What is Emo? Why Emo? [Teen Article]

Gema is an 18-year old from Miami, FL. She loves reading and writing young adult fiction and claims to pass out in the presence of sterile wit.

Looking for the real definition of Emo has been like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Some claim that Emo is first and foremost a genre of music. It branches out to other subgenres that battle the other to truly define themselves as Emo. Some say that it’s a label placed on people who are emotional. These people claim that Emo kids are those who hurt on a different level than everyone else. On the flipside, there are those who say that it being short for emotional is merely a coincidence and an incorrect assumption.

So which is it? I think there’s so much confusion on the topic that it’s no longer about what truly is Emo. This isn’t like math, where you input information given by X to get what Y equals. This is more like poetry. What Emily Dickenson felt is not quite as important as what you feel when you read one of her poems. So it’s not about what adults think Emo is, but what the Emo kid thinks it is and why he/she thinks they fit that category.

I didn’t know what Emo was until I reached middle school. Even then, I didn’t know it had a label.

Since I was a little girl, I would always accompany my mom on errands. Whenever conversation struck, people started to ask how old I was. When the answer to that question began to be twelve and thirteen, the reaction was usually a pursed lip and a raised eyebrow. “She’s getting to that age.” “Enjoy her now, because she won’t want to be with you soon.” The assumption always was that I was about to rebel. Supposedly, it was as natural as getting my period and a face full of acne. I felt as though I was supposed to rebel in order to be a normal teenager.

Perhaps it was the age, but most of my friends felt the same way. Coincidently, there was a rise of the Emo scene in my community. We didn’t know the history of “Emo” and quite frankly didn’t care that it once started in Washington D.C. We didn’t even realize that it was Emo until a couple of years later. We just figured that no one understood us when in fact, we just didn’t understand ourselves. Being in middle school, we had very few sources of pain:  our parents wanted to restrict us, teachers only cared about their paychecks and we’d never amount to anything in life, so why bother? This affected most of the student body.  You expected this type of behavior from the average C students or worse, but the ones that I knew were honor students with impeccable records that would continue on to high school and are now Ivy League bound.  Adults raised them on a pedestal but in other corners, these kids sang along to sad songs, wrote dark poetry and sometimes even cut themselves. In fact, I had a friend who was asked out by a boy who carved her name on his arm with a lead pencil. This was an Emo kid being romantic and his action was extremely common.

The fashion was simple: black tight clothing with a dash of color thrown in their elbow-length gloves or poetry covered converse. There were the side bangs that produced what my friends in high school called the Cyclops look because it covered one eye. And to follow up on the low self-esteem, being thin was an obsession. If you wore the clothes and appeared to weigh close to a hundred pounds, you were Emo, otherwise you were a fat rocker poser.

To those that claim that Emo is short for emotional, they’re part of a culture that advocates low self-esteem by telling the world that they don’t understand Emo kids because Emo kids hurt on a different level. In my opinion, the only people that can say that they hurt on a different level are people with clinical depression and/or personality disorders. Everybody hurts but not everyone allows the hurt to consume them so completely that it becomes their label. It’s an excuse for feeling bad and instead of working out their issues; they sink into a deeper depression. The dismal song lyrics are meant to communicate their emotions but they do more than that, they sink the Emo kid into a dark abyss until they feel worthless and useless.  Those who say that Emo is about these sad emotions being misunderstood push away anyone who’s willing to help because if someone does understand them and tries to help, then they are no longer Emo and are no longer part of a category.

If Emo is simply a category of music, like Goth or Grunge or Classical or Pop are categories, then to each its own. Broadway musicals speak to me in a way that not many head bangers in my area will ever understand; so I can empathize with them as fans of a misunderstood genre even though I don’t like listening to it.

But in the end, I am not an Emo kid. Let them create their own definition.

7 Responses to “What is Emo? Why Emo? [Teen Article]”

  1. Erika
    August 23, 2009 at 2:23 pm #

    Articles written about ’emo’ these days are full of false information and portray a completely wrong image of the word. Either they be written from the point of view of self-proclaimed ’emo kids’, their haters, or interested bystanders; few do an accurate job of writing about the topic. This particular post was one of the worst I have read yet, if not for its misunderstand of the term but for its gross opinions on what the music is meant to do. It ends up sounding like a misinformed Daily Mail article*!

    Let this be made clear: actual ’emo’ has absolutely nothing to do with black clothing, angst ridden poetry, self-injury, or depressed feelings. Those who think this – and, unfortunately, these people are often the self-proclaimed ’emos’ – are completely, 100% off-track with its meaning. As a person who listens to real ’emo’ and ‘screamo’ music, I am stired of the myths attached the word – sick to the the absolute core.

    So, if you don’t mind I’m going to take this tome to explain it. I doubt anybody will actually read it; but, it needs to be said.

    The word itself stands for ’emotional hardcore’, which was a music genre that combined the classic hardcore sound of bands like Minor Threat, and added deeply personal lyrics on top. Often, the music also had a certain melodic touch, that – dare I say it – added an emotional element once absent from the hardcore group.

    The genre first sprung up in the Washington DC underground during the late 80s. Due to the fact that hardcore was beginning to fade out, this new style of music spread fairly quickly. Those who followed the bands wore a combination of old, usually hand me down clothing and the same styles that stereotypical ‘punk kids’ dressed in. However, there was no universal dress code, and – as long as you liked the music – you were far from being a poser. Groups like Rites of Spring, Moss Icon, Indian Summer, The Hated, and Julia were at the front of these early years of ’emo’ (late 80s-mid 90s).

    Then this early form of ’emo’ started to fade, except for a few select groups trying to recapture the passion and intensity of the early bands of the genre. I often refer to these groups as “revival bands”, as their purpose was to create a rebirth of the early styles of ’emo’. Examples include Wow, Owls!, The Pine, Catena Collapse, and Life At These Speeds. While nothing new, these groups allowed a whole new generation to experience the ’emo’ that had come before them.

    At the same time as the “revival bands” started to spring up, an entire new generation of ’emo’ began to form. The songs were much more chaotic, and the lyrics angrier than ever before. This new stage lasted all through the late 90s and into the early 2000s. Bands such as Honeywell, Mohinder and Swing Kids are all acceptable examples for this period. However, the groups that really shone and influenced within the ’emo’ genre at the time were based in Canada. Bands like One Eyed God Prophecy, Saetia, Breakwater, Jonah, Drift, and Union Of Uranus were all fantastic leaders of this period.

    This brings us to the later 90s and early 2000s. At this time, something called ‘screamo’ (Screamotional Hardcore) began to appear. The music was chaotic, fast, and more aggressive than before. This style still actually does exist, except it is now more commonly found outside of the USA (Russia is a big one). Orchird, Reversal of Man, Usurp Synapse, and Jerome’s Dream are all excellent examples of this style.

    This brings us to the present, the era of technical ’emo’. The music combines elements of screamo, grind, experimentation, and even some post-rock. City of Caterpillar, Envy, Pg.99, and – my personal favorite – Circle Takes The Square are all some of the current leaders in today’s scene.

    Sadly, when most people hear the word ’emo’ they think: cutting, suicide, depression, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Hawthorne Heights. There are self-proclaimed ’emos’ that support these things; however, it has little do with what ’emo’ actually is. I suggest next time you see one these kids, inform them of the truth.

    There were also many other problems with this article.

    “The dismal song lyrics are meant to communicate their emotions but they do more than that, they sink the Emo kid into a dark abyss until they feel worthless and useless.”
    This sentence is ignorant beyond any word in the English language. As a teen who who loves My Chemical Romance (along with those other bands falsely labeled ’emo’), struggles with depression, and used to SI (self-injure) – I can promise you that you are wrong on this one. My Chemical Romance – and that type of music in general – is what gave me hope when I was ready to end everything. It provided me comfort, understanding, and the idea that I’m not alone. The shows gave me the gift of community, and friends I didn’t have before. I’m no ’emo’; but I did struggle, and the music you are attacking is the music that kept me alive. Read this website: http://www.thankyoumcr.net to see that I’m not the only one with this view.

    “In my opinion, the only people that can say that they hurt on a different level are people with clinical depression and/or personality disorders.”
    Everybody hurts on a different level; this is not debatable. The same thing could happen to two different people, and it could effect them on two entirely different levels. While those with mental illness (depression, personality disorders, psychosis, among other things) do have different struggles to deal with, people without those things can hurt on a deeper level as well. Saying otherwise would invalidate somebody’s emotions, and that is the worst thing you can do.

    Oh, and self-injury has nothing to do with ’emo’. People who wear pink, go to church, and come from great families self-injure. There is no stereotype, and if you need proof stop by Recover Your Life’s website – it might give you some empathy and perspective.

    *The Daily Mail are a newspaper that blamed music like My Chemical Romance for driving kids to suicide.

  2. Vanessa Van Petten
    August 26, 2009 at 1:47 pm #

    thanks for putting in your opinion, we love getting the conversation started.

    And thank you so much for reading,


  3. Andrea RAda
    September 30, 2009 at 9:37 am #

    Sooo TruE I lOvE IT

  4. Emo Kid
    October 1, 2009 at 11:17 am #

    Really, emo has turned into a fad and there are more kids who could care less about the music that consider themselves emo than those who do listen to the music. They just want to be cool.

    The word was stolen from the genre.

  5. dalli thompson
    October 24, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    it offends me when people say teens go emo to be cool. im emo and i cut myself, cry myself to sleep almost every night, am super sensitive and shy, and im miserable as can be, all becuz of all the things people do to me. i think what ur referring to is GOTH, not emo. theres a difference you know

  6. eMo GIrL
    April 28, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    i agree with dalli thompson. Im emo and this not fun i cry every night wishing for my life to be better. People think being emo is just wierd and there freaks and that what drives us to cut our selves. yes some emos cut themselves and i cut myself to escape the pain tht no 1 nos about. I bet not one of u could be u


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