Saying you're in an emo band is like showing up to Pantera concert with a Nelson T-shirt on. You're at once the object of scorn, contempt and, ultimately, pity. The rock subgenre is notorious for breeding white kids who try too hard to be intense and have limited musical and fashion sense.
Invariably, half the time you have a conversation about emo, you've got to start off with a definition. The word "emo" is as ambiguous as Madonna's accent or Michael Jackson's gender. You can get into a hundred pointless debates about the definition and origin of emo, but today the word mainly refers to guitar rock bands made of mopey white guys who write sensitive, diary-excerpt lyrics. There are big, distorted guitars and impassioned (sometimes whiney) vocals coming from guys with messy haircuts, thick glasses and tight, vintage T-shirts.
SPIN magazine put it well in a recent article on emo heartthrob Dashboard Confessional. Emo is "a rock subgenre primarily distinguished (like all good rock subgenres) by its participating bands' steadfast refusal to acknowledge their role in it. These days, the term is applied to virtually any young, punk-influenced guitar band that doesn't feature a DJ."
While they've gotten some mainstream recognition, emo kids remain easy targets for seen-it-all hipsters. After all, they wear their broken hearts on their sleeves, they aren't known for pushing too many musical boundaries and they are, by and large, middle-class, educated white kids from good families.
Well, goddammit, I'm coming out of the emo closet. I'm a white kid who loves loud guitars.
I heart emo.
Emo has slowly trickled into the mainstream, starting with Jimmy Eat World's success with "The Middle" off their album "Bleed American" (which they stupidly renamed eponymously after September 11). Now, Dashboard Confessional debuted at number two with their third record, "A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar" and bands like Brand New and Thursday are receiving more and more MTV and radio airplay.
With every trend, there's a backlash and critics are quick to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to emo. People perceive emo bands as being whining brats who vent their problems without looking for solutions. However, bleeding hearts have always been in style from sad country songs to love-struck R B balladeers.
I admire emo's ability to remain raw and risk being made fun of. Rather than wrapping their emotions up in riddles for the musical elite, they keep it simple. Snarky record-store-clerk types may find it easy to poke fun at someone laying himself on the line, but even if their lyrics are overly simplified, they aren't wrapping it up in some sort of package in order to impress someone.
For instance, Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carraba seems to be the poster boy for the commercial emo movement. His first two albums are intimate, heartsick records that have struck a chord with a ton of college-age kids. Admittedly, his boyish looks and aerodynamic haircut haven't hurt him, but go to a concert and you'll see all the kids chanting the lyrics louder than Carraba himself. (By the way, if you are at a Dashboard concert, stop singing so loudly. No one came to hear you screeching.) When people are devoting themselves to soulless pop, it's good to see something, anything, relating to kids on a gut level. And if what affects one person isn't necessarily cool enough for another, then tough shit.
I don't think I could listen to emo all the time. There's only a certain amount of self-pity that I can indulge in before I feel like I would want to kick my own ass, but its sense of urgency, sincerity and melody are exactly what is missing from a lot of modern music.
Everyone who is serious about music would love to see the public embrace intelligent, heartfelt music rather than manufactured, dumbed-down tripe. While emo might not be the most cerebral music all the time (you can practically hear the Zoloft bottles rattling in the background), the emotion there is a good first step.
Emo's newfound popularity is refreshing in a world where people call A Simple Plan a punk band. Emo kids of the world, fear not. Your day in the sun has come, bask in it.
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