Step Outside Your Musical Box: Emo Music

Emo music brings up a lot of, well, emotions. Starting in the early 1980s and gaining more popularity into the 2000s, emo music shifted from the background to the forefront of popular music. This month, we’re getting emotional…so get out your black eyeliner and help revive the age of emo!

I’ve been contributing to weekly music suggestions for as long as ICA has been alive. If you haven’t noticed, I often choose more “user-friendly” tunes that are on mainstream radio. Although my tastes tend to be more mainstream, I also listen to a wide range of music genres in my spare time.

I got to college in the early 2000s, became friends with the “cool kids,” and started going to shows to support the local music scene. Through the new people that I met, I learned there was more to music than boy bands and pop stars. Friends, and boyfriends, introduced me to a slew of alternative music that included Social Distortion, Sunny Day Real Estate, Jawbreaker, and more. As I delved into these new musical endeavors, I got caught up in a new, resurgent wave of music…the emo phase.

There was something so raw about emo music. It was just so…emotional. And, as a late teen/young adult, I wanted to express all of my emotions through my clothes, makeup (hello, thick black eyeliner), and opinions. All of these bands, fronted by cute boys with guitars, singing about heartbreak and pain, were so enticing. I had no idea that emo had existed since I was born, with its roots in the 1980s. But the many popular bands in the 2000s had me hooked from the first moment I heard them.

I know you’re probably thinking, “But emo music is just. so. annoying!” However, I think there is a gold mine of music that is waiting to be utilized for more than crying over exes. But first, a small history lesson.

Emo music first came on the scene in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s as an extension from post-hardcore punk music. In its beginning, emo was loud and abrasive, often called “emotional hardcore” or “emocore.” Rites of Spring and Embrace developed this new sound. It was later adopted by more contemporary punk rock bands, like Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate, through the 1990s. As it morphed through the next decade, it became softer, more rock ‘n’ roll inspired, and folded nicely into the indie scene. Emo broke into the mainstream light in the 2000s with the large successes of bands like Jimmy Eat World and Dashboard Confessional. These bands were taking over the radio scene. Suddenly, there was emo music everywhere. Bands like Simple Plan, Bowling for Soup, All American Rejects, Fall Out Boy, and Taking Back Sunday were on mainstream radio getting play beside Kelly Clarkson and Usher. Independent record labels that had specialized in the genre were losing ground with many bands signing to major record labels. By the 2010s, emo music began to fade as quickly as it had emerged, with many of the formerly popular bands disbanding, or moving away from their emo roots. Today, emo is still relatively left in the past, with only our angsty teenage memories keeping the emotion alive.

From an indoor cycling perspective, this genre of music offers a lot of variety for your riders. The songs are relatively clean, with few explicit lyrics, and span from more hardcore “screamo” to softer indie rock and even bordering on pop music trends. Because of this, I think they can offer a good beat and motivation, which are arguably the most important things I am looking for in a song for a class.

Below, I’ve chosen a few of my all-time favorites, but my Spotify list has 80 songs, so you can get in touch with your emotions for hours on end. If you’re feeling apprehensive about jumping into the ship of emotion, I suggest some of the more pop-like bands including Panic! At the Disco, Weezer, Paramore, or My Chemical Romance. Arguably, these bands don’t quite fit into the emo scene, but they are more widely recognized. If you’re more of a rock ‘n’ roll type and are willing to dive into the genre fully, then I suggest checking out New Found Glory, The Used, Jawbreaker, Thrice, or Sunny Day Real Estate.

Below, I’ve chosen eight “standout” tracks that I feel embody the emo genre and showcase its versatility.

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