The mid 2000’s had a huge exploration into subculture aesthetics. One of the largest subcultures to grow in this period was emo. Emo originally stood for emotional, in reference to the “emotional hardcore” scene in Washington D.C. in the 1980’s. At the time most hardcore was political in nature following its punk origins, so when bands like Rites of Spring, Fugazi and Hüsker Dü wrote lyrics dealing with personal emotions and relationships, they were given the title emotional hardcore. This later was written shorthand as emocore. In the 1990’s, bands like Cap’n Jazz, American Football and Sunny Day Real Estate took on more of an indie rock influence and became emo. These bands never became mainstream, but set the stage for what would come next.
“It just takes some time, little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride…” marked the commercial breakthrough for emo mainstays Jimmy Eat World. “The Middle” reached #5 on the Billboard 100 and was played on top 40 radio in 2001 and 2002. Following the emergence of Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional reached popular acclaim with their song “Vindicated,” which was featured on the Spider-Man 2 soundtracked and peaked at #31 on Billboard 100.
By the mid 2000’s, emo was in full-swing. Individuals within the emo subculture started wearing band shirts, skinny jeans, fingerless gloves, studded jewelry, converse or vans shoes, piercings, black eyeliner and black nail polish. The fashion took influence from the goth trends in the 1980’s, especially how androgynous both the male and female styles looked. One of the most iconic features of emo fashion was the swooped hair style with a focus on straightened bangs. Many people decided to dye their hair black as well.
Emo reached its peak between 2008-2012 during what is considered as the “Scene Years.” Scene could be considered a different subculture with more odes to the 1980’s glam scene-queen subculture, which is the origin of the term “scene.” Scene had an important focus on bright neon colors in over the top t-shirt designs and hair dye.
After 2012, the emo/scene subculture died down as the hipster subculture and fashion grew. Many guys cut their bangs in favor of vintage undercut with a fade and hard-part or grew out their hair into a man bun. Girls continued to dye their hair either totally or in an ombre style and cut their bangs into blunt bangs or grow them out. The pop-punk/emo/hardcore fashion of the mid 2010’s began focusing on a restrained black/white aesthetic with simpler etch style designs. Others began wearing flannel long sleeve shirts and distressed skinny jeans fitting a more hipster aesthetic.
Fast forward to 2021 where attempts to bring back emo scene fashion are starting to be seen. Emorap has become a popular style of music with musicians such as Juice WRLD, XXXTentacion, Lil Peep, Yung Lean and nothing, nowhere. Popping up using emo vocal melodies with rap and hip-hop beats. These musicians have been gaining popularity in mainstream pop culture while employing deep, emotional lyrics similar to the emo of the mid 2000’s. Rappers such as Machine Gun Kelly, YUNGBLUD and POORSTACY have been collaborating with Travis Parker from Blink-182 to bring new life in pop-punk.
Covid-19 has impacted the resurgence of emo fashion as well. Both Gen Y & Z, are finding remote work and learning helps them feel more comfortable with bringing back more extreme expressions. Sophia Hilton, Instagram influencer and hairstylist, says that more people are experimenting with different hair colors with the introduction of the e-girl and e-boy TikTok aesthetic. She continues to say in a Glamour article that bosses are likely to comment on an employee’s pink hair as long as the employee is just working through Zoom.
TikTok influencer Kit Dickson was interviewed by Refinery29 and said that Gen Z is showing a similar trend as Millenials to show their “alternative selves.”
“I’ve seen lots of people starting to reconnect with their teenage identities, hobbies and interests again because of the pandemic,” says Kit. “Self-expression and self-identity are hugely important values to me. Nearing the end of 2019, I had definitely lost that sense of self and found it hard to be expressive with my appearance. But 2020 completely changed that, especially after joining TikTok and being inspired by a lot of the wonderful creators on the app,” said Dickerson.
Going deeper, Marianne Eloise of The Face explains that emo might have been the first genre of music to really discuss topics such as depression and self-harm in a melodramatic way to bring these topics in mainstream conversation. As a result, the 2010’s saw a rise in mental health awareness. Thinktank Freedom Lab cliams that pop culture as a whole has been creating a new paradigm supporting mental health and destigmatizing seeking help for mental illness. New York Times stated in 2018 that there was a 60 percent increase in the number of Americans who had been on antidepressants compared to 2010.
Babs Szabo from Emo Nites LA explains, “Growing up, being emo meant you were weak in a way, like you were stewing in your emotions and feelings too much. Nowadays, it’s much more commonplace to openly discuss mental health and sadness, which I think directly affects the way people consume emo music.”
Musically, many of the greats among mid-2000’s emo have been making comebacks. My Chemical Romance has a worldwide reunion tour planned whenever Covid regulations lift. Bright Eyes, The Used, Underoath Attack Attack! and Motion City Soundtrack have also reunited. “Dear Maria, Count Me In” by All Time Low has been the source of a major TikTok trend. Other emo anthems have been resurfacing across different internet trends such as Matt Cutshall’s “felt emo might delete” videos on YouTube.
As the 2020’s continue, pop culture does seem to be going in a direction where an angsty, alternative self-expression might be in-trend fashion look. With the help of Covid-19, people feel they are providing an opportunity to get out of their shell and show the world their desire to rebel against the previous social norms of appearance. E-girls and e-boys return to a more angrogynous aesthetic, following emo’s archetype. As mental health awareness grows, emo rappers will continue to be harbingers of this societal discussion. Maybe it is time to bring back the neon band shirts and the hair straighteners to revel in the return of emo in pop culture.