First published on Thursday the 27th of September, 2018, this piece comes in at number 11 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2018.
A lot happened in 2006. Pluto was downgraded to a so-called dwarf planet, the world met Borat, and My Chemical Romance’s seminal emo-masterpiece The Black Parade was unleashed upon the world. I was a 14-year-old West Aucklander, misinterpreting the album’s central conceit – of a cancer patient passing into the afterlife – as being about teenage heartbreak. The album was the soundtrack to my then-life. And it was far from unique to me.
I had just gotten in and out of my first real relationship, and I was depressed in that special way only possible in adolescence. You know, that life-altering, innocence-shattering heartbreak that isn’t taken seriously by your parents or teachers but is understood by your shit-kicking friends and (so it appeared) the eyelinered dudes wailing on C4.
Just 2006 stuff.
All my friends were unhappy at age 14 - it hardly mattered the circumstance. Whether we were grappling with our sexuality, our body image, or dealing with the complexities of our first romantic relationships – we felt like fucking monsters. I know I did. And My Chemical Romance seemed the perfect band to represent my new-fangled monster-feelings. A notch above the pop-rock of Good Charlotte and Panic!, while not quite as scary as Hawthorne Heights or Silverstein. I was Goldilocks (with a brutal black dye-job) and they were my just-right emo porridge.
Aside from the music, emo-dom (a word I now declare real) was recognisable for its uniform. It’s probably the part most remembered – and most maligned – now. The jeans were skinny. The hair was fashioned deliberately over the eye. Shoes were Chuck Taylors and lovingly covered with vivid scribblings. And if nothing else, all was black. Black was a deliberate sartorial choice as a 14-year old in 2006. Black was an external representation of our inner monster-ness. In 1971 Johnny Cash warbled ‘'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man in Black’. In 2006 we wailed ‘So paint it black and take it back, let’s shout it loud and clear’. It was different. It was the same.
In Victorian times, people in grief went through elaborate, pre-established, mourning rituals. When a loved one passed, folks wore black for a pre-set period of time. They were excused from social occasions and were allowed, essentially, to stay in their room. I’m grateful not to live in Victorian times, but a set period of socially accepted dark-clothed alone time? It might be nice every now and then.
If anything, it’s exactly what a person needs at age 14. Emo-dom was just a new way in to a very old human requirement. Solitude. A chance to wallow in misery. A chance to wallow in adolescence.
It’s easy to laugh at the emos of 2006-2007. Our attire was daft, our music was (debatably) crap. But angsty youths feeling united by music that scares their parents? It’s hardly a new phenomenon. It goes back at least as far as Elvis Presley’s ‘devil music’ in the 1950s. So totally different. So totally the same.
I’m glad I came of age in the emo peak of 2006-2007. Sure, Paramore and MCR weren’t nearly as cool as Hole and Nirvana, but they were ours. Ours to scream to. Ours to cry to. They made us feel sane. Made us feel seen. When I look to the adolescent landscape of today, I’m unsure what the equivalent is.
Add to that the way social media has colonised the teen experience, and I get more than a little worried for today’s 14-year-olds. The way 2018’s teens get social media makes our Bebo/Myspace days look like we were playing with crayons. And yet, I’ve never felt more isolated than I do when scrolling through the cult of saccharine cheeriness that is my Instagram feed. There’s few things more depressing than lying in bed, in your food-stained pjs, thumbing highly-edited pictures of your most beautiful acquaintances. It’s already been established how bad that shit is for your mental health. A previous Villainesse article found that today’s teens reckon the ‘pressure of social media’ is the most challenging aspect of modern life.
So where is the outlet? Where is the weirdo music for the people who feel like weirdos? Where is the shit a 14-year-old in 2018 can scream to? Can lock herself in her room and cry to? Can slam the door and feel less alone to?
I don’t have the answers here.
I’ve long stopped identifying as an emo. My blonde has grown out, my music tastes have evolved, and I almost never scribble obscenities on my sneakers anymore. But I’m glad I did when I was 14 years old. It was exactly what I needed at the time.Support Villainesse