By 2008, the kids are over being angsty. The nation’s long post-9/11 hangover is fading, hope and change are in the air, and as the little siblings of 2005’s emo fans inherit the genre, they cast off the severe look of the previous era in favor of neon glitz as they explode the genre in a thousand new directions all at once. In one of those directions, screaming is over—“power pop,” once a label used primarily for 1970s cult pop-rock lightweights like the Raspberries and Big Star (go ahead, Google it. I’ll be here), becomes the order of the day. Bands like the Maine, Every Avenue, Boys Like Girls and Forever The Sickest Kids take the catchiest elements of Fall Out Boy, Paramore and their ilk and transmute them into punchy anthems for teenage daydreams.
In the dead opposite direction, Attack Attack! seize on the fashioncore and screamo influences of the previous generation, marry it with the glam sleaze of Escape The Fate, add a hefty dose of now-readily available GarageBand plugins and drum sounds, and top it all off with the sorts of ridiculous stage moves not seen since hair bands roamed the Earth’s amphitheaters. Calling it “crabcore” is a funny joke for about 15 seconds, but the new breed of metalcore they’ve synthesized becomes an entire splinter scene unto itself.
Between them, all sorts of sounds emerge. Acts like the Secret Handshake and PlayRadioPlay! take acoustic emo and digitize it, inspiring a litany of laptop pop acts who pair earnest lyrical treacle with candy-sweet dots and loops. Acoustic emo itself becomes a growth field, as acts like Never Shout Never inject the genre with bubbling whimsy. Dance Gavin Dance, second generation descendants of acts like Coheed and the post-At The Drive-In outfit the Mars Volta, amp up the technical virtuosity of prog-emo while injecting hardcore vocals back into the mix, fomenting an entire scene of experimental/progressive emo. And outside the mainstream’s eye, self-serious mopesters reach back to the second wave and its indie roots for inspiration. While acts like Algernon Cadwallader and Snowing exist on the margins and die as quietly as they lived, they lay the seeds for another wave of emo to come.
By the early ’10s, as surely as Rome crumbled, the decadence of neon cannot sustain. Fall Out Boy go on hiatus (in the scene, that’s secret code for “I hate us”), with My Chemical Romance soon to follow. Their compatriots in Panic! At The Disco and Paramore are in turmoil as core members jump ship. The smaller acts simply fail, their fanbases, more attuned to mainstream fad than those of prior generations of emo, having moved on.
But by now, emo is simply too established to fail. Like little fuzzy proto-mammals eating their way through piles of dinosaur corpses, the Wonder Years come out swinging from South Philly basements, ushering in a return-to-the-roots “realist pop punk” that kills the glamour of late-’00s emo in favor of more scrappy, earnest sounds that reach back to the Jawbreaker era. Different signifiers of emo—twinkly guitars, scruffy vox and production, underwritten songs—become dominant, as acts like Into It. Over It. flourish.
It’s not just the pop-punk side of the scene that looks to simplify. The more hardcore-influenced branches of emo—bands like La Dispute and Touche Amore—cut the fat (and the clean vocals) to arrive at something that feels cavernous and bare, intense and discomfiting in its lack of adornment. Even the bands that retain melody at the fore (see Tigers Jaw, Basement) do so in less ostentatious ways, stripping away the mainstream rock trappings of the previous era like so much old paint.
2017 is a very different world for music fans than 1985 was, or even 2005. Streaming services mean the entire history of music is available to be listened to, all at once. Genre lines remain useful as a way to describe sounds, but they rarely constrain taste anymore—something that works to the already-unconstrained emo’s advantage. There’s nothing unusual anymore about dropping Knapsack into a playlist alongside Kanye West and Klaus Nomi. (Okay, Klaus Nomi remains unusual.)
So when Lil Peep, a Soundcloud rapper and member of the Gothboiclique crew founded by ex-Tigers Jaw member Adam McIlwee, spits bars over a Mineral track, he’s simply continuing emo’s 30-year tradition of evolving with the times. It’s just as emo as Boston Manor doing their best Brand New impression or Modern Baseball picking up where the Weakerthans left off or Taking Back Sunday veering into cowpunk or Lil Aaron writing a song called “Warped Tour” based around a sample of “Misery Business.”
Emo in 2017 is bands from 1998 making a curtain call, and it’s bands from 2017 trying to sound like bands from 1998, and it’s bands in 2017 taking pieces of 1998 and making them unrecognizable and new. It’s nostalgia and it’s novelty. It’s alive and well, building on its own past in new ways, just as it has since the beginning. Because with emo, every summer is a revolution summer.
This story originally appeared in AP Issue 352. Get a copy here.