Wednesday, September 16, 10:00am - 10:45am (Panel)
Oh So Emo
- Emo: The Genre That Can’t Grow Up, Emma Garland (VICE UK)
- Black Girl, Emo Phase? Reconsidering a Third-Wave Emo Bildungsroman at the Intersections of Race and Gender, Alexus Erin (U of Manchester)
- Look Up Kid: Queer Emo Youth and Differential Consciousness in Princess Nokia’s A Girl Cried Red, Isaac Silber (NYU)
Emo: The Genre That Can’t Grow Up, Emma Garland (VICE UK)
Emo is a youth-driven genre, both on stage and off. It’s also one of the most maligned genres in music history.
In 1980s Washington DC, politically-driven bands like Rites of Spring and Embrace were labelled “emotional hardcore” for their deviations – both lyrically and stylistically – from the more traditionally masculine nature of the era’s hardcore punk bands. In the 00s bands like Taking Back Sunday, Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance built fandoms that pushed them into the mainstream by force, as did emo rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Tracy and Lil Peep in the 2010s. Every iteration of the genre has been dismissed for its earnestness and heart-on sleeve lyrics, which are viewed as emotional states anchored specifically to the immaturity and inexperience of youth.It’s arguably the only genre fans are expected to outgrow, and as a result the genre trapped in a perpetual state of puberty.
By contrast, mainstream pop – which, like emo, has been historically dismissed for having qualities viewed as being traditionally feminine, and therefore less worthy of serious consideration – has been embraced by critics. “Poptimism” has seen artists like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Justin Bieber – artists whose demographic was previously considered to be teenagers – approached on the same terms as commercial rock, while there is still little to no critical appraisal of emo music beyond dedicated publications.
This paper will explore emo from the 1980s to the 2010s, why it resonates with young people, and argue the case for its critical value. It will also examine the role of poptimism in music criticism, and question the basis on which derided genres are deemed worthy. Has pop has been embraced based on legitimate or projected values, and can emo ever become a critically considered genre itself?
Black Girl, Emo Phase? Reconsidering a Third-Wave Emo Bildungsroman at the Intersections of Race and Gender, Alexus Erin (U of Manchester)
As a Black girl, emo has never quite loved me back. I have found my positioning as a young black female musician and part of the subculture, to be a lesson in cognitive dissonance. Growing up, it was easy to note the divide: in the scene there was no one who looked like me, spoke or acted in representation of my identities. Emo/pop-punk bands with Black musicians were uncommon. Often women were shrouded in violence or disregard… and there was rarely rebuttal.
Now, over a decade from the peak of Hot-Topic-friendly, third wave “mall emo”, there is a generation of WoC that still rise in allegiance to the first G note in My Chemical Romance’s Welcome to the Black Parade.
I seek to examine the transience of emo as a youth culture “phase” and how the very concept therein, was compounded and projected for both women and people of color. How do we understand the idea of a third-wave emo as “phase” that is ultimately wrapped up in imperialist, capitalist heteropatriarchal ideals- yet still somehow a safe space for those who felt unwelcome in “mainstream” expressions of pop culture? If we understand third-wave emo as largely a reaction to the tragedy of 9/11, is a cultural shift toward the acknowledgement of the effects of mass trauma contributory to its resurgence? Is nostalgia of third-wave emo culture now a haven for women and PoC in a way it wasn’t at its height? At the conflation of Soundcloud-era rap and emo culture, are we getting a “do-over” that is sonically more expansive than its predecessors? Is it safe to be an emo Black girl now?
Look Up Kid: Queer Emo Youth and Differential Consciousness in Princess Nokia’s A Girl Cried Red, Isaac Silber (NYU)
When Princess Nokia (Destiny Frasqueri) released her third studio album, A Girl Cried Red, she surprised countless fans with an abrupt shift in the hip-hop, experimental electronic, and trap sounds of her previous work: she took a turn to emo. This sudden emergence of emo, goth and pop punk sensibilities in her sonic repertoire appears in a nostalgic mode, a turning back to childhood musical tastes reminiscent of popular early-2000s emo and punk bands like My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, Brand New and Dance Gavin Dance (whose track “The Robot with Human Hair pt 1” provided major inspiration for the album, including it’s title). While many of her fans were surprised by this sudden stylistic swerve, the nostalgia of A Girl Cried Red is far from new for Frasqueri, rather it deepens a career-long line of lyrical reminiscences on early ’90s and ‘00s New York City youth which traces a wide range of cultural, generic, and stylistic references, consistently carving out a place for queer life in the social margins of U.S. popular culture. For this paper, I aim to perform an analysis of A Girl Cried Red alongside a reading of Chela Sandoval’s notion of “differential consciousness,” considering how Frasqueri’s career can be recognized as a performative practice of Sandoval’s U.S. third world feminist method. In so doing, I aim to investigate how Frasqueri’s turn to emo signals a critical modality that gestures away from the carcerality of normative subjectivity, as well as how her representation of youth as queer vulnerability provides a locus for this differential mode of critical consciousness to emerge.