My whole life I have been drawn to music, which is fairly normal for anyone. However, my obsession never let up. It only became stronger. Now, my car is littered with CDs and I collect albums incessantly. I relish the day that new records are released and usually listen to them through so many times on repeat until it’s all memorized. It is a lifestyle that chose me. In my spare time, I read song lyrics and put on countless albums to play through. My idea of fun is driving around alone blasting music and singing my heart out, or staying at home listening to music for five hours straight.
One thing that has not changed is the misconception of the genre of music that I listen to.
I listen to emo music. It has become so difficult to explain to people that I have just start saying that I listen to Indie – which is true, but just not the entire picture.
Emo music has been mislabeled and thought of wrong for decades.
So, what is emo music?
Emo stands for emotional. It's that simple. Music that holds emotional, personal and often confessional lyrics can be considered emo. The semantics (meaning) of songs are held in the lyrics. Real emo music can be read like poetry. It is often deep, heartfelt, and even somber. The genre became increasingly popular in the 1990’s by bands such as Sunny Day Real Estate, Jets to Brazil, The Promise Ring, and many others.
As time went on, emo bands began to experiment with louder and softer dynamics. This is when the music began to adopt and implement more rhythmic and intricate melodies. One will often hear the lighter strings being played and there is more of that ‘twinkly’ guitar sound.
Indie vs. Pop
Emo music has always relied on a DIY (do it yourself) ethic, and more importantly, sincerity. Lyrics and rhythms of emo music are meant to be personal and from the heart – similar to poetry. In other words, the genre has always been indie (independent). Real emo music has never really been big or widespread, and they do not usually sign to big record labels that play music on the radio. Emo music has mostly been an underground scene.
It was not until the emergence of Midwest Emo music that the genre began to spread in popularity.
Midwest Emo is a style of indie rock that chose a less hardcore/punk route and went with an easier, gentler touch. It can be distinguished by its twinkly guitar sounds and its overall more upbeat rhythms. Bands such as Cap’n Jazz, American Football and Mineral are some pioneers in this category. They are also bands that began to move emo music more into popular culture. Emo started to become more popular. After Weezer’s album ‘Pinkerton’ in 1996 – which is considered one of the first and best emo albums of all time – other bands began to jump on the scene. The genre started to bloom in popularity. Big record labels took notice and a group of new bands stormed in with emo influences. Bands such as Green Day, Fall Out Boy, Taking Back Sunday, etc. would be associated with the emo genre; however, they remain pop music. Pop music is meant to reach and appeal to the masses, so they create catchier songs that are simple enough to stick in your head after one listen. Do not confuse independent (indie) emo with pop (popular/radio) emo music.
Emo vs. Scene
After the genre started to really blow up in popularity around early-2000, the misconception only expanded. The emergence of radio emo music took over the whole scene and adopted the genre as its own. However, do not be confused with the ever-popular, mall-emo that took youth culture by storm and real, authentic emo music. The difference is actually quite simple. Popular/radio emo music can be known as ‘scene’. Bands such as Senses Fail, Silverstein, Underoath, A Day to Remember, Hawthorne Heights, etc. belong to this scene group. Later on, bands such as Asking Alexandria, Falling in Reverse, The Amity Affliction, and Bring Me The Horizon continued the scene tradition. These bands may be associated with and influenced by emo music, but they are not emo bands. If anything, they can be categorized as Post-Hardcore bands, as they scream/squeal, have breakdowns, and play ‘heavier’ guitar. Emo music does not do this.
Emo kids are the opposite of ‘Scene’ kids. Emo kids do not want to be seen. They are usually reserved, quiet, and keep to themselves. Scene is where kids dye their hair a number of colors and wear eye liner, etc. Put simply: Scene is to be seen. Emo, typically, is to not be seen. Emo bands do not look for attention, popularity, or money. It is about the music.
An analogy would be rap vs. hip hop. Rap is usually on the radio and is the popular one, while hip hop is the more underground, indie version that concentrates on lyrics as opposed to merely a ‘dope beat’.
After 2010 or so, scene music (radio emo/mall emo) and its popularity had started to die down. However, an underground emo revival would also be in the works. Many new bands were beginning to draw on the sounds and aesthetics of emo music in the 1990’s/early 2000’s. There has been a renewed interest in emo and especially Midwest emo. As a result, the genre is being revived. Bands such as Algernon Cadwallader, Glocca Morra, Snowing, Dikembe, Marietta, Foxing, Brave Bird, etc. have helped bring back a forgotten genre. Emo music has also broadened its sound again. Being independent (indie) bands allows for them to experiment with new sounds and sound original, and all while keeping that classic twinkly emo sound. Bands such as Modern Baseball, The Front Bottoms, Turnover, Warm Thoughts, Hotelier, Joyce Manor, Dowsing, Prawn, Kittyhawk, Tigers Jaw, Tiny Moving Parts, The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die, etc. have helped bring back the indie emo scene.
Even older emo bands have returned. Jimmy Eat World came out with a new album in October of 2016, and Midwest emo pioneers American Football have returned after over 15 years to put out their second self-titled album. Joan of Arc, a Chicago emo band formed in 1995, is also back together and put out a new record this week - which you can stream here. The emo revival is upon us.