A Love Letter To My Emo Past (And Present)
The Debrief: And also: a love letter to Avril Lavigne
Where were you when the course of your life changed forever? For me, I was nine years old and at a friend’s house when the video for Avril Lavigne’s Complicated came on TV. There she was: an angel in striped sweatbands with a bad attitude and a halo of poker-straight hair. My previous music taste had only involved a brief flirtation with Steps, but it didn’t matter. I was captivated. Watching her ‘crash the mall’ with a posse of boys that weren’t quite actually members of a real band had a profound impact on my young soul, and I went out and bought the album as soon as I could. Shortly after I begged for my first skateboard, and before I was ten I was smearing eyeliner all over my face and attempting to straighten my curly brown hair. I told my year five teacher that I wanted to be a singer; I even took up guitar and never felt restricted by the fact that I couldn’t actually sing. When Sk8er Boi was released that December I was already wearing ties over my t-shirts. I was hooked. Avril was the first thing in my life I had actually discovered myself, and she was formative for me as a small person just learning to make her way in the world.
I made friends on the Avril Lavigne forums, added her on Myspace, wrote my own ‘songs’ that read just a little exactly like hers...but it didn’t matter. I was discovering who I was. It didn’t matter to me, either, that my friends thought I was weird - I had Avril. I had my posters and my t-shirts and my books that I would pore over, hoping to learn more about her; her star sign, who she idolised, what she used to get her hair that straight (mayonnaise, apparently). In October 2004 I finally got to see her live and experience my first show - the first of many. She was supported by Simple Plan, who for eleven-year-old me cemented her status as a bona-fide rockstar, and would become an obsession in their own right. I stood in the seating in my too-big Bonez tour t-shirt (which I still own) and sang along to every word.
But all good things must come to an end, and Simple Plan led to my next true love - Good Charlotte. By the time I hit 14 I was completely and tragically ‘too grown-up’ for Avril, and I needed something a little heavier; something I could cry to. Good Charlotte became a genuine obsession; one that even led me to hang up my skateboard and replace my Avril posters. But, while they would live in my heart a little longer, they also led to my most definitive and life-changing adolescent phase - one that I may never grow out of. Like everyone who was anyone in 2005, I was into emo.
It started slow. A little Yellowcard here, a little Bright Eyes there. By early 2006 I was wearing black and red jumpers with a studded belt, dying my hair black and sweeping it across one eye, loading up my arms with even more rubber bracelets and sweatbands than I had worn throughout my Avril phase. I was fully invested. I didn’t have the easiest home life and I was already bullied for being poor and weird. Being the only emo at my school certainly didn’t make the bullying stop, but it helped me to make new friends from other schools through Myspace. I finally had a place I actually fitted in.
During the years 2005-2007 emo, springing seemingly from nowhere, was everywhere. Even those not a part of it knew it when they saw it. Emo infiltrated public consciousness, whipping up a moral panic with parents and making its way onto mainstream shows like The O.C. and One Tree Hill. It evaded definition and was more than a music genre - it was a lifestyle, dictating every part of how we lived. The clothes we wore, the boys we fancied, the social media we used, the videos we watched. It was one of the last (or the last) true subcultures before social media hit and everything - fashion and music - became homogenised. The young people getting into emo were by and large those with difficult home lives, who were bullied, who struggled with being gay, who were nerdy. Emo, and the culture that surrounded it, gave kids like us a place to go; it encouraged expressing your feelings through music and LiveJournal. In the scene being different was okay; the lyrics dealt explicitly with difficult feelings and situations, bisexuality was celebrated, and everyone was sad. I struggled with everything from my parents to my sexuality as a young teen; the complications that came with being a teenager were just easier to work through when I was part of a culture that was crying, too.
I spent every single night on Myspace tweaking my theme and finding the perfect song to express just how I felt, looking forward to the weekends when I would get to meet with other people like me in town or at shows - I was happiest in sweaty venues full of other bodies screaming and crying to Fall Out Boy, The Academy Is…, Panic! At the Disco. The scene wasn’t perfect, but it was home.
But all good things have to end, and as quickly as it came about, the scene seemed to die in late 2007. Everyone around me was growing up, and emo just wasn't as everywhere as it had once been. Bands fell apart, striped clothes were less accessible, and it got harder to hear Fall Out Boy on the radio. As I hit 15 my life began to get a little better and I felt less of a need to cry to Bright Eyes at home alone, anyway. The very reason I had gotten into emo in the first place - to carve an identity out for myself away from all the things that were making me unhappy - didn’t really apply in the same way. But the problem was, no matter how much new stuff I tried to get into, I just didn’t feel the spark I got when I first listened to From Under The Cork Tree eight times in a row on the floor of my dark bedroom. Not wanting to be seen as lame for clinging onto a dead scene everyone else was over and in an effort to fit in at a new school with new friends, I threw the CDs I could bear to let go of and dressed more neutrally. I tried to grow up, and that meant leaving emo behind.
Until I was 18, and old enough to go clubbing. Despite the years that had passed since our emo days, the only place my friends ever went to was Mosh, the club that hosted weekly emo/alternative/pop-punk nights. In those dark, sticky walls I was 14 again - only this time I was actually drinking legally. With the days of school and being called a ‘dirty fucking grebo’ every day long behind me, I didn’t have any reason to feel embarrassed as I screamed to Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance again. I was running around to the music I had once loved - and I found myself actually enjoying music for the first time in years.
So I re-downloaded everything. I dusted off the few CDs that I hadn’t been able to quite bring myself to throw away, and when I got my car, I screamed to them again. I went to Mosh every weekend and I questioned why I had ever lied to myself in the name of fitting in - which was very un-emo of me, anyway. I reminisced with my friends and dug up old pictures that had made me feel so ashamed only a year or so earlier. I even started going to shows again and getting into new music. What I didn’t do, though, was start dressing the way I had when I was 14. I had previously conflated the parts of the scene that I wanted to shed (the hair, the petty crime) with enjoying the music. Separating emo from my terrible 2007 dress sense allowed me to find joy in music again - in fact, I even rediscovered Avril.
At the age of 24 I regret ever falling out of love with emo. I wasted a good three years pretending that I didn’t think Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge was one of the best albums ever made, and for what? I actually enjoy emo music, and it’s formed the basis of most of my friendships; both old and new. I can meet someone for the first time and instantly bond over the fact that we were in the same scene in 2006. At least once a month, either in Brighton or in LA, I even still make an effort to go to an emo night. It warms my heart to see just how many grown, functioning adults find their bliss screaming to Taking Back Sunday in a crowded hall. It doesn’t feel stunted - it feels nostalgic. I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin now than when I was 16 and tried to leave emo behind - I have learned to love what I love and to never apologise for it.
I might not bring back the under-eyeliner or back-combed fringe for 2017, but I promise you now: nothing will ever come between me and Brand New again.
Liked this? You might also be interested in:
Follow Marianne on Twitter @marianne_eloise
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating