welcome to the 2000s emo revival

Finally, the ‘Hard Times’ are over as the Paramore renaissance has begun! When you think of pop punk icons of the early 2000s, presumably, Hayley Williams and her bright orange hair comes to mind. As their latest single ‘This Is Why’, which explores ‘the plethora of ridiculous emotions of being alive in 2022’, is performing relatively well on the charts, now feels like the best time to take a trip down memory lane and explore all things emo and pop punk. So, find your checkerboard vans, grab your studded belt and put on your favourite band tee and let’s travel back to the early aughts.  

Okay, so what is emo? As Hayley Williams points out, in her BBC Sounds ‘Everything is Emo’ series: ‘there is not one definition’ for emo, making the culture somewhat difficult to understand. To many, emo culture goes beyond shopping at Hot Topic and black eyeliner… it is a lifestyle. ‘Emo’ (also known as ‘emotional hardcore’), is a subgenre of punk rock which places emphasis on emotion and feeling. At its core, the music has a lyrical focus, exploring themes such as social ostracisation, self-loathing and heartbreak. While bands such as Bad Brains and Fugazi show that the origins of emo culture can be traced back to the 1970s, ‘emo culture’, as many of us know it, is largely defined by the 2000s. Paramore, Jimmy Eat World and Fall out Boy (and many others) were dominating the scene and mainstream media. The genre had parents petrified and nonconformists in a chokehold. It showed that in a world that embraces pop princesses and boy bands, there was room for social outcasts, weirdos and everyone in between. 

The 2000s were significant years for emo culture and pop punk, and are often regarded as  ‘third wave emo-ism’. The period was defined by Myspace, Mall goth culture and teen angst. Like many of us reaping the benefits of the current emo revival, I was too young to participate in the trend at its peak. However, from my years of watching old Paramore interviews and endlessly scrolling through Tumblr, I think I have gained a pretty good image of what it was like. Picture this: you wake up and your first thought is ‘no one really gets me’, so you log onto Myspace and speak candidly about your emotions (or about how you desperately want to go to Warped Tour). After this, you decide to go to your local shopping centre. Upon entering, you make a beeline to Hot Topic – avoiding the preppy shops, like Abercrombie and Fitch or Hollister, like the plague. After browsing the aisles, with a My Chemical Romance song providing appropriate background music, you decide to leave – making sure you avoid the judgmental eyes of the ‘normies’.  Despite the glaring stares, once you have the music of one of the big three (My Chemical Romance, Fall out Boy or Panic at the disco) blasting through your headphones, you immediately feel safe.  

Indeed, the movement was also surrounded by controversy. While being a haven for those who did not fit into mainstream culture, emos and pop punk were subject to intense media scrutiny and, at times, violence. Sensationalist newspapers, like the Daily Mail, published articles focusing on the negative stereotypes of the culture – including self harm and suicide, subsequently leading to moral panics and hate crimes. Due to the negative media coverage, ’Anti-Emo’ attacks such as the 2008 attacks in Mexico City, were (unfortunately) a common occurrence.

However, it was not all doom and gloom. Obviously, we can’t talk about 2000s emo culture without talking about fashion. Fashion has always played an integral role within subcultures, and for emos it was no different. For emos in the early aughts, fashion was the greatest tool for self-expression – they were able to show their love for music quite literally on their sleeve. Emo fashion rejected typical gender stereotypes, with the style often being described as androgynous. I would say the early 2000s emo starter kit would include: ripped black skinny jeans, band tees, studded belts, black eyeliner, bright hair and piercings – with Hot Topic being the go-to place to get such items. In fact, band tees were so popular during this period, they contributed 40% of Hot Topics annual sales in 2007. Unfortunately, nowadays Hot Topic appears to be a cesspool specialising in all things Rick and Morty, however, it was once a young emos paradise. Yes, there were some glaring fashion crimes committ d during the period, including some cultural appropriation, however this was not the majority.

Despite society’s (intense) hatred for skinny jeans, many pieces from emo culture appear to be creeping back into the mainstream. On social media, we can see the return of tartan skirts and band t-shirts – even Asos has a dedicated section to emo fashion. Whereas on the runway, Junta Watanabe’s ready to wear Spring 2023 collection provides an insight into the potential world domination of emo fashion. The use of tartan, skinny jeans and dramatic hair styling choices, feels very reminiscent of emo styles of the past. Even the Kardashians, who many would argue are the absolute antithesis of all things emo, seem to adopt popular fashion pieces from 2000s emo culture – but we most likely have Travis Barker to thank for that. 

There is no doubt that emo revival has been brewing for a while, and it could be argued that Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour or the (controversially) Grammy nominated abcdefu by Gayle, have contributed to it. While it is difficult to quantify the impact Paramore had on the pop punk scene, Hayley Williams’ sarcastic yet relatable songwriting style has influenced many up-and-coming artists. 

However, what makes the 2020s emo revival particularly interesting is the diversity. Today, there are far more people of colour and women at the front of the scene – something we must thank Hayley Williams for. While Paramore’s discography contained all the cultural markers for classic pop punk music – impressive vocal inflections, interesting melodies and relatable lyrics, they were often pushed to the sidelines; as they were fronted by a woman. When speaking to Vulture, Williams describes the pop-punk and emo scene in the early 2000s as ‘brutally misogynistic’. Thanks to the work of Hayley Williams, and an increased importance placed on diversity and inclusion in the music industry, artists such as Willow, beabadoobee and Soccer Mommy, are now the new figure heads of the movement. Today, emo music and culture now feel accessible to a wider range of people – which is obviously a good thing. 

What’s more, the excitement surrounding the “When we were young’ festival showed that interest for all things emo does not only exist in the online world. Despite a plethora of hurdles to overcome, including poor weather conditions and acts dropping out, there was a (black) parade of fans ready to recapture the spirit of the early 2000s. Looking at the photos, you are immediately hit by a wave of nostalgia, with many donning fishnet tights and wild hairstyles, showing that those who were deep in the subculture in the 2000s never really let go of their emo side. Also, next year’s tickets are already sold out… proving that pop-punk mania is far from over.  

But the biggest question is why? Why are we currently having an emo revival? Look, I am not complaining. It is endearing to see the societal acceptance of Olivia Rodrigo, or a generation of emos sing their hearts out to ‘All I wanted was you’, but the question is why is it happening now? Perhaps, it is evidence of young people searching for music with substance and integrity. It appears people have caught onto the pitfalls of ‘TikTok’ music – music designed to go viral on the app, and are searching for music with lyrical substance. One of the defining features of Paramore’s music, along with other popular pop punk groups of the early 2000s, is the relatability factor’, an aspect which artists such as Willow – or even Taylor Swift, have captured in their work today. However, the pop punk prophet, a title granted to Hayley Williams by NPR, attributes the current emo revival is due to the ‘frustration in the air’ – which is probably true. With all the political and social turmoil surrounding us, it is understandable as to why many would want to take solace in music which feels personal.  

If society’s obsession with nostalgia has given us one good thing, it would have to be the emo revival. The years from 2002-2010 feels like the last real time the music and fashion industry were exciting. While it is unlikely that I will submerge myself in all 2000s emo trends, it is comforting to know that a new generation of misfits are finding their tribe. Whether you want to participate in the revival or not, it is up to you. But you will have to accept one thing first: Emo is officially back…and God does it feel so good.  

Joelle Bello @joelle.bello