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What is the Emo Subculture?

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  • 0:03 What Is the Emo Subculture?
  • 1:16 Emo Music
  • 2:41 Emo Style & Fashion
  • 4:03 Emo Personality
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the main components of the emo subculture. You'll explore the history, musical influences, and fashion of youth in the emo subculture. Following the lesson will be a brief quiz to test your new knowledge.

What Is the Emo Subculture?

Vanessa, age 16, is currently seeing a counselor after school for feelings of anger, loneliness, and depression. On her way to the counselor, she wears her headphones and listens to a song by My Chemical Romance on high volume. She relates to lead singer Gerard Way in that he went through a period of depression like she did. Vanessa presents a journal to her counselor; in the journal are all of Vanessa's feelings and deepest thoughts about life. Vanessa has dark black hair with pink highlights, and she wears thick dark eyeliner and a long-sleeve striped shirt. Vanessa is part of the emo subculture.

The emo subculture sprouted from fans of emotional hardcore, or emocore, a style of punk rock in the 1980s. Emocore music is known for its loud, confessional, expressive, and emotional characteristics. It's generally associated with youth who are dispirited and angry with society, other people, or themselves. The emo subculture is widely followed by youth who identify with emocore music--they may not feel like they fit in, have negative emotions, and dress in dark, eccentric apparel.

Emo Music

Many of the hardcore punk bands, such as Velvet Monkeys and Iron Cross, came out of Washington, D.C., in the late 1970s and 1980s. But the emo subculture sprouted from a fan base who were not only attracted to the hardcore punk bands but also a newer genre of hardcore punk bands, emocore, whose lyrics were more expressive and emotional.

Often, singers of these bands would sing about depression, drugs, societal problems, political corruption, parental resentments, and other problems. Youth who felt misunderstood, lonely, and like they didn't fit in with mainstream culture were able to identify with the messages that emocore music conveyed. Among the biggest bands to pioneer the emo subculture were Rites of Spring and Embrace.

Examples of more modern-day emo bands include My Chemical Romance, Dashboard Confessional, Fall Out Boy, Taking Back Sunday, and Panic! at the Disco. From emo sprouted another subculture, screamo. Screamo music is a genre of emocore that evolved in the early 1990s that involves screaming and aggressive vocals. Some popular screamo bands are The Used, A Day to Remember, and Hawthorne Heights. It's clear that music is at the foundation of the emo subculture and encompasses much of the history.

Emo Style and Fashion

Youth in the emo subculture want to express themselves through their fashion and show that they're not afraid to be eccentric and different from others. To properly paint a picture of an emo youth, we'll discuss appearance from top to bottom - hair down to shoes. The following descriptors are not typical of all emo youth but are generalizations of what's considered a standard emo.

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