15 bands and solo artists who are rewriting the emo rulebook
Meet the rulebreakers of emo, who are also breaking the internet as they rise.April 16, 2021
Ever since the inception of emotional hardcore in the ’80s, each decade had defining bands who updated the sound and meaning of emo to the musical landscape of the time. The ’90s were all about Midwest emo and screamo, and in the 2000s, emo peaked as a mainstream obsession, thanks to MCR, Fall Out Boy, Paramore and more. And it’s already safe to say that emo rap, originated by Drain Gang and immortalized by GothBoiClique, was the revolutionary offshoot of emo that defined the 2010s.
At the turn of the new century, new-gen artists are once again rewriting the rulebook of emo by giving contemporary spins of glitchcore, hyperpop or hexD to emo landmarks, ranging anywhere from American Football to Juice WRLD. While also involving a much broader scope of stories, identities, experiences and forms of emotional self-expression than ever before.
Open a new chapter of emo with the artists below!
Whichever expression of emo hits the chord for you, POORSTACY’s debut LP will take you there. The Breakfast Club is a decadent, white-powder-and- heartbreak-induced comedown with flashbacks to grunge, alt rock, post-hardcore and guitar-based emo rap. The single “Choose Life,” thanks to the input from Travis Barker, puts you on a high-energy, Trainspotting-referencing downward spiral, wrapped into a catchy format, musically and thematically echoing pop-punk revivalists MGK and MOD SUN. Whereas tracks such as “Don’t Look At Me” and “Nothing Left” throw it all the way back to post-punk, amplifying the goth vibe in POORSTACY’s aesthetic. So, is POORSTACY a rock star for the SoundCloud generation? Sure, SoundCloud happened to be the stepping stone for his music. Only for the sake of accuracy, let’s reiterate: POORSTACY is a modern-day rock star, period.
Trap might be collectively agreed upon as the rhythmic foundation for the whole emo-rap scene—an unwritten ground rule brakence almost entirely rejects on his debut LP, punk2. While singing about mixing “dope and LSD” in “dropout,” he’s also going for a combination almost as crazy—mixing Midwest emo and R&B. Which hits different than the usual 808s fix, but it totally works. Take “fuckboy,” a dramatic love story with a massive buildup, featuring twinkly American Football guitars grounded in deep beats and topped with brakence’s passionate, instantly recognizable vocal performance. “fuckboy” was also brakence’s first music video where he decided to finally reveal his face, which is easily the most emo metaphor in internet history.
A happy bubblegum beat embellished with pretty melodies, a bright smile and relatively chill vocals, while the lyrics smash with a declaration of insanity and the hook goes, “I wanna slam my head against the wall till I cannot feel at all.” This is glaive in a nutshell. Sometimes mislabeled as a glitchcore or hyperpop artist, glaive doesn’t glitch out his beats all that much or rely on PC-processing of his vocals. Which are a raw, textured and very human-sounding juxtaposition to his lightweight, crisp and fast alt-pop beats. A collab with Billie Eilish next? We wouldn’t be mad about it.
ericdoa, one of the brightest stars in the glitchcore-emo movement, has been sending an important message through his visuals: A must-have for every emo kid in 2021 is a pair of bunny ears. In all seriousness, though, it’s admirable how glaive’s favorite bestie to skip school and do IG Lives for their fans with (or collab on viral tracks such as “cloak n dagger”) inspires to absorb and embrace the sad parts of life, and push back with creative energy and positivity no matter what. And that’s the kind of strength fooling around with rabbit ears in spite of a broken heart represents. Which is the philosophy shared by both ericdoa and glaive, as well as the artist coming next.
What is it exactly that makes a song go viral on TikTok? If we take 347aidan as a case study, the obvious answer would be the author’s ability to compress complex emotional states into catchy, relatable (and thus TikTok-able) hooks. Which, in fact, applies to the entirety of 347aidan’s music, including his early rap songs (scroll all the way down on his SoundCloud), edgy pop-punk tracks such as “Yungdumb” or, most recently, Midwest emo-echoing “WHEN THE DEVIL CRIES.” Another crucial part of 347aidan’s creative expression is his own diary-like TikTok page, where his sunny personality shines brightest, as he’s talking to his fans, re-dyeing his hair and constantly reminding viewers that you should never give up on your dreams.
Tracing the underground origins of the emotional glitchcore scene, it’d be unfair to miss out on blackwinterwells and the surreal universe she’s ruling as a musician, producer and collaborator. Manifesting as a “fucked up space wizard,” a “cute whispery ghost” and the director of “cybernetic healing unit” helix tears collective, she’s rapidly expanding her universe. From bitcrushed alt-rock to screamo-induced drum and bass to the digital shoegaze EP collab with Fax Gang, there seem to be no bounds to her creative vision.
The blackwinterwells-led helix tears collective is SoundCloud’s most exciting rabbit hole of glitchcore/hexD emo-rap transcendentalists, and osquinn (aka p4rkr), is the perfect artist to continue our exploration with. One of the underground pioneers of hyperpop-leaning emo rap, osquinn has been truly testing the boundaries of what futuristic emo can sound like (which may or may not be related to her becoming a trap-metal fan at the age of 6). We have our fingers crossed that her rapidly discontinued projects won’t be the end of osquinn’s creative journey, and she, as promised in her Instagram bio, will brb.
The Kid LAROI
With collabs ranging from Juice WRLD to MGK to Justin Bieber (the Kid LAROI’s appearance on “Unstable” being one of the few highlights that make Justice slightly less awful than Changes), the singer’s creative direction might seem confusing. But all of them combined make perfect sense. On the one hand, he carries the torch of Juice WRLD’s emo-rap style. On the other hand, his songs have Machine Gun Kelly-worthy hooks, and his singing voice peaks at Post Malone-echoing tremolos. This combination, plus emotional lyrics, are wrapped into a sleek production that Anthony Fantano declared as “plastic.” And here you go, emo pop is mainstream again!
“fax or nah?? (like fr fr),” the intro track on 93FEETOFSMOKE’s sophomore album, SOFUBI (DELUXE), primes your mind for a melodic emo-rap record along the lines of nothing,nowhere. or Sullii. And that’s exactly why you shouldn’t stop there. At the very least, check out “Self confidence” (feat. Anxiety Attacks!) and “~^*+ 100k +*^~.” And? The extreme oppositions of melodic alt-rock (let alone dreamy emo rap) and chaotic glitchcore may seem disconnected when taken out of context, but there are 12 more tracks that explore nuanced pathways between the two. Yes, it’s one of those cases when you should listen for the whole album.
Going back to the bunny metaphor, shrimp’s use of it is more similar to that of Tallah than ericdoa. Throwing a plush bunny into the fire in “this body means nothing to me,” shrimp is alluding to gender dysphoria—a recurring theme in their lyrics, with music taking large leaps from emo rap to post-punk to lo-fi bedroom pop. A journey we’ll make sure to follow.
In their Spotify bio, Khaos and Rage introduce themselves as an artist duo who aren’t confined by any genre. Which, unlike 99% of similar claims made by musicians in their bios, applies to Bad Neighbors pretty well. So, we’re not going to put any labels, such as hyperpop, horrorcore, emo rap or abstract hip-hop on their sound, either. We’ll only redirect you to their “Emo Hotline,” in case you have any questions.
If emo is all about mind-blowing and heartbreaking vocal takes along the lines of Gerard Way, Hayley Williams or Kellin Quinn for you, look no further. Not only the cover art of AViT’s debut LP, imperfect & incomplete, resembles that of Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, but their passionate, far-reaching vocals on the dynamic, bouncy and hooky album puts them right among our favorite scene vocalists.
DC The Don
Ever since emo rappers of the late 2010s discovered the link between emo and hip-hop, making trap beats and rap flows became an integral part of contemporary emo. Hip-hop artists going emo isn’t nearly as common, but some new-gen trap artists such as DC The Don are embracing emo rap as both an influence and an aesthetic. DC The Don layering West Coast hip-hop and trap metal with introspective lyrics and melancholic 808s isn’t rap adapted for, or appropriated by, emo kids—it’s a primarily hip-hop artist acknowledging emo. Which is something we’re hoping to hear more of in the 2020s.
Alternative R&B seems to be one of the new directions emo is being taken to, thanks to indie artists such as Deb Never, whose dreamy piano harmonies, acoustic instrumentals, gentle vocals and grunge throwbacks show that melodic emo rap and R&B might be more related than we thought. And yes, it’s the 808s that helped us come to this realization. But we’re happy we made it.
quantumountain, fats’e’s experimental EP collab with 93FEETOFSMOKE, shows that not only R&B and post-punk, but also EDM house, go pretty well with Midwest emo. Twinkly guitars remain a steady constant in fats’e’s releases to this day, both on his melodic debut LP from 2019 and with the new EP restlessness, where fats’e makes a convincing case that the rulebook of emo (unlike the emo haircut!) doesn’t exist anymore.