By Jordan Reisman
Emo “revival” band, The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die in concert. Image courtesy of HeatSync Labs.
Every few years, a new musical buzzword conjures that somehow gets passed along the internet. However, hardly anyone proudly references it in casual conversation. Such examples include “dad rock,” “chillwave,” and the current “emo revival.”
Just typing out the words makes me feel slightly sleazy. What’s confounding about emo revival is that it’s less a scene or genre than it is a blanket term for the happenings in music right now. More notable music blogs are currently paying attention to bands such as The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die (yes, one band) and Pianos Become the Teeth. As TWIABP made it onto the Billboard charts last year, it only seems natural that hucksters seek to capitalize on this new influx of bands actually making strides within the punk community.
However, if you ask people legitimately involved with the music and scene at large, they’re more likely to distance themselves from the term. They would much rather rest safely within the confines of “punk” and even “emo,” without the revival.
To give a complete history of the different waves of emo music would be a waste of time. However, if you want to get a sense of the genre up until around 2003, I suggest you read Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and EMO by Andy Greenwald. The book covers emo up until the era when listeners were confusing pop-punk for it, and it got dispersed into meanings not at all derivative of the roots of emotive hardcore.
It was only after MTV stopped paying attention and teenagers moved on to more “mature” styles (like Bon Iver folk or “woah oh” Olive Garden commercial indie-pop) that emo revival started to become “a thing.” If you’re the kind of person who grew up on Brand New or My Chemical Romance and now troll Pitchfork in your free time, it might very well seem like “emo” just disappeared and then in 2012, reappeared. Though to a person who kept invested in the music of the ’90s (The Promise Ring, Braid, Cap’n Jazz) and followed the genre into the present day, that idea would seem patently ridiculous.
BTR spoke with “emo revival” critic and jaded punk Dan Ozzi about why these bands are apparently coming back now–and the reason we stopped paying attention in the first place.
“I think people stopped paying attention because somewhere along the way, some idiot referred to the long list of bands like My Chemical Romance and those sorts as ‘emo,’” says Ozzi. “All of a sudden, everyone realized there was a turd in the pool and no one wanted to be swimming in it.”
He reasons that people started using the revival phrase because of emo’s horrible association.
“Maybe it’s all coming back now because people have disassociated it and are taking it back,” he says.
The association is a weird one. When the MCR brand of emo was all over the airwaves and upsetting the “real” emo kids, it seemed like no one wanted fall in line with the culture that was being sold to them. Whatever emo revival is, it seems like it’s defined on an uneasiness with being defined in such a way. Perhaps that makes it better off, as it does not date the music. Nobody really likes being told what they are by someone else.
What’s most interesting is that many of the headlines which propagate the revival actually seem in staunch opposition–or at very least, ambivalent–to the term. Consider “Don’t Call It an Emo Revival” by Pitchfork or “Emo Is Back! Maybe. Probably Not. No, Totally.” by the Village Voice as this year’s examples.
For a supposed musical movement, emo revival doesn’t seem to have any real supporters. So how has this strain of verbal cancer spread into our collective consciousness? Just by the mere mention of it, of which we are to blame.
It seems hard to make sense of, a fabricated term that no one wants to be associated with yet one that’s indicative of an incredibly vibrant music scene. Our advice? Take it easy.
As depressing as it is, so long as underground movements exist, they will always be subject to exploitation. Purists may hold onto the their culture with an unwavering intent. But however strong their integrity is, that will not always fight off the outside forces that reap aspects of these cultures to make them, easily digestible for those now “in the know.”
As Ozzi likes to quote Evan Weiss’ Into It. Over It. on this matter, we will do the same:
“The weird’s gonna get weirder and the poppy and commercial stuff is just gonna completely destroy it and it’s gonna collapse on top of itself all over again. It’s a cycle… every genre has a way of being co-opted.”
Ostensibly, Weiss is the one who should be angry about his livelihood being “co-opted,” but instead, he’s selling out Bowery Ballroom and making records. In a weird way, talents can luck out by having the ideas of their creative livelihoods be exploited, be it emo revival or any other artificial appropriations. Truth be told, our inconvenient and weird feelings are often the emotions that make us care about music in the first place.