What is emo?

Nick Wakim, senior in LAS. Photo Illustration by Daily Illini photo staff

Nick Wakim, senior in LAS. Photo Illustration by Daily Illini photo staff

By Bonnie Stiernberg

What do Pete Wentz, Chuck Palahniuk and Eeyore have in common? This isn’t a set-up for some bizarre punch line; all three have been described as “emo” at one point or another.

The term has been applied to everything from music to Web sites, from haircuts to facial expressions. In June, The Killers’ front man Brandon Flowers made headlines when he lashed out against the trend, calling it “dangerous.”

This raises the question: What exactly is emo?

According to Alex Wayman, senior in LAS and creator of a Facebook group with an unprintable title that equates emo with a lack of a certain male appendage, “Emo is the pathetic, pretentious grandchild of pop-rock and the symptom of mopey middle-schoolers getting too much representation in the music world.”

However, Jeff Brandt, owner and manager of local record store Exile On Main Street, 1 Main St., struggles to accept the term in reference to a musical genre.

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“Just the name emo is indicative of people trying too hard to classify music,” he said. “It’s such an undefined genre in my head.”

Brandt added that the term refers to a narrow range of bands.

“Any time you look to a genre and you can only think of seven or eight bands, that’s a sign that you’re trying too hard to classify things,” he said.

The term has certainly found its way into the mainstream. A recent Google search for emo produced about 29.5 million hits. While bands like Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy climb the charts and grace the covers of music magazines like Rolling Stone, some object to their sounds and looks being referred to as emo.

Nick Wakim, senior in LAS and an administrator of the Facebook group “Death to False Emo,” said he believes that true emo music has not been made in “a long time” and points to the history of the term.

“Emo was originally a shortening of emotional hardcore, a type of music that was born out of 80’s punk-rock bands like Rites of Spring, The Hated, Moss Icon, et cetera,” he said. “Panic! At The Disco is pop music plain and simple … This is the problem with the bastardization of the term emo from outlets such as MTV and Alternative Press or Spin Magazine.”

Brandt agreed that the mainstream bands being referred to as emo differ musically from their predecessors.

“Stuff like Panic and Fall Out Boy are definitely derivative,” he said. “As things get more and more popular, it gets more watered down.”

According to Wayman, emo music owes its popularity to its youth appeal.

“These emo bands seem to find their heart and soul in the chests of prepubescent middle-schoolers,” he said. “If you’re unfortunate enough to see a My Chemical Romance or Fall Out Boy show, look at their crowds. They’ve got more 14-year-old girls than Justin Timberlake has had for years.”

The music’s younger fan base has lead to other things such as fashion to be marketed as emo. The emo style has been characterized by tight jeans on both males and females, belts, tight T-shirts often proudly displaying a band’s name and Converse Chuck Taylors, among other things.

These clothes are often paired with dyed black hair cut diagonally across the face to complete the look.

“Corporations are taking what the kids like and making Hot Topic the place to go for all things emo,” said Brandt. “They’re latching on to the movement.”

Wayman had a similar opinion.

“I hate the emo scene because it epitomizes the economics of it,” he said. “It’s a popularity trend.”

The term has also come to describe a state of mind. Many people associate emo with depression, introversion and hypersensitivity. “How To Be Emo,” a satirical short film that has gained popularity on YouTube, tells viewers, “Above all, avoid happiness. Happiness is a cardinal sin in the emo culture.”

According to Wayman, mainstream emo bands are trying too hard to reflect the darker emotions commonly associated with their genre.

“These new bands just end up sounding forced and financial,” he said. “Their screams and shrieks and voice breaks sound like ploys.”

Wakim believes that these lifestyle trends that Wayman refers to, do not accurately represent true emo.

“Those original bands were only about music,” he said. “The fashion stuff and MySpace stuff and MTV videos and big tours are all a product of emo being applied to the wrong genre of music.”

Whether this latest incarnation of emo has any staying power remains to be seen, but Wayman has strong feelings about its future.

“Watching these guys get the Beatlemania treatment just makes my stomach turn and makes me hopeful that I won’t die before the next respectable trend in music can emerge from emo’s ashes.”

How emo are you? Stop crying and find out.

1. Your girlfriend just broke up with you. Do you…

a. Find another girl

b. Weep

c. Write a song about it

2. How many times a day do you cry?

a. 5-7

b. 8-11

c. As many times as The Killers diss Pete Wentz

3. Who is in your MySpace top 8?

a. Panic! At The Disco

b. Top 8 is so yesterday. I have 16.

c. My friends from the Fall Out Boy fan club

4. Where do you buy your pants?

a. Hot Topic

b. In the women’s department

c. I raid my little sister’s closet

5. How many piercings do you have?

a. 2

b. 3-4

c. 3 for every part of my face

6. How many pairs of Converse shoes do you own?

a. One for every mood I might go through

b. One for every band in the Honda Civic Tour

c. One for every friend on MySpace

7. Your glasses are…

a. Prescription

b. Buddy Holly via Rivers Cuomo

c. Not coming off unless I can get My Chemical Romance to sign them

8. Your hair is…

a. Dyed black

b. Full of product

c. Impairing my vision

9. How often do you change your MySpace picture?

a. Ten times a day

b. Every day after TRL

c. Not until the next 30 Seconds To Mars concert

10. I save money by…

a. Cutting my own hair

b. Shopping at thrift stores

c. Never spending more than $15 on a concert

Mostly A’s

You are just barely emo.

Stop being such a poser.

Mostly B’s

You are decidedly emo. You might not squeeze into little girls’ pants, but you still know the importance of a good cry.

Mostly C’s

If Pete Wentz, Brendon Urie and Gerard Way walked into a bar, you’d still the most emo person in the room.