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It’s Not a Phase, Mom: The Impact of Emo Music

It’s Not a Phase, Mom: The Impact of Emo Music

Whether it was the unnecessarily long titles of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out or the sweet memories of ‘Ocean Avenue’ and ‘Cherry Street’ that were the soundtrack to your teenage years, it’s inevitable that most people (whether they admit it or not) have gone through an emo phase. Emo music, or ‘emotional rock’, is an umbrella term for genres like pop-punk, screamo, and grunge-rock, and usually addresses issues such as failed romances, self-expressionism, self-loathing, and despair. The genre derived from the 80s gothic movement, formulated by icons such as The Cure’s Robert Smith, and built upon the American grunge movement of the 1990s.

An “emo”-tional rite of passage?

With a huge spectrum of music on offer, from the screaming Sleeping with Sirens, to Panic!’s pop-inspired collections, listeners have a huge array of voices and sounds to explore.

While there’s no exact figure showing just how many teens go through what many refer to as a ‘rite of passage’, why does music this deep and intense resonate with young adults in particular?

A pair with expert knowledge in this field are Pat Holmes and Tom Kelly from the Reminiscent podcast – a weekly programme that discusses some of the best and worst releases in pop-punk and emo history. The pair explore the significance that emo music held for them during some of the most difficult periods of their lives: their teens. Kelly says:

“It got me at the right time developmentally. It was there when I needed it the most, I’ve attached so much of my identity to it, I can’t imagine turning my back on it

“I just felt really misunderstood, but when Simple Plan sang, ‘I’m just a kid and life is a nightmare’, I was like, ‘someone understands me’. It was lyrics that really captured how alone, and sad, and fearful I felt as a child.’’

“I think it stems from feeling a bit different and then it morphs into a fashion or an identity.”

Holmes follows: “It just kind of felt like, there’s a home here, let’s just yell it out, sweat it out, kick it out, mosh it out.”

Since they began their podcast in 2016, the pair have been pleasantly surprised by how many listeners have related to their experiences and the volume of people who still enjoy the genre as adults. Holmes continues: “A lot of the people who watch the show haven’t changed a little… something we’ve learnt is that most people, at least musically, just stay there and listen to the same 4/8 albums.’’

“We talk about our lives in the episodes, and then everyone joins on Twitter to talk about how they have the exact same lives as us.”

Kelly summarises: “It’s great that we all found so much happiness through all our sadness.”

It’s become apparent that this genre of music offers adolescents a sense of familiarity and a refuge from the roller-coaster reality that comes with being a teenager. But, with these years commonly regarded as ‘the best time of our lives’, it feels the music that once offered solace to lonely teens still deeply connects and holds a special place in their hearts, decades on. 

Falling under this bracket is self-identified ‘ex-emo’ fan, Hazel Potter. Like many listeners of the podcast, Potter still finds herself listening to, and reminiscing on the playlists of her complicated teen years. She explains: “I choose to listen to (the same music) as it was a big part of my life for a very long time and helped me manage a lot of my feelings… To this day it helps me reminisce and I genuinely enjoy the music.’’

“Anytime I listen to emo music, I start to remember why I liked it in the first place. But it does also make me sad sometimes. It was such a primal part of my life for a very long time and I would be a very different person if I had never discovered it.”

Potter also feels the genre has helped her, and many others, discover new, alternative styles of music as they have grown and developed. She follows: “I feel very musically cultured and a lot more adventurous when it comes to new genres and bands. I’ve found a lot of the older emo bands are changing their genres mainly to indie. It’s a nice change of pace and I can still enjoy their music now I’m a bit older.”

It’s Not Just a Phase

With the last five years witnessing the likes of Paramore and Fall Out Boy hanging up their metaphorical emo boots in favour of popular R&B styles, many young musicians and fans have become inspired by the changing faces in the emo sphere.

Twenty-year-old content creator, Marcus Connolly, has been influenced by his teen emo phase to create an amalgamation of sound in his most recent mixtape, Fresh Hell. Implementing the loud, distorted guitars of Linkin Park and Paul McCoy’s whispered growl in ‘Bring me to Life’. Connolly’s DIY project pays homage to the playlists of his early teens. He explains why he’s revisiting this stage in his musical development: “I’m so into old school emo vibes. I grew up listening to like MCR (My Chemical Romance) and the whole emo wave, but I felt it got taken away from me and I didn’t get to fully embrace it at that age.”

He adds how the political landscape of the education system, with its expectations, rules and social hierarchies left him feeling different and unfulfilled.

“I felt the way I expressed myself (in High School) wasn’t really embraced. It was a struggle, but then I went to college and embraced it a lot more.’’

“Anyone that grew up in that kind of 2012- 2014 emo era, I just felt like we weren’t accepted by everyone.”

Connolly reflects on how growing up and leaving the education system has allowed him to explore and authentically express his true self. He continues: “I went to Afflecks Palace, in Manchester, as a kid, and I remember thinking ‘All the weirdos are here’, but now I’m a weirdo… and I’m proud of it.’’

“It’s been a journey to get to this point of authenticity almost, where I feel like I’m pulling from my life experiences a lot more.

“I’m exploring that side of myself again that feels authentic and creative.’’

“For me, I feel like emo pulls from being emotionally driven and that’s why I say a lot of my music is emo. If you’re honest like that, that’s it for me. I think that’s it, like expression. Self-expression.”

Often dismissed as an inane period, brought on by raving hormones, it seems a teen’s emo phase has a profound influence on each person as they grow and develop. Whether it be reminiscing on days at the park, or as a vehicle to explore new genres and styles, emo music helps identify an individual as they navigate their way through the gruelling emotions of growing up, and what life brings afterwards.


Written by Simone Harrison.

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