Travis Barker with Kourtney Kardashian​, Hayley Williams of Paramore and Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance
Travis Barker with Kourtney Kardashian, Hayley Williams of ParaCollage: Cathryn Virginia | Photos courtesy of Allen J. Schaben, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Gilbert Carrasquillo via Getty Images

Emo Is Officially Back (It Never Went Away)

The return of Paramore and My Chemical Romance and the sellout success of When We Were Young Festival all point to one thing.
Emma Garland
London, GB

For more end of year essays and analysis on VICE, check out 2022 in Review.

Somewhere between navigating 30,000 people in fishnets battling the British public transport system to see My Chemical Romance in Milton Keynes, and navigating 80,000 people in fishnets battling a severe weather warning trying to see My Chemical Romance in Las Vegas, mainstream emo became a lived reality again this year. You couldn’t swing one of your two studded belts around in 2022 without knocking over a TikTok or trend piece about how “emo” is “back!” – something that’s been claimed at regular intervals for the past decade, referring to something different each time.


In the early 2010s it was the “revival” of underground bands as disparate as Modern Baseball and The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, who picked up where Midwest emo left off in the 1990s. In the mid-to-late 2010s another “revival” was heralded by artists like Lil Peep, Juice WRLD and XXXTentacion, who folded the influence of 00s emo artists they loved growing up into contemporary rap beats and production. Over the last few years, the “RAWRing 20s” has seen resurgence of interest in all waves of emo, with mainstream emo – that is, the emo of the 2000s – at the fore, sitting comfortably among the rise of other Y2K nostalgia trends.

The revival of 00s emo and everything that comes along with it – the Hot Topic garb, the fandom expressed most visibly through social media (in this case TikTok), the proximity to red carpet celebrity (Cardi B posting My Chemical Romance videos with the caption “they don’t music like this anymore”) – has been in the water for years. Lil Peep, Lil Uzi Vert and every e-girl on Twitch were integrating hot pink hair and chequerboard clothing into their style long before Machine Gun Kelly painted his tongue black and said “I am weed”. There were shades of it in the great “pop punk revival” of 2021, which saw artists like Olivia Rodrigo, Meet Me @ the Altar and Willow reinventing the genre beyond the tried and tested lens of “white man upset over ex-girlfriend”. A new bounty of Hollywood alt guy / hot girl couples reinforced the mainstream presence of alternative subcultures even further. 


Meanwhile, 00s emo nostalgia has been surging online since the start of 2020 thanks to what web culture journalist Ryan Broderick dubbed “the creative chaos of quarantine”.  TikTok become a home for scene kids who were barely out of nappies when MySpace was at its peak, and viral trends made old songs like All Time Low’s “Dear Maria Count Me In” (2007) and Pierce The Veil’s “King for a Day” (2012) go double platinum and hit the top of the Billboard charts respectively. New releases like “emo girl” by Machine Gun Kelly and Willow also spawned viral trends, but for very different reasons (while the trends for older songs trade in nostalgia and whatever cool there is to be gained from being a fan of third wave bands today, the MGK and Willow collab saw people in Converse turning their knees in, doubling over and dramatically flicking their fringe, mimicking the same cloying emo kid caricature that did the rounds in the 00s).

With 2022 being the first year that live music properly opened up without restrictions – most tours unfolding as planned, all the usual festivals back in full swing – these online trends are crystallising in everyday life. Things really kicked off in January with the announcement of When We Were Young – a seemingly doomed festival on the Las Vegas Strip that boasted a line-up of over 60 legacy emo bands and newer acts scheduled to play on the same day. In May, My Chemical Romance finally kicked off the world Reunion Tour they were meant to do in 2020, beginning with two nights at the Eden Project in Cornwall, for some reason, and set to continue into 2023.


Fellow behemoths Paramore began making moves again in April, with vocalist Hayley Williams launching a 20-part music podcast called Everything Is Emo and joining Billie Eilish on stage at Coachella. In September they dropped a new single and announced their first album since 2017, heralding another “new era” for the band. In October, the fated WWWY finally came to pass, going viral after the first date was cancelled due to “high winds” and then instantly selling out a 2023 edition.

Though it’s been the most notable trend by virtue of being mainstream in the first place, 2022 hasn’t just seen the return of 00s emo. We’ve also seen 90s bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, Elliott and Saetia reuniting to tour again, as well as Midwestern revival bands like Algernon Cadwallader and Snowing. As The Ringer summarised it earlier this year, there’s something going on for everyone – “Third-Wave enthusiasts, 2010s revivalists, and post-hardcore fans who wouldn’t dare use the three-letter E-word.”

Realistically, emo hasn’t ever gone away since it first emerged in the mid 80s as a way of differentiating the more “emotional” – read: feminine-coded – D.C. hardcore bands from the more traditionally masculine hardcore bands of the time. That said, the vast majority of the extremely broad range of bands that fall under the “emo” umbrella have remained underground. 


When emo became a mass market phenomenon in the 2000s, it did so as a subculture rather than a unified genre. And while that subculture has certainly fallen in and out of fashion over the last two decades, the larger bands like MCR, Paramore and Fall Out Boy that were thrust into the mainstream have been left on a constant simmer ever since, even during their years broken up or on hiatus. 

“We’re more popular than we were for the majority of our career,” Geoff Rickley of Thursday, who have disbanded and reunited twice since their formation in 1997, told The Ringer. “There was a moment in 2002, 2003, 2004 where we were selling out 5,000-capacity venues. We’re not there again, but for the rest of our career, which is the vast majority of it, it’s much bigger now than it was any of those times.”

Reunion tours are a tempting prospect for big bands whose milestone albums are now hitting their 15, 20, even 25 year anniversaries, as well as smaller bands like Thursday who perhaps didn’t get the dues they were owed at the time. They’re also an attractive prospect for promoters in a cultural landscape that trades on nostalgia – you could definitely say cynically (ticket prices for When We Were Young 2023 start at $249.99), but it’s not for lack of demand. Younger fans are connecting with mainstream emo culture and reinventing it for their generation, while older fans remain as devoted as ever partly because it was so derided in its heyday and – I maintain – remains vastly underestimated by anyone outside of its parameters. Nothing rallies strength in numbers like an underdog mindset.

Ultimately what we’re talking about when we talk about emo in the mainstream is a particular cluster of fashion trends, online fandom and behaviour and triple platinum selling albums. As a subculture it’s so prominent that, in addition to existing as its own thing, it’s soaked into the fabric of the 21st century as a whole, informing everything from alt R&B to hyperpop.

Despite what the decades of derision and distinctly teenage branding will have you believe, albums like Riot! and Welcome to the Black Parade are classics. They’ll keep being discovered and rediscovered simply because they’re good, and they inspire the kind of feeling that makes people want to follow a band on tour around the world, or erect a small village of pop-up tents outside a stadium in Milton Keynes with some fans they befriended on the internet to ensure a spot at the barriers. And perhaps what we’ve seen in 2022, if nothing else, is that devotion manifest in a way that feels significant. There’s no doubt that emo will keep “reviving” in news headlines and trend forecasts for years to come, but maybe 2022 was the year the scales finally tipped in its favour – if only briefly.