Emo is having a renaissance in 2019, and when one looks at the state of affairs in the world today, it’s no wonder why. The world is in social and political peril, economic inequality is worse than ever, there’s rising student debt, climate change, and political turmoil, all coalescing to create a sense of dread in popular culture. So where do we find catharsis? How do we anchor ourselves in reality in the midst of so much chaos, and how do we express the malaise of our times? Slapping on some heavy eyeliner and listening to sad music is one surefire way.
Looking at the charts and the runways it’s clear. Emo is back in a big way. Some are calling this year “20NineScene”, others are calling it Emo’s third wave. Either way, the much-parodied subculture that rose to infamy during the early aughts is seeing a renaissance of sorts, only this time with an evolved sensibility. Sonically, we see it in a new genre emerging. The romanticized lyrical cynicism of emo mixed with the 808’s and snares of hip hop; a mixture one part millennial nostalgia, one part Gen Z melancholy and one part post-modern genre blurring. This wave is the quintessence of popular culture at the moment; call it “Emo Rap”, or “Trip-Hop”, either way, it expresses the despair and dysphoria catalyzed by a generation consumed with insecurity and precarity.
Lil Peep, the most prominent member of the Gothboi Clique, and one of Emo-Rap’s brightest stars, whose death in late 2017 shocked the world, sing-raps about pornstars and overdosing on Xanax over sparse orchestrally infused trap beats, with an over-enunciated inflection reminiscent of mid-2000’s punk rock.
Much of this musical sensibility can be traced back to the days of Taking Back Sunday and Hawthorne Heights. The heyday of emo, the hallmarks of which were a certain aesthetic of masculine sadness. Only the lyricism of this latest wave lends itself less to heartbreak explicitly than it does to an overall sense of loneliness and preoccupation with death and addiction, mixed with the mainstays of hip-hop. Here they take on a stilted disposition. Drug use isn’t about getting high, it’s about numbing the pain. One night stands aren’t for fun, they’re a way to stave off the despair of heartbreak. The hedonistic behaviors glamorized in hip-hop in these songs have consequences.
Meanwhile, emo rap star nothing, nowhere, signed to Fueled By Ramen, the home of bands such as Paramore and Panic! At The Disco has accumulated millions of streams on tracks like “hammer” and “Letdown,” From his whiny emo vocals to his reverb-soaked, fingerpicked guitar riffs, replace the 808 drum programming with a live kit and you’d have something similar to labelmate Dashboard Confessional (a mainstay of emo in the mid 2000’s), who makes an appearance on the track “hopes up.”
The sensibility has bled into mainstream pop music, now too. Billie Eilish, an artist who coalesces emo, pop and hip-hop rolled into one, just released her debut album last week, landing the second-biggest sales week of 2019. The record is a case study in the melange of melancholy and 808’s that seems to be peaking right now. The trip-hop leaning LP “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?” manifests an existential sadness in the staccato skitter of “xanny,” the frenetic wearied stilt of “bury a friend,” and the ambient stormy sorrow of “listen before i go.”
We’re seeing it on the runways, too. In February, Gucci sent models down the runway with clear tears speckling their faces at the label’s Autumn 2019 Milan show. At Junya Watanabe, models wore supersized inky black spider lashes, with blunt black bangs accentuated by hoodies and black chokers. Over at Comme Des Garcons, Rei Kawakubo continued her search for beauty in darkness with structural black hair looks by Julien D’ys accompanied by heavy leather and fishnets. Vetements, arguably one of the first to adopt the trend flirted with the aesthetic in 2017, naming look 31 of their Fall collection “Emo”, featuring oversized leather and jet black pin straight hair. Elsewhere the runways of 2017 and 2018 featured collections from Palm Angels and Malibu 1992 which heavily referenced emo fashions that reigned supreme during the aughts.
It’s no stretch to say that emo is back in a big way, both in fashion and music, and perhaps that says something about the cyclical nature of pop culture; that trends and subcultures become regurgitated and referenced every decade or so. But it almost might just say something more particular about our culture at large right now. With all of the precarity and turmoil going on in the world today, maybe it’s not so much that emo is, necessarily, the trend that we wanted to revive, but it might just be the case that it’s exactly the trend we needed to revive.
Cody is a content creator at Glossi Mag.
He is a photography aficionado, masters candidate, fashion enthusiast, avid Ariana Grande fan and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.