The History Of Emo
Start writing a post

The History Of Emo

Emo bands through the ages.

The History Of Emo
Kelly Magovern

I won’t lie. For about five years now, emo has been my favorite music genre. I’m not sure what exactly makes it so fantastic. It could be the depressing lyrics that let you really wallow in self-pity, the shimmery, or just the simple guitar chords. Maybe for some, the best part of emo is the incorporation of Math-rock into the Twinkle-Daddy sub-genre. If you didn’t know what that last sentence meant, this article will explain it all.


The first wave of emo stemmed from the post-hardcore genre (which was in turn an offshoot of punk-rock) in the mid-'80s. The major difference between emo and punk is the content of the lyrics and the more melodic sound. Bands that fall into this category are Rites of Spring and Embrace. At this stage in emo’s life it sounds a lot like American punk-rock, with lyrics about “nostalgia, romantic bitterness, and poetic desperation.”


Second wave emo was a step back from the harshness of the '80s. In general, guitars were less distorted and chugged power-chords were replaced with arpeggiated major and suspended ones. Basically, what this means is it was even more melodic than the generation before it. The defining band of this period of time was Jawbreaker. They made the lyrics even more personal than first wave, or as haters of the genre say, even more whiney. “I kissed the bottle. I should’ve been kissing you,” Schwarzenbach of Jawbreaker growls in his still grunge-obsessed voice.

On the flip-side of popular emo was the underground movement that was also occurring in the '90s. While pop-emo was happening on the west coast, the best underground emo was (and still is) coming from the Midwest. This is where bands even today define the emo genre. The most popular, and most synonymous with the emo sound, was American Football. They incorporated strange time signatures and pioneered the idea of using alternately tuned guitars for a very nostalgic sound, incorporating elements of math-rock and jazz (notoriously musically complex genres) which gave them an extremely unique sound that bands of the genre today still try to emulate.


From the late '90s to early 2000s emo rose into the mainstream. Today, most people refer to these bands as “punk” or “pop-punk,” but don't be fooled, they're emo. The first band to really popularize emo was Jimmy Eat World with their "Bleed American" album. Other popular bands from this time period were Taking Back Sunday, which the original bass player, Jesse Lacey, left to form Brand New. During the mid-2000s these two bands were the face of emo. Taking Back Sunday leading to more mainstream acts like All Time Low and Yellowcard. Brand New inspired heavier emo bands, harkening back to the '80s emo style, such as Manchester Orchestra and Basement.

Toward the end of the decade, emo shifted again, with vocals becoming increasingly more harmonious and complex. As a result, what used to be considered emo began to decrease in popularity, so emo-inspired, pop-punk bands like Paramore, Panic! at the Disco, and All Time Low began taking over the alt music scene, ushering in the end of emo’s reign. Cultural tastes began to change, and these bands moved away from the style of those who influenced them initially to forge new ground in the pop-punk scene.


Contemporary emo, also known as “emo-revival,” has gained some popularity lately. Since most of their influence is taken from the mid-west underground emo of the '90s glittery sound, some have called this sub-genre “Twinkle-Daddy” in reference to the older age of the artists and the sound. Examples include Into It. Over It. and Dads. While twinkle-daddy adds some elements of college-indie into its sound, new-wave emo adds more indie and shoegaze. Good examples include Dikembe, The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die (TWIABP&IANLATD), You Blew It! and Deer Leap. Some new-wave emo bands add hints of folk to their music; good examples include Modern Baseball and The Front Bottoms, but these lean further from emo and closer to anti-folk, which is an article for a different day.

Hopefully this showed what a complex and old genre emo is. Emo is such a varied and important genre of music, but it’s never taken very seriously. It’s one of the most musically interesting and heartfelt genres out there. Sometimes I wonder if I learned more life lessons in school, or from Brand New.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

The Gift Of Basketball

The NBA playoffs remind me of my basketball journey through time

Syracuse Basketball

I remember that when I was very little, my dad played in an adult basketball league, and I remember cheering him on with everything in me. I also remember going to Tuscola basketball games when the old floor was still there and the bleachers were still wooden. I remember always wanting to play basketball like my dad, and that's just what I did.

Keep Reading... Show less

Plus Size Appreciation: How I Learned To Love My Body

Because it is okay to not be "skinny."


In America, we tend to stick up our noses at certain things that aren't the norm. For example, people who are overweight, or the politically correct term “obese." Men and women who are overweight get so much backlash because they are not skinny or "in shape," especially, African-American women, who are typically known for having wider hips and thicker thighs. Robert Darryl, an African-American filmmaker, explains the overall intention of the body mass index in his follow-up sequel, “America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments."

Keep Reading... Show less

It's More Than Just A Month

Mental Awareness reminds you that it's always darkest before the dawn.

Odyssey recognizes that mental well-being is a huge component of physical wellness. Our mission this month is to bring about awareness & normality to conversations around mental health from our community. Let's recognize the common symptoms and encourage the help needed without judgement or prejudice. Life's a tough journey, we are here for you and want to hear from you.

As the month of May begins, so does Mental Health Awareness Month. Anxiety, depression, bipolar mood disorder, eating disorders, and more affect millions of people in the United States alone every year. Out of those affected, only about one half seek some form of treatment.

Keep Reading... Show less

Pop Culture Needs More Plus Size Protagonists

When almost 70% of American women are a size 14 or bigger, movies like Dumplin' are ridiculously important, while movies like I Feel Pretty just feel ridiculous.


For as long as I can remember, I've been fat. The protagonists in the movies I've watched and the books I've read, however, have not been. . .

Keep Reading... Show less
How I Met My Best Friends In College

Quarantine inspired me to write about my freshman year to keep it positive and focus on all the good things I was able to experience this year! In this article, I will be talking about how I was able to make such amazing friends by simply putting myself out there and trying new things.

Keep Reading... Show less

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook Comments