Nostalgia review: Pop punk, emo classics evoke sentiments for ‘underrated subculture’

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Kalyani Rao

Senior reviewer Kalyani Rao listens to “Damage” by Fit For Rivals on Spotify, surrounded by album covers from different albums created throughout the 2000s up until the present, focusing on the emo rock, post-hardcore and pop-punk genres. Rao collected these album covers together to represent her love of emo and rock music, and the review below highlights selected songs from the albums above. “I’ve always loved rock music, and a lot of emo bands are technically rock bands,” Rao said. “I want to share my love for these genres, in hopes of appealing to people who wouldn’t usually listen to these genres, or are interested but don’t know where to get started.”

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I can still remember the time when I found out through the search browser on my iPhone 3G that My Chemical Romance had broken up a year before I got into them – it was 2014, and I thought they wrote the best songs in the world (and still do). Now, I can say that I saw them in concert during their reunion tour, something I never could’ve imagined eight years ago. I’ve always loved rock music, especially bands deemed “emo,” and pop-punk falls into the category of an ambiguous mix of both. Bands like All Time Low, Sleeping With Sirens, Pierce the Veil and Paramore are well known in the emo scene, but I want to bring attention to the nostalgic classics created by bands that are somewhat-lesser known in mainstream culture, including Fit For Rivals, The Used, Falling in Reverse, Taking Back Sunday and more.

I’ve gathered a collection of my absolute favorite pop-punk and emo songs, anthems of the early 2000s and the era of black skinny jeans, straightened hair and smudged eyeliner. Some songs are actually newly released, although they’re written and performed by the same bands that defined the emo subculture back in the day.

These songs could awaken a love of pop-punk and emo rock after reading this article, so go give them a listen!

“Besitos” – Pierce the Veil

Pierce the Veil, a post-hardcore rock band founded by brothers Vic and Mike Fuentes, is considered one of the most popular emo bands of all time. One of the only bands from the 2000s with a person of color as a main vocalist, Vic Fuenes has been hailed as a representative of the Mexican emo subculture. “Besitos” features a strong Mexican-inspired guitar intro with clapping and drums, the series of riffs coming back in the middle of the song. Pierce the Veil marked a departure from the typically American style of emo music by bringing a Hispanic twist, and “Besitos” is a perfect example of the way they transformed emo rock.

Pictured above is the album cover of Picture Me Broken’s album, “Wide Awake.” Although the band has been on hiatus since 2014, they’ve released two full length albums during the nine years they were active. The band was formed in 2009, by lead singer Layla Brooklyn Alman. (Courtesy of Spotify)

“Dearest (I’m So Sorry)” – Picture Me Broken

“Dearest (I’m So Sorry)” by Picture Me Broken delves into screamo, but remains in the categories of emo rock and post-hardcore. The music video features low-rise skinny jeans and classic emo hairdos, the lead singer sporting voluminous blonde straightened hair and an intense side part. The lyrics don’t shy away from dark topics, with lines such as “You’re here again, the rush brings / A line of joy and suicide.” and “Tears tug at the corners of my eyes / But I won’t let them go this time.”

“Cute Without the ‘E'” – Taking Back Sunday

Taking Back Sunday is one of the few bands on this list that never went on hiatus. Formed in 1999, guitarist Eddie Reyes and bassist Jesse Lacey brought the rock band together in Long Island, New York. This is another song that has minimal distortion and a classic sound, representing a true 90s rock band. “Cute Without the ‘E'” reminded me of the music style of the American rock band All Time Low, formed in 2003, with passionate but playful lyrics and addictive guitar melodies.

“Complete Collapse” – Sleeping With Sirens

Lead singer Kellin Quin heads another iconic emo rock band from the 2000s. Sleeping With Sirens was formed in 2009, with members coming together from previously-formed bands. With intense lyrics and melodies, Sleeping With Sirens is a pivotal band in the emo scene and evokes strong nostalgia from fans.

They recently finished the “Complete Collapse” tour, their last performance taking place at the When We Were Young Fest in Las Vegas, where many emo and rock bands performed. Sleeping With Sirens occupies a large list of genres, the most notable ones being post-hardcore, screamo, emo rock and pop-punk. Songs like “If You Can’t Hang” and “If I’m James Dean, You’re Audrey Hepburn” are some of Sleeping With Siren’s most well-known songs.

“Permanent Rebellion” – L.S. Dunes

L.S. Dunes is the newest band on this list, but the members are long-established in the emo scene. All are members of influential emo rock bands, notably guitarist Frank Iero from My Chemical Romance, Thursday’s bassist Tim Payne and drummer Tucker Rule, lead singer Anthony Green from Circa Survive and Saosin, Coheed and Cambria guitarist Travis Stever. L.S. Dunes is a “Supergroup” of different musicians who grew close while touring, and they released their debut album November 11. They currently have 373,458 monthly listeners on Spotify.

My favorite songs by the band are “Permanent Rebellion” and “2022.” High-pitched, intense vocals by Green back incredible guitar solos and riffs by Iero, Stever and Payne. I’m a big fan of Frank Iero’s solo work, so I tuned into L.S. Dunes immediately. Although Iero is still touring with My Chemical Romance currently, he plans to attend L.S. Dunes’ planned European tour, set to start in the beginning of 2023. “Permanent Rebellion” sounds so similar to the pop-punk and post-hardcore anthems of the 2000s that it’s hard to believe it was released this year. It’s one of my current favorite songs, and I definitely recommend to check it out.

“Dirty Little Secret” – The All-American Rejects

The All-American Rejects are another band formed early on, starting in 1999 and continuing to the present, with lead vocalist and bassist Tyson Ritter, lead guitarist and backing vocalist Nick Wheeler, rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist Mike Kennerty and drummer Chris Gaylor. The All-American Rejects fall into the genres of pop-punk, pop-rock, punk and emo.

Punk and emo bands tend to overlap, with groups like My Chemical Romance considering themselves both a punk band and rock band, rejecting the emo title fervently in the 2000s, but accepting it in the present. The All-American Rejects are known for dystopian-like music videos, with songs like “Gives You Hell” filmed in a satirical small-town reminiscent of the likes of The Truman Show. “Dirty Little Secret” is a classic emo rock anthem, and it’s obvious that it earns that title once you listen to it.

“Dance, Dance” – Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy defined the emo genre with albums like “From Under The Cork Tree” and “Infinity On High.” Some of their most famous songs are “Sugar, We’re Going Down”, “Immortals”, “Thanks fr th Mmrs” and “Centuries.” They’re known for extremely long and confusing song titles, but “Dance, Dance” is an exception to the rule. “Dance, Dance” features a catchy drum intro and smooth vocals by lead vocalist Patrick Stump, and can easily be played on repeat because it’s just that good.

“All The Small Things” – Blink-182

Blink-182 may not technically count as emo, but I had to include this song. Although the music style is definitely rock, emo music as a category includes songs that have great guitar parts and strong, emotional lyrics, often about ruined relationships. Blink-182 is a strong favorite of many in the emo subculture. “All The Small Things” is a definite 2000s banger with lyrics like “Work sucks, I know / She left me roses by the stairs, surprises let me know she cares.”

“I’m Not A Vampire” – Falling in Reverse

Based in Nevada and formed in 2008, Falling in Reverse is a rock band lead by Ronnie Radke. “I’m Not A Vampire” is a song dealing with Radke’s addiction, with lyrics like “My hands are always shaking / Body’s always aching” and “Self-induced, comatose / Chemical daze.” Emo songs never shy away from difficult topics. The real reason why I love “I’m Not A Vampire” is because of the guitar parts. It’s effortlessly catchy, and I’ve probably listened to this song over 50 times and never grown tired of it. The riffs are simple but incredibly good, and this song was actually one of the reasons I wanted to start learning the guitar.

“All I Wanted” – Paramore

Nearing the end of this list of recommendations is an iconic band and song. Lead singer Hayley Williams has led Paramore since 2004, and the band is currently on an American tour to play songs from their newly-released album as well as older classics like “All I Wanted.” Williams is known for incredible, high vocals and singing power, and “All I Wanted” is a perfect example of her stunning vocal range. Guitar parts back up Williams’ parts in a song you’ll never get tired of.

“Damage” – Fit For Rivals

Fit For Rivals is technically a rock band, with origins in Florida and a debut album released July 9, 2009. Their songs range from alternative rock to ‎pop punk‎ and ‎post-hardcore. The “Damage” music video features lead singer Renee Phoenix with messy, dark hair singing in a cell of an insane asylum.

Mental illness is a popular topic for emo music, as it is a big part of the subculture. The song starts off with the determined lyrics “You don’t know anything / You don’t know anything about me” and ends with “Steady damage, cross the line / You had it all, now I’ve got mine.” The guitar parts have a relatively clean sound with minimal distortion, a natural progression from 90s rock.

Lead singer of My Chemical Romance, Gerard Way, is shown gesturing to the crowd, with brother and bassist Mikey Way standing behind him. My Chemical Romance, which has been broken up since 2013, reunited for a European tour preceding their North American tour in 2022. The band has been widely hailed as one of the most influential bands in the emo subculture. (Wikimedia Commons)

“I’m Not Okay (Trust Me)” – My Chemical Romance

I saved “I’m Not Okay (Trust Me)” for last, because it may be the most well-known song on this list. My Chemical Romance has sold over 8,997,368 albums, including 6,500,000 in the United States and 1,620,000 in the United Kingdom. Their best-selling and most well-known album is “The Black Parade”, released in 2006, and their debut album was released in 2002, titled “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love,” affectionately nicknamed “Bullets” by My Chem fans.

The members include lead singer Gerard Way, rhythm guitarist Frank Iero, bassist and brother to Gerard Way, Mikey Way, and lead guitarist Ray Toro. “I’m Not Okay (Trust Me)”‘s music video is currently at 100 million views on YouTube with the hit single from “The Black Parade,” “Welcome to the Black Parade” at 272 million views. Although “Welcome to the Black Parade” is more well-known, I chose to highlight “I’m Not Okay (Trust Me)” because it’s the song that catapulted My Chemical Romance into stardom as the most popular song on the “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge” album, released in 2004, the second full-length album MCR released after “Bullets.”

The “I’m Not Okay (Trust Me)” music video is set up to represent a prep high school, filmed like a movie trailer featuring all four band members as well as ex-drummer Bob Bryar. The members play high school outcasts, battling against the jocks, bullies and cheerleaders to make a name for themselves. The song, to me, represents the quintessential spirit of not just My Chemical Romance but also the emo subculture as a whole – that it’s okay to be yourself, and to be honest about your feelings. Don’t hide how you really feel, or if you’re struggling – even if you feel alone, there’s a community waiting for you.

Wrapping up

These songs are just a small selection of a huge variety of songs sentimental to the emo subculture. I have a longer playlist on my Spotify, which is linked here, so check it out if you’re interested in listening to more songs by bands like these! Spotify is currently blocked on PISD browsers, so you’ll need to open it on your phone or at home to listen.