The golden age of MySpace and the early 2000s brought with them the mainstream celebration of emo, its pronounced lisps, white belts, regrettable piercings, and dangerously tight jeans spreading with every bulletin post, GIF, and graffiti’d pair of Chuck Taylors. With emo, listeners already plugging into a network of self-expression found (at least performed presentations of) unfiltered emotional honesty, and they clung tight. Armed with a little hindsight, we looked back on the scene that soundtracked the genre’s glory days.
DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL – “HANDS DOWN” (2001)
For a new generation, Chris Carrabba and his gushing nice guy anthem about “the best day [he] ever had” set the bar for grand romantic gestures and “spontaneous” first dates. It was on every mix CD-R passed between couples, and it soundtracked at least a handful of your make-out sessions.
THE USED – “THE TASTE OF INK” (2002)
Even if it checked major insecurities in the intro, it built up to a proud, life affirming message: “So here I am / It’s in my hands / And I’ll savour every moment of this,” and that it complicated that radio-friendly message with inner darkness only made it more positive.
TAKING BACK SUNDAY – “CUTE WITHOUT THE ‘E’ (CUT FROM THE TEAM)” (2002)
The standout track from 2002’s Tell All Your Friends, this song desperately wanted to be the kiss off its parenthetical hinted at, but it was too self-sabotaged, which only made it more quintessentially emo. Today, we’ll hopefully see this song as representative of emo’s highly problematic androcentrism, complete here with sarcastic, gendered name calling.
BRAND NEW – “THE QUIET THINGS THAT NO ONE EVER KNOWS” (2003)
Jesse Lacey and his emo pop punk project Brand New favoured power chords and clever, barbed lyrics, and while 2001’s Your Favourite Weapon was obsessed with hurling those at former TBS bandmate John Nolan (a mutual beef you probably took a side on), Deja Entendu and singles like “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” were more matured, self-reflective investigations.
THRICE – “THE ARTIST IN THE AMBULANCE” (2003)
The title track of their third album, “The Artist in the Ambulance” was Thrice’s beacon of hope for all the messy mental health mainstream emo helped us talk about. According to singer Dustin Kensrue, it was a metaphor, the song’s title a double-entendre about how “a paramedic can pick someone up and fix them physically, while an artist/musician can pick someone up and fix them emotionally.”
MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE – “I’M NOT OKAY (I PROMISE)” (2004)
Anxious, feverish, melodramatic, and theatrical as hell, My Chemical Romance and the breakout single from their sophomore album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge marked the debut of a comprehensive artistic vision; but more importantly, it sussed out the emotional baggage of a new generation, gave it the words to express that in simple English, and let them know other people were there to listen all at once.
FROM FIRST TO LAST – “NOTE TO SELF” (2004)
Before Sonny Moore was Skrillex, he played guitar (then dropped that) and became the lead vocalist for From First to Last. With “Note to Self,” they unveiled a portrait of existential, crises, painted in broad strokes and double bass kicks – a love note to a lost sense of self.
HAWTHORNE HEIGHTS – “OHIO IS FOR LOVERS” (2004)
Also known as “The Emo Anthem,” its desperate chorus courted danger and disaster, but maybe there’s a compelling case for emo as harm reduction in Hawthorne Heights’s signature song: if kids were spending time singing along about self-harm, at least they weren’t literally doing it right then and there.
THE SPILL CANVAS – “THE TIDE” (2004)
Plumbing everything from sibling jealousy to divorced parents, with “The Tide,” the Spill Canvas projected the landscape of interpersonal drama that can occur within (and without) the nuclear family on a beach and suddenly washed it all away with the tide – pretty heavy handed stuff you couldn’t really warm your heart with, but it made you appreciate what you had.
FALL OUT BOY – “SUGAR WE’RE GOIN DOWN” (2005)
A wordy, desperate plea for romantic validation that flew in your face with its icky self-awareness (“I’m just a notch in your bedpost / But you’re just a line in a song”), Fall Out Boy’s hit single exploded across the mainstream anyway, and now we have to put up with them covering the Ghostbusters theme.