Black Kids Haircuts Biography
From the suburbs to the beaches, from Mexico to Iraq, teenagers have been self-identifying as "emo" for almost thirty years and it still manages to confound and confuse the mainstream. What is emo? What does it mean to BE emo? Based on the melodically-aggressive and complicated hardcore music of mid-80s Washington DC, emo has its roots in punk rock but has expanded into many styles, sounds, and cultures. Emo is huge and it's here to stay. If you want to learn about the history, the music, and the culture to get started participating in emo culture, you've come to the right place. See Step 1 for more information.
Keep an open mind. Ask a room full of fifty self-identifying Emos to define "Emo" and you'll probably get fifty completely different answers. To a casual music fan over the last several decades, it can seem like the only thing that makes someone an Emo is the ability to argue endlessly about the difference between indie emo, screamo, emopop, and emocore, none of which really matters to the core or to real emo fans.
"Emo" has been used to describe an ever-changing variety of music over the course of thirty years. It's difficult to pin down, so don't try to. The first criteria of being a good emo? Be inclusive. Don't get sucked into stupid arguments about what "real" emo is or isn't. That doesn't make you an emo, that makes you a bully.
Check out the roots of the emo tree. "Emo" was first used to describe hardcore punk bands in the DC area that wrote more confessional and personal lyrics than more traditional hardcore punk bands. Influenced by pioneering hardcore bands Minor Threat and Black Flag, bands like Rites of Spring and Beefeater both wrote confessional and personal lyrics in their hardcore punk songs that led to the coining of the term "emotional hardcore" and eventually "emo." So, originally, emo was a fairly small local scene in the DC area that gained some attention.
In the early 90s, bands like Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate began flying the emo flag, except these bands sound basically nothing like early DC emo. Influenced by California pop punk, these bands have big catchy hooks and personal lyrics, writing songs with sweeping structures and loads of melodrama.
Recognize more recent developments in the sounds of emo. Emo broke out huge in the 2000s, with Victory Records bands like Taking Back Sunday, Thursday, and the Used patenting a particular brand of "screamo" music that returned somewhat to emo's hardcore roots. It was big, loud, and extremely popular.
Concurrently, Dashboard Confessional headlined a kind of emo that featured acoustic guitars and big choruses, but sounded more like acoustic folk than Black Flag. These two different directions made it very difficult to categorize emo in, say, 2005.
Develop a passion for different kinds of music. Generally speaking, all emo music has two things in common: big, sweeping, extremely melodramatic guitar-based music, either aggressive and harsh or acoustic and gentle, that contain confessional or explicitly personal lyrics, often about heartbreak and loneliness. The Used doesn't sound much like Death Cab for Cutie who doesn't sound anything like Jawbreaker. So what? They're all emo bands. Pick the sounds you like and don't listen to what you don't like.
If you want to dress emo and listen to Sunny Day, go for it. If you also have Lady Gaga, Johnny Cash, and Cannibal Ox on your iPod, that doesn't make you any less emo. A real "emo" is someone who is passionate and knowledgable about a diversity of music and proud of their taste in it.
Define emo for yourself. Much like the terms "hipster" or "punk" calling someone an "emo" is often used as an insult Its fairly common for young people--who want desperately to belong somewhere--to try and jump on a "cool" bandwagon without really knowing anything about it. Being seen as "fake" or as a "poseur" is at the heart of much emo controversy. That's why widespread violence against emo kids happens in Mexico and Iraq. That's why endless YouTube comment streams are full of immature and shrill arguments about whether or not Bullet for My Valentine is really emo or not.
While a guy with dark hair and guyliner listening to Dashboard Confessional in Columbus, OH might be considered emo by a lot of people, the California blonde who surfs and listens to Dashboard Confessional might consider herself emo as well. Treat this as an opportunity for everyone to appreciate the music.Look to the bands for tips. For tips about music, definitions of "emo," and fashion, check out the guys and gals making the music for advice. See who they listen to, who they're influenced by, what they read, and what they recommend. Learn straight from the source.
Like grunge or "jamband" music, most bands labeled as "emo" or "emocore" would probably take issue with the label anyway and prefer to just be called a rock band. It's a sloppy term used by rock journalists and grabby fans to categorize completely different things in completely different regions over different times. Worry less about whether something is "real emo" and worry more about whether or not it's good.