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Emo and Pop Punk

by Rowan Bagley

I was avoiding posting about this particular punk movement because it’s so often dismissed as not being “true punk”, but My Chemical Romance announced their reunion shows last week and my little emo heart is filled with joy. Like many other people my age, I went through middle and high school listening to the Holy Quartet (Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, My Chemical Romance, and Paramore) and dreaming about going to Warped Tour which, alas, never came to be. Despite the Emo and Pop Punk movements leaving such a lasting impression on an entire generation of social outcasts, they get surprisingly little credit within the punk community, as the lyrics tend to be shy and somber rather than harsh and abrasive.

While being heavily associated with the early to mid 2000s, emo and pop punk can trace their roots as far back as 1966, the year the Beach Boys’ released Pet Sounds, which is often considered the first emo album. Emo punk began to gain traction in the mid 1980s with bands like Gray Matter, Dag Nasty, and Fire Party, but wouldn’t go mainstream until the early 1990s with Green Day’s Dookie album. While emocore still holds the same uncompromising world views as punk, it differs in its theatrical lyrics of isolationism and fatalism, which was a draw if you were a melodramatic teenager like myself.

Like most punk movements, the “mainstream popularity” that emo bands enjoyed was still relatively underground in nature. However, as the 90s wound to a close, more and more record labels were beginning to understand the appeal of the growing alternative punk scene and lo, bands like Taking Back Sunday, Save The Day, and Weezer (whose Pinkerton album became a cornerstone of 90s emo) were now being played on popular radio stations. This is proof that our capitalist society only values art that can be commodified, Since then, emo and pop punk have branched out as a subgenre to encompass a multitude of sounds, including folk emo, techno, screamo, and gothic emo that each have their own following.

I’m too young to have lived through the grunge era of the 1990s, but the emo movement holds a special place in my heart, as I was in the agonising midst of adolescence when I first heard Panic! at the Disco’s debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. One listen was all it took and suddenly I was sporting a black pixie cut, red skinny jeans, and knee-high Converse, while still adamantly refusing to actually call myself emo (in hindsight, rejecting labels is a very emo thing to do). Emo appeals to many because of the emotional nature of the lyrics, which resonated with my generation as we struggled to understand our place in the world while still existing somewhere between childhood and adulthood. The teenage years are tough, no matter what anyone says.

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