Today, upon hearing the word “emo,” most young people will associate the word with black fingernail polish, tight pants, and songs of broken hearts. Most are unaware that this word was coined before some of them were even born in the mid 1980’s and the original intentions of this genre were far different from what we see today. Emo has become the victim of counter-bricolage, where it has been bought by the mainstream and is now sold to the public with little to no ties to it’s origins.
In today’s world, emo has become more of a fashion statement rather than a style of music. The term “emo” has been appropriated by the corporate world and the end product is what you see today on MTV with popular bands like My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, etc. Stores such as Hot Topic sell this ready made identity to impressionable young teens who are looking to stand out from their peers. The stereotypes that surround this style are that of depression, suicide, and self injury, as well as the perhaps most widely known stereotype of the haircut with the side-swept bangs. The music that is attached to this style is garbage. It’s major label produced pop rock that is very distant from the D.I.Y. (do it yourself) ethics that were originally attached to the emo scene. The focus of the music has shifted from quality and substantial lyrical content to a fashion and a fad for young teens to latch on to.
As with most things in life, “emo” had a time and place within society before it was bastardized by corporations who saw it as a marketable product. Real emo music emerged from the hardcore/punk scene in the 1980’s in Washington, D.C. where the music became less focused on society and more concerned with the individual. Bands that I love and enjoy, such as Rites of Spring, Gray Matter, and Dag Nasty as well as second-wave emo bands from the 1990’s such as Jawbreaker, Sunny Day Real Estate, and The Promise Ring were the godfathers of this movement and had achieved this status by breaking the boundaries of hardcore, which at that point, typically had lyrics dealing with politics and world issues. Contrary to popular belief, the term “emo” actually is an abbreviated form of the word emotive (rather than “emotional”), which means to arouse emotions through the use of subjects and language. This is an important distinction because to me, emotional is simply a state of being while emotive is a more deliberate appeal to the emotions where individuals who listen to the music are meant to feel and interpret the lyrics in a way that they may evoke a wide variety of emotions, not just depression.