article. Not all those who suffer from mental illness engage in self-harm. Furthermore, not all those who self-harm are attention seekers. Attention seekers are the vastly outnumbered outliers among self-harmers. They are by far the minority that unfortunately has given the stereotype of just wanting attention to self-harmers in general. By association, they have also given this stereotype of being attention seekers to emos who are often connected with the mental health community and therefore are perceived as likely self-harmers.
These and other stereotypes are not only offensive but are also just that, stereotypes. All in all, emo music and the emo culture plays a major role in the lives of many, and should not be dismissed as a phase or made fun of for other's entertainment. It's just as offensive and incorrect as assuming that everyone that listens to rap is a thug.