Art by Gica Tam
Culture Spotlight

The emo kids are not dead, they just grew up

There was a prophetic genius to the emo movement that only became clear in the light of today's cultural climate.
Jam Pascual | Dec 16 2019

Look, nobody told me I’d have to deal with this L.G. FUAD heart for the rest of my life.

But there are still moments when the emo part of my brain overrides the rest of my system in surprising ways, long after the mid aughts, when we were all enamored by every act Fueled By Ramen was churning out. (That part is rarely ever dormant, but still.) FM radio classifies Paramore's Riot! days as throwback material, but catch me feeling young again when it comes on. As a singer for a band, I'm prone to strain for the high whiney registers of the movement's great frontmen, from Gerard Way to Aaron Gillespie. And I know it's corny at this point, but if a DJ starts playing Sugar We're Going Down at a party, I'm still going to absolutely lose my shit.

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I think I got it from having grown up in a certain time. We of my generation—sad and angry and shimmying into the protective embrace of black hoodies—wanted to feel everything. That’s what adolescence does. Every emotion is a cataclysmic event, every heartbreak an apocalypse. The emo movement—and this is obvious to anyone who's ever dipped their toes in it even a little—had a way of cradling these pangs and aches. Story of the Year's Dan Marsala singing “from up here, the city lights burn like a thousand miles of fire” was what I came of age to.

For a whole generation, My Chemical Romance were the kings of emo. Photo from My Chemical Romance Facebook account

I remember watching Saosin when they came here, timidly inching my way into hurricane moshpits full of other jittery scene kids. I remember seeing Paramore from the view of general admission, completely convinced that salvation, or something that resembled it, was blasting out of those speakers. I'm sure the crowd felt the same. I remember falling in love to songs, crying to songs, finding a home for my anger in songs. The songs were always there. I remember going to the house of an ex-friend I don't speak to anymore, the both of us distanced by work and the venomous gossip of our social circle's smallness, to jam out to the piano version of 3rd Measurement in C. And when I was in high school, my batchmate and I, we went out during lunch one day and sat on the stone benches littered with fallen santan petals to learn how to play When It Rains, while negotiating how, due to a mutual crush, we'd sustain our friendship. Memories like those are impossible to kill.

I remember seeing Paramore from the view of general admission, completely convinced that salvation, or something that resembled it, was blasting out of those speakers.

And what’s more, these kids grew up. This much is true, as evidenced enough by how, when news of My Chemical Romance’s reunion went around, everybody between the ages of 24 and 35 suddenly regressed. Put on “I’m Not Okay” when they're in the area, and on Pavlovian reflex they'll wild out, but otherwise you wouldn't be able to tell these people were once sporting sideswept bangs, reading Pon and Zi, finding their place in The Black Parade.

I imagine it's the same with other generations, like how you can never tell at a glance your Boomer ‘rents were flower power kids once upon a time, or that your Gen X coworkers, swallowed by a system they do their best to survive in, headbanged to Kurt Cobain's screeds on modern society. How do you measure the way a subculture changes you?

I remember falling in love to songs, crying to songs, finding a home for my anger in songs. The songs were always there.

I don't know, but we can make our guesses. There was a prophetic genius to the emo movement that only became clear in the light of today's cultural climate. Emo’s proclivity for androgyny laid solid groundwork for queer young adults to embrace identities that demolished the binary order. Emo’s fascination with the melancholic would come to provide a familiar solace for a generation afflicted with mental illness, nostalgic for a time when their sorrows were most understood, or at least reified with palm-muted power chords and fry screams.

All I know is this: You know that tito at the family reunion who reeks of Tanduay and gives you cash to drop a cuss in front of your mother? The one who, tripping on nostalgia with the other boomers present and regaling each other with tales of bell bottoms and doing the Hustle, says “Disco’s not dead!” That’s going to be me. In the year 2037, in our small home surrounded by irradiated fields and debris from the class war, I’m going to put on the whole A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out and yell “Emo’s not dead!” at my poor nieces and nephews, my young heart pulsing wild in my old body.