December 17, 2015


The Emo Revival: Why Mall Punk Nostalgia Isn't Fading Away

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Getty Images

You've probably heard the term "emo revival" floating around for a few years now. Even if you haven't, we'll walk you through it: Bands branded with the "e" word from the '90s returned, and were often viewed as simply "indie rock," because of the stigma that still surrounds the three letter word (it might as well be a four letter one). They played reunion gigs. They toured. Some released records. These bands (think Jawbreaker, Sunny Day Real Estate, Cap'n Jazz, American Football, The Promise Ring) are largely considered the second wave of emo, following the bands that grew out of the tradition of '80s D.C. emo and invented the sound: Rites of Spring, Embrace and the like.

Those bands were born out of hardcore (Embrace share a member with Minor Threat) and sounded more punk than the sensitive whine that we know the genre to be now. Those bands are also largely obscure, so the emo revival didn't start with them. Instead, it began with those bands from the second wave--bands that experienced real underground popularity, and later were treated as legends from people who didn't live through it.

Now, it seems the same treatment is being given to the emo bands of the 2000s, the ones that were critically derided as nothing more than an adolescent obsession: Good CharlotteMy Chemical RomanceThe Used and many others. Those bands are doing it differently, and in a big way.

Let's back track. The bands of the second wave held reunions that were pretty cut-and-dry: Sunny Day Real Estate went on tour and released some new tracks for Record Store Day. Texas is the Reason played a few anniversary gigs. Mineral did the same, even hitting up Gainesville, Florida's annual pop-punk festival, The Fest, alongside some young, up-and-coming acts in the genre. We're still waiting for that Jawbreaker reunion, but it's only a matter of time. 

The reason all of these groups decided to come out of woodwork is specific to each group, but the reason they all decided to come out of the woodwork around the same time is specific to culture. These bands started playing music that is mostly (almost exclusively) attractive to young, formative audiences...they're the kind of groups you grow up with. Twenty years have passed, and not only are they back in the game, they're playing with bands that are directly inspired by them: Musicians who were kids when 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was released, playing to a similar sound. (Bands like Into It. Over It. and The World Is A Beautiful Place And I'm No Longer Afraid To Die are included here; this list is a helpful guide to these groups.)

Now, that pressure towards reviving these ~emotional sounds~ has extended to emo as most people know it: The black eyeliner-toting, Hot Topic-loitering, teen-angst tunes of the mid-00s.These groups, the Warped Tour crowd, have always enjoyed cultural popularity and being critically maligned. We're talking about My Chemical RomanceGood CharlottePanic! at the DiscoFall Out BoyAll Time Low and the like. Sure, these acts would eventually land Rolling Stone covers, but mostly due to demand and an alignment with guitar music, not because of acclaim. They were perceived as girl-obsessed, youth-obsessed, and obsessed with writing songs about how much high school sucked. How do you become an adult like that? Like the first and second waves of emo, it was music you grew up with...but these bands, unlike the OGs, these bands you were supposed to grow out of.

One reason these groups weren't taken as seriously as the bands that came before them is because of the level of success they were able to achieve. They came to prominence when ideas of selling out still permeated rock music, and they were often coming from a punk background. Playing arenas and signing million-dollar sponsorship deals? It's not viewed as very punk. 

Another reason that they were dismissed, and one that is probably an even bigger motivating factor: They were good-looking, funny dudes with an ear for pop melody. And because they were good-looking, funny dudes with an ear for pop melody, their fan bases were primarily young women. And once young women like something, it's no longer considered cool by older male rock critics. 

And yet, in the last year, Good Charlotte has reunited. All Time Low has enjoyed its biggest year to date, scoring a No. 2 record stateside and going No. 1 in the U.K. (Future Hearts would've hit No. 1 in America if single streaming didn't count toward record spins). The UsedHawthorne HeightsArmor For SleepThe Academy Is... and many more bands from this world have announced and/or played 10-year anniversary shows. They are, effectively, doing what all of the other emo bands before them have done, though they've had to battle the mall punk stigma more than any of the vintage groups.

The timing seems perfect: The kids who loved these acts as tweens and teens are now in their 20s, making their own income and ready to use some cash to see their old favorites. But even so: What you loved at 14 isn't what you're supposed to love at 24, right? 

The stuff you like as a teen, as Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low once told me, is the stuff you love forever. At the very least, it informs your taste later down the line. While these are the bands you're supposed to grow out of because they're decidedly "uncool," you still hold onto that deep-rooted affection. 

In 2015, people started to learn that whatever shame they felt in revisiting their beloved high school sounds doesn't really exist. This is just fun music you loved then, and it's fun music you can love again, now. And with bands like 5 Seconds of Summer and State Champs continuing to keep these sounds alive, while updating them, it's not going to go anywhere anytime soon.