The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Friday, Feb. 23, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Office DJ: The misconception of emo


"The history of Emo is extremely complex and filled with numerous twists and turns. The movement had a special knack for spawning several subgenres," Carson Elm-Picard writes for his Office DJ on the misconception of emo.

Before you start asking me what my favorite My Chemical Romance album is, I have to stop you right there. 

I love not that type of emo, but instead the genre of music that originated from the 1980s hardcore punk movement. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against people who rock skinny jeans and bangs. But that's not that the emo I'm referring to.

The emo music I've grown to love grew out of the Washington, D.C. DIY hardcore punk movement that was pioneered by artists such as Moss Icon and Rites of Spring. These bands were still characterized by the intense and fast-paced sounds associated with hardcore emo, but stood apart with their emotional lyrical content. The first emo-core — emo short for emotional — bands rejected the term (and even viewed it as an insult).

This musical wave disappeared as quickly as the label was coined, but its influence had already reached across the country.

The emo sound found a home in the midwest region and was popularized by artists like Piebald, The Promise Ring and American Football. However, the genre of midwest emo can be misleading because although that's where the sound originated, it is used more to describe a band’s sound. 

For example, The Van Pelt are from New York City and the band Mineral hails from Austin, but both bands are generally referred to as midwest emo. This era is characterized by its jangly guitars, complex rhythms and a refreshing rawness that appealed to teenagers across the country.

The 2000s saw emo music reach mainstream success. Bands like Jimmy Eat World, Death Cab for Cutie and Saves The Day all rose to middling stardom. 

The music genre then transformed into the counterculture movement that most people think of when they hear the word. This era was defined by acts like Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the counterculture movement and don't regularly listen to music from this pop-punk era.

The history of emo is extremely complex and filled with numerous twists and turns. The movement had a special knack for spawning several sub-genres — and I have only scratched the surface of all that can be found. 

This is why I get so upset when the term emo is only associated with the culture of late 2000’s pop-punk acts. There is so much more to the genre. 

I created this playlist to document the progression of the genre and have included my favorite songs from each era. “Woolworm” by Indian Summer demonstrates the extreme contrast in sound that characterized early emo. “The Summer Ends” by American Football encapsulates peak midwest emo with its sparkling guitars and melancholy lyrics. And “The Blah Blah Blahs” is a song from my favorite contemporary emo band, Brave Little Abacus, a leader in the emo revival scene. 

The songs on the playlist range from slow singer-songwriter cuts to intense punk anthems. I urge you to listen, regardless of your previous opinion of emo. 

And maybe someday if you're lucky, you can scare girls away at parties by talking about emo — just like me.


To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Carson Elm-Picard

Carson Elm-Picard is the 2023-24 multimedia managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as the design editor. Carson is a senior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and political science.