For those of us who could care less about Valentine’s Day, enduring the mindless repetition of this annual Hallmark holiday can be a bit of a drag. Many of us just can’t stand it, whether it’s because of our bitter angst, distaste for a tradition stained by excessive consumption or simply those with a hate for anything thoroughly cheesy.
And then there is the horde of lonely hearts, forced to witness a parade of peers who are drunk on love. Each year, while many of us are busily buying too much chocolate and forgetting to make reservations, these lonely hearts retire to their homes and write about their sadness.
Popular music has an intimate relationship with these folks, as loneliness has often provided the muse needed for a chart-topping hit. Think Elvis’ timeless “Only the Lonely” or the Beatles’ heartbreaking portrait of an empty life in “Eleanor Rigby.” Over the years, artists have found countless artful ways to cope with misery.
But this loneliness can also become extremely annoying, especially when entire genres are dedicated to exploring it blossom. I’m thinking here of a particular style of music that infected North American just under a decade ago, a childish genre that has come to be know as “emo.”
For the sake of Valentine’s Day, and because this edition has a vague Valentine’s theme, I’ve decided to try to redeem the roots of this term and make a strong distinction between what emo once meant and what it seems to connote nowadays.
Emo has its roots in the late ‘80s, as a word to describe a new wave of hardcore punk, a short for the equally ridiculous name, “emotional hardcore.” The fact that this distinction had to be made tells you something about the limiting nature of hardcore.
The title “emotional hardcore” was used to describe a scene of bands who broke the rules of hardcore by choosing to write about introspective themes and confronting emotions directly in song. Hardcore was, in its inception, a reactionary genre of music, and songs gravitated towards revolutionary themes and an anti-state attitude.
Bands like Rites of Spring and Embrace started the scene out of the remnants of the infamous Washington, D.C. hardcore scene. These bands were the primary influence in an experimental wave of bands who explored and reshaped the genre throughout the ‘90s, such as Fugazi and Sunny Day Real Estate.
While I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of some of the bands often labelled ‘90s emo, I can appreciate them for their artistic integrity. On the other hand, I cannot forgive the industry for the way it marketed emo throughout the 2000s.
An entire generation of angst-ridden preteens had their suburban wallets tapped and bought in to one of the most repulsively superficial and fashionably backward subcultures ever conceived.