Emo is hard to define for many reasons, including its vague characteristics and the fact that many of the most famous bands commonly thought of as being emo try to distance themselves from the tag. As a result, there are countless acts that find themselves erroneously labeled as being part of the misunderstood subgenre. There are other reasons too, of course. Perhaps the band in question have some, but not all, of the hallmarks of emo. Or maybe the band have provided inspiration to emo groups without actually being emo themselves. Then again, it could be that the band were emo at a formative stage in their career, but their sound evolved later. It’s a complicated business.

Thankfully, there are tools that claim to be able to clear up misunderstandings such as this. There’s a website, for instance, where you can type in a band’s name, hit return and be told immediately whether said band is emo or not. Handy, huh? Except, of course, that without knowing the site’s internal logic for making those determinations, we can’t actually say whether it’s accurate or not, especially when we’ve tried it out and discovered that some of its calls are as controversial as everyone else’s. 

Read more: What does emo really mean? The story of the genre in 11 songs

So instead of tying ourselves in knots with this, we thought we’d highlight some bands regularly included in conversations about emo despite not, repeat not, being emo bands, while explaining our reasoning. So here we go. Get ready to be enlightened and annoyed in equal measure.


Weezer’s second album Pinkerton is, thanks to its confessional lyrics, considered something of an emo cornerstone. Influencing a generation of emo bands doesn’t make its authors emo, though. Pinpointing exactly what Weezer are, musically, is harder than ever these days, which is what makes them great. In the past five years alone, they’ve made albums of pop covers, orchestral pop and arena rock. Rivers Cuomo and co. are a lot of things, then — inquisitive, inventive, musically restless — but absolutely not emo.

Death Cab For Cutie

Emo name? Check. Influence upon emo? Check. Emo? Negative. It’s easy to see the cause of the confusion, though. During emo’s second wave, often referred to as "Midwest emo" because of where it began to spring up, the rawness of the original iteration was given something of a makeover, thanks to the influence of alt-rock. That intersection of those two worlds no doubt birthed Death Cab For Cutie. But while fellow Washington State band Sunny Day Real Estate are undeniably emo, Death Cab aren’t. And while they have many of its hallmarks, thanks to some unusual instrumentation and Ben Gibbard’s earnest voice, but missing a key component: emotion.


It might seem obvious that Fugazi aren’t emo. The reason they’re here, however, is to illustrate how closely they’re linked to its story, whether they like it or not, and to discuss questions of definition. Fugazi formed in Washington, D.C. in 1986. Singer-guitarist Ian MacKaye had previously been in Embrace, while guitarist Greg Picciotto and drummer Brendan Canty had been members of Rites Of Spring, two bands recognized as the forefathers of the emotional hardcore scene. And while Fugazi unquestionably influenced waves of emo bands via incredible albums Repeater (1990) and Red Medicine (1995), they had little in common with them, which is just the way they wanted it.


This is a controversial choice given that we put Paramore on our recent story of emo in 11 songs list, so essentially we’re saying they were central to the progress of the subgenre without actually being emo. And that’s the truth: Paramore’s early days had a sound and look that made their emo status seem like a no-brainer, and it’s a wave they certainly rode, but they’re a long way from it now. Listen to 2017’s new-wave flavored After Laughter for proof of just how far. And it appears they won’t be regressing anytime soon — Hayley Williams has suggested their eagerly awaited new album won’t be a “comeback emo record.”

Fall Out Boy

Right, then, let’s get this out of the way, shall we? Fall Out Boy are the band that the average person in the street would name if they were asked to identify an "emo" band, Family Fortunes style. Those peeps would be wrong, though. Why? Because with their speedy songs, bouncy choruses and tight melodies, Fall Out Boy are a pop-punk band. Perhaps we should say were, actually, because since ending emerging from their hiatus in 2013, FOB have transcended their roots entirely, becoming purveyors of an increasingly experimental brand of genre-absorbing pop rock.

Black Veil Brides

To look at Black Veil Brides, whether in the early days or nowadays, is to see a band with makeup, big hair and uniform stage attire. Those characteristics, however, were more inspired by glam-metal bands like KISS than My Chemical Romance. And while BVB sound more emo than they look — largely thanks to frontman Andy Biersack’s emotive lyrics — that’s not what he and his bandmates are shooting for. This group are aiming for something on the epic side: concept records that build out worlds, not introspective records that make them smaller and more intimate.


We know what you’re going to say: blink-182 are a pop-punk band — and to some, the pop-punk band. And you’d have heard no arguments from us, if it wasn’t for their Untitled 2003 record. That’s when the trio tore up the rulebook, no doubt informed by work on side projects Box Car Racer and Transplants. BCR, in particular, had an effect on blink’s musical DNA, leading to a deeper, more mature record, and some of Tom DeLonge’s most iconic vocal idiosyncrasies. Who among us doesn’t like to sing "Where are you?" in that unmistakable drawl? It sounds quintessentially emo, right? But while blink were inspired by the traits of the time, the Untitled record was adopted by emo, not the other way around.

The Used

Check any self-respecting list of emo bangers and you can guarantee there’ll be at least one song by the Used in there, probably “The Taste Of Ink,” and highly placed. That classic track, aside, there’s another major reason people mistake the Used for emo: frontman Bert McCracken. Whether it’s his ribcage-opening lyrics — "Take my hand/Take my life," he implores on 2004’s “Take It Away” — or his anguished delivery, or his verbose bookishness, McCracken seemed to be an emo poster child. Here’s where things get tricky, though, because while we’re 99.9% sure the Used aren’t emo, we’re not quite sure what they are because they’re too dark to be, say, pop punk. Like so many of the most interesting bands, they don’t easily fit in anywhere.

Bring Me The Horizon

When the poster was released for When We Were Young Festival, the Las Vegas emo extravaganza set for October, no one questioned Bring Me The Horizon’s place on it, as prominent as it was. It’s not, we assume, because anyone thinks they’re emo because they’re patently not. They are, however, a band for whom emo has had a prominent role in their musical education. When he was 15, Oli Sykes was in the crowd for a gig by unabashed Welsh emo band Funeral For A Friend. Partway through, the band’s singer was taken ill, necessitating a hasty replacement. A fearless Sykes raised his hand and finished the show, getting bitten by the performance bug in the process. “It was the best day of my life,” he reflected later.