To say that emo music is undergoing something of a revival would be an understatement. Bands like Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy continue to release chart-topping albums, while Taking Back Sunday are currently on a 20th anniversary tour, performing their much-loved debut album, Tell All Your Friends, and the LA-based “Emo Nite” is now a nationwide phenomenon, with megastars such as Demi Lovato and Halsey in attendance. The debate over what actually constitutes as “emo” continues to range on some twenty years after it first emerged, but Rites of Spring are often considered the original mid-80s pioneers, despite rejecting any associations with the genre over the last few years. When the 90s rolled around, Sunny Day Real Estate and The Get Up Kids took that post-hardcore sound and made it slightly more melodic, laying the foundations of what would later become the “mainstream” emo sound. Many were quick to dismiss the more radio-friendly sound of My Chemical Romance but my teenage self fell in love with them upon first listen, and ten years on, it’s their most recent album that continues to resonate with me.
It’s hard to remember which My Chemical Romance song I first heard, but I suspect it was the now-iconic “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”, which appeared on their second album “Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge”, released fifteen (!) years ago this month. Like many teenagers, I often felt isolated from my peers at school and found solace in the group of “scene” kids who would congregate in one particular spot every break and lunch time, and despite being mocked by the more popular kids, they took pride in being different from the norm. While life offline wasn’t always easy, I took solace in the flourishing Tumblr community of My Chemical Romance fans. Though we were scattered across the globe, I still felt a sense of belonging and there was a collective sense of enjoyment every time a new song or music video was released. I first joined the platform in 2010, just a few months before Danger Days: The True Life of the Fabulous Killjoys was released, so everyone was still riding the wave of The Black Parade and coming to terms with the departure of drummer Bob Bryar. While I loved that album, playing singles like “Famous Last Words”, “Teenagers” and if I was feeling particularly melodramatic, “I Don’t Love You” endlessly, I found the rest of it a tad too heavy for my tastes, though I would never openly admit that to anyone. Imagine my relief then, when in November that year, the band returned with the frighteningly catchy “Na Na Na”, the first single from Danger Days which sent the entire community into meltdown once again.
Taking on a more pop-punk sound like that of Paramore, You Me At Six and All Time Low - just some of my favourite bands at the time - Danger Days bridged the gap between the heavier sound of 2004’s “Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge” and the unashamedly pop stylings of Lady Gaga’s albums The Fame and later The Fame Monster, which I also adored. Looking back, the theatrical elements of both Lady Gaga and My Chemical Romance are a huge part of why I loved them so much, but I was still hesitant to vocalise my enjoyment of “Just Dance” and “Poker Face”. Like The Black Parade before it, Danger Days was a fabulously dramatic concept album, inspired by Britpop icons Pulp and one of David Bowie’s best albums, Diamond Dogs. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic Californian city in 2019, it followed a group of outsiders - known as Killjoys - fighting against Better Living Industries, a corporation hellbent on controlling its residents. Each band member had their own alter-ego and fans also created their own character names; for once, being an outsider didn’t seem like such a bad thing. Unlike their previous albums, a sense of hope permeated Danger Days despite its critiques of consumer culture, fame and plastic surgery. It’s somewhat alarming to see how all these issues have come to dominate popular culture nearly ten years later and in the current context of climate change and global warming, their protest that “This planet’s ours to defend” in “Planetary (GO!)” seems even more poignant, while “Sing” serves as a call to arms, encouraging us to stand up for the marginalised members of society.
Of course, my 14-year-old self was far more concerned with trying to navigate the challenges brought on by an unforgiving peer group and raging hormones, so it’s safe to say I found tracks like “The Kids From Yesterday”, “Summertime” and “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” particularly comforting. I’d always seen Gerard Way as a hero figure, someone who’d lived through the worst life has to throw at you and emerged victorious on the other side, especially after watching the “video diary” that formed part of their 2006 live album, Life on the Murder Scene, which takes an unflinching look at his struggles with alcoholism and prescription drug abuse. While their previous albums had always been filled with darkness and rage, it felt like the lighter, brighter sound of Danger Days was an intentional move away from that difficult time, and it reassured me that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Fast forward to my early 20s and having accumulated a tad more life experience, I still find solace in the album’s message of self-acceptance, having realised that the things people considered “weird” about me are actually some of my greatest strengths. But after the band split in 2013, I avoided listening to any of their music for a solid five years, feeling somewhat betrayed by the band who had urged me never to give up. We should have seen it coming though; after struggling to create any music they truly loved - scrapping an entire album before Danger Days and enduring a punishing tour schedule - it was clear the group had reached a breaking point. Then in 2014, Way returned with his solo album Hesitant Alien, which retained a similar sound to My Chemical Romance and spawned excellent tracks such as “No Shows”, “Brother” and “Drugstore Perfume”. After my own period of self-reflection, I found myself pressing play on “Bulletproof Heart” sometime in 2018, which had always been my favourite song from Danger Days. Though it was painful at first - forcing me to relive my teenage hopes and fears all over again - I no longer felt hurt by their breakup as it was clear they were happier releasing music on their own terms. While it doesn’t look like a reunion is on the cards any time soon, their influence can still be felt in the burgeoning “Soundcloud rap” scene - pioneered by artists such as the late Lil Peep, Princess Nokia and Juice WRLD - which combines pop-punk, trap and dream pop. Now that the scene and emo kids have come of age, our desire for music that speaks to us on a deeper level sees no sign of disappearing, and as we face an uncertain future, the albums that helped us through our teenage years feel more relevant than ever before.