IMPORTANT NOTE: I was never a fan of Forever the Sickest Kids. It’s important to me that you know this. You can judge my taste in shitty emo all you like, but at least I didn’t like them. Thought you ought to know.
Confession: I link people to emo songs on YouTube when a phrase they use is part of a title or lyric. Unsurprisingly, it happened earlier today.
Okay, if we’ve spent any amount of time together, it wasn’t much of a confession. I make no secret of my love for what I affectionately refer to as shitty emo music. I’m not talking about screamo or post-hardcore stuff (with a few exceptions) — I’m talking about powerpop or pop punk, the latter of which never made sense but existed nonetheless.
When I was in middle school in the late 90s, I didn’t like any of the music my peers did — I was several years away from seeing a thong, so Sisqo did nothing for me, I never got jiggy with it, and while I love Space Jam, I didn’t believe I could fly. I actually liked Matchbox 20, Fastball and the Barenaked Ladies, but they never came up in conversation with my classmates or friends.
I listened to all that R&B in a sad attempt to feel relevant, memorized lyrics so I could sing along to not feel like so much of an outsider.
It wasn’t very effective.
With high school came new friends, and I was amazed that not everyone fit that R&B-loving, basketball-playing cool guy stereotype. It was a comfort to know that I wasn’t alone, but I still didn’t have much connection to music. I spent most nights doing homework to the sounds of Vin Scully, Ross Porter and Rick Monday calling Dodger games on the radio — my parents didn’t let me have the TV on while I worked.
Between my junior and senior years, something incredible happened — I had the radio on, probably to 102.7 KIIS FM (because I didn’t know any better), and I heard The Strokes’ “Last Nite.” It was their first single, the one that propelled them to stardom, and I loved it.
It sounded poppy but its lyrics were anything but. That struck me as distinctly unusual — it wasn’t a love song. It wasn’t full of swagger. It was, “Sorry not sorry, I’m out.” Needless to say, I was captivated. As a 16-year-old who’d never been in a relationship, I couldn’t relate to the sentiment expressed in the song exactly, but that wasn’t important.
What was important was that I found that music did, in fact, hold something for someone like me — someone who wasn’t quite sullen or despondent but who wasn’t quite happy.
I’ve discussed this with several longtime friends, and I have no idea how The Strokes led me to pop-punk emo, but I do remember exactly which song won me over — “At Your Funeral” by Saves the Day.
There’s something magical about Chris Conley’s voice — there was an innocence to it, an earnestness and optimism that made me hope he could convince his presumably drug-addicted friend to quit before their friends had to bury them.
Again, not a situation I had ever been in, but it and the rest of the album “Stay What You Are” represented everything I thought being a teenager should be — unwise drug use, unrequited love, general frustration with everything. It spoke to me, so I sought out as much music like it as I could.
There were so many bands, signed to labels you probably never heard of unless you too liked shitty emo — Drive-Thru Records, Fueled by Ramen, Victory Records, Decaydance (lol). I was awash in music I love that I’m only slightly embarrassed to still be listening to.
And I do still listen to it. My ex — obligatory appearance — listened to a wide variety of music, from Adele to Bastille to Billy Joel to Elvis, which is to say that she listened to everything. After our breakup, it was hard to listen to the radio because something would come on that I could picture her singing. So I turned to the music that she politely tolerated, the music I first fell in love with, my beloved shitty emo.
This is all to say that I’m introducing a new weekly feature to this blog — Emo Wednesday. Each week, I’ll share a different emo song and break it down, discuss what it meant/means to me, maybe share an embarrassing story or two.
Even if it’s not your music, give it a glance. See if my musings and ramblings change your mind about it. They probably won’t, but perhaps you’ll enjoy me waxing poetic about Something Corporate or Fall Out Boy.