Thanks to the good folks at Punknews.org for pointing out two recent articles that try to explain modern day emo. One is via MSNBC by Helen A.S. Popkin and the other is via the New York Times by Kelefa Sanneh and both are radically different. I think it's great that they're presenting different viewpoints, but like trying to read a certain book on the topic, it's really easy for me to get riled up.
Though the Popkins' piece is a rather accurate, consumer-friendly summary of emo, the typos spoil it all for me. I'm not talking a super small typo; I'm talking some major errors. Ian "McKaye"? "Summer Revolution" instead of Revolution Summer? Look, I'm not free of mistakes, typos and errors, but when I see a write-up from a professional, legit source, I wonder how much attention was really paid to the little details. It's not like MacKaye was misspelled once; it's misspelled four times. This reminded me of trying to read Nothing Feels Good and seeing Blake Schwarzenbach's last name misspelled as "Schwartzenbach" over and over again.
I will say this, I agree with certain lines from Popkins' piece: "Originally associated with dense, caustic music and nontraditional song structure (no verse, chorus, verse), emocore stuck with its original definition while indie emo was defined by a more accessible pop sound as heard from bands such as Weezer, Jimmy Eat World, Promise Ring and The Get Up Kids. With accessibility came radio and MTV airplay. Now Emo belonged to the world . . . Emo morphed into anything mopey and marketable." Then there's a bullseye: "These days, 'I’m sad' is the most common definition associated with emo. It’s a lighthouse for kids who feel like outsiders, and an insult tossed out by those who believe themselves stronger."
As far as Sanneh's piece, this is a pretty right-on depiction by comparing mainstream emo to '70s glam rock and '80s cock rock. However, reading about it is incredibly cringe-inducing and sad to see. For a lot of these young bands, it's not about paying dues and growing naturally; it's almost exclusively about looking good, being famous and partying and somewhere in the equation is playing music. While a lot of '70s glam rock holds up well to this day, a lot of the '80s hair metal/cock rock hasn't. As I've said before, I get the feeling that the latter will be the eventual verdict on these young bands.
I will add this, I'm glad Sanneh made mention of Jessica Hopper's article, "Emo: Where The Girls Aren't." Though the article was written and published in 2003, Hopper's observations are still incredibly valid to this day. "Girls in emo songs today do not have names," she wrote. "We are not identified. Our lives, our struggles, our day-to-day-to-day does not exist, we do not get colored in. We span from coquettish to damned and back again. We leave bruises on boy-hearts, but make no other mark." Lyrics like, "I don't blame you for being you/But you can't blame me for hating it" and "Relax, baby, that's a good girl/You're like my work of art" prove her point to a T. I wonder how many other people realize what's going on here.
Someday, all this emo glitter and glitz won't be new anymore. I don't know how long it will be cool or what exactly it will lead to. I just know deep down that some other bands that sound and look nothing like these clowns will be the policemen that pull the plug on the party, just like Nirvana did in 1991. Here's to the future.