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Still Not Okay: Gen Z Is Keeping Emo Alive

We spoke to the music fans who came of age (or were born) after the mainstream version of emo took hold in the mid-2000s.

by Marianne Eloise
21 August 2019, 5:24am

Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance, in 2011. (WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

The first time I felt truly old was the first time I read someone comment “I was born in the wrong generation” under a My Chemical Romance video from 2006. For millennials like me, our emo phases are mostly relegated to our teen years, only resurrected in the dizzying glow of a karaoke booth. But back in school, belonging to a group was everything: you were emo to death, or you weren’t.

Now, as genre and culture melt and slam into one another, we’re witnessing a new sort of emo revival. Well, even to call it that would be a bit of a stretch. Rather, today’s teenagers are posting about how much they love Fall Out Boy’s Take This To Your Grave or Taking Back Sunday's Tell All Your Friends, second-generation 2000s emo albums that came out when they were barely born. Their profile pictures, if not of the artists they love, are often taken from a Myspace angle and feature a jet black side fringe or a red and black shirt. You’ll even find teens with full-blown backcombed scene hair on TikTok.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that the emo movement is going strong. Bands like My Chemical Romance and Hawthorne Heights were melodramatic, theatrical, quintessentially adolescent – everything teenagers have always been. It was a genre that took all the messy, horny feelings of being a young adult into account; the music was for teens and often by teens, the only people capable of fully feeling the entire spectrum of emotions, thanks to raging hormones and teen angst. As adults, our souls are crushed and our time is filled with mind-numbing responsibilities. Teens have the time, and the inclination, to explore themselves and what they love. I spoke to some to find out what the appeal of mid-00s emo culture is to people born mostly after the millennium. The results may make any of you born before 1995 feel about 100 years old.

Paris, 20

Generation Z emo

I got into emo around 14 or 15, which is pretty late. I didn’t have anyone around to introduce me to the music but there was a YouTuber I liked who listened to Panic! At the Disco. I fell in love with Panic!, and subsequently bought Kerrang! because I wanted a poster of the band. That magazine told me that if I liked Panic!, I’d love Paramore, Fall Out Boy etc, and it snowballed from there.

I think emo has expanded a lot, it’s no longer five guys with eyeliner but everything from SoundCloud rappers to Billie Eilish to Julien Baker. There’s lots of new emo that I do love, but what unites it is less a sound and more of a style of conveying emotion.

Emo for me was all about feeling like an outsider who nobody understands. Then you listen to the words of other people and realise that you’re a little less alone. The music gives you something to hold on to. I think ultimately I’m always going to be able to relate to how Soupy feels on The Wonder Years’ Greatest Generation, and it will just grow stronger when I get to the age he was when he wrote it.

Mia, 13

Generation Z emo

I found emo when my sister introduced me to “I’m Not Okay” and I refused to like it, but a year later I evolved into being a full emo. I like both new and older emo, but I really appreciate older bands that still make music. My favourite bands are My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, The Get Up Kids, and Good Charlotte.

I sometimes dress emo, mixed with punk and goth. I wear skinny black jeans, black eyeliner, and have a side fringe. I love music and the iconic emo look, because I like to not fit in with the popular kids. It’s fun to see people still dressing like that.

My favourite part of being emo is going to shows and drawing fan art of my favourite singers and guitarists. I do and don’t wish I was alive in the mid-00s – I like seeing people’s confused looks out in public, but I do wish that I had gotten the chance to see my favourite bands live.

Erin, 18

Generation Z emo

My sister is older than me and she was super into emo. She introduced me to a lot of it in 2007, like Panic! At the Disco and My Chemical Romance. Although many people argue over how “emo” these bands are, I always felt emo didn’t necessarily describe the actual genre of music, but the whole culture and community.

Emo really becomes a whole world, the culture surrounding these bands is so welcoming for the most part. You pretty much know that if you meet someone that likes one band, they probably like these five other artists that you like as well. It’s easy to get tangled in it, and there can be weird toxicity in fanbases, but overall the idea of having this world of people that are into the same stuff you are is intriguing.

I was around in the mid-00s, just at a very young age, so I do wish I could’ve been older to appreciate it more. I did get to meet Ryan Ross, who was incredibly sweet, but I always wish I could’ve gotten to see Cobra Starship before they broke up. I remember my sister traveling to see My Chemical Romance and I always wanted to go but was never allowed, and the same thing happened when Panic! at the Disco toured for Pretty Odd, and I wanted to go so badly but my parents were like “no you’re eight, you’re not allowed.”

Heather, 20

Generation Z emo

I’d grown up with a knowledge of emos simply from seeing them loitering outside Blue Banana, as well as stumbling upon the music video for “I Don’t Love You” by My Chemical Romance on YouTube when I was nine. When I was 14, a Top 100 Rock Songs chart show on 4Music introduced me to the likes of All Time Low and Panic!, and I wrote down all the songs I liked and later ripped them from YouTube to put on my [Sony] Walkman [phone].

I prefer the mid-00s stuff but that’s probably just down to nostalgia. I think a lot of new “self-defined” emo bands either verge on the edge of “too indie” for me and aren’t as heavy, or just try to directly copy the same blueprint which doesn’t work anymore. I love Taking Back Sunday, All Time Low, and Free Throw. But I was really into emo metalcore as a teen, too.

As someone who was strictly not allowed to touch hair dye, I definitely tried to overcompensate with the clothes. DIY cut up band shirts, checked studded belt, patterned tights, knee-high Converse, bracelets up to my elbows, panda eyeliner. Now I still wear the odd band shirt, but I try and make style it with more fashionable clothes to prove I’ve grown out of it. It’s so weird to see emo and goth fashion become mainstream over the past couple of years.

At the end of the day, emo will always exist for people to seek out and relate to. Whether it’s mental health, break ups or feeling generally negative, these are timeless issues. We might grow out of fingerless gloves and backcombing our hair but if there is music that encapsulates our feelings, then people will always find it.

@marianne_eloise

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.