As red caps and baggy jorts fell out of fashion and nu metal took its leave from constant MTV rotation around the mid-2000s, a new cultural phenomenon was lurking in the wings primed to take its place. This time, the kids involved replaced nu metal's machismo with intense sensitivity – no emotion was left untapped, no personal turmoil was off the table. The scene's protagonists came smothered in eyeliner and with hairdos more aggressively coiffured than anything we'd seen since the 80s. That's right: we're talking about the emo boom of the early 21st century.
Social media was still in its relative infancy when emo first took off – global domination was just a glimmer in a teenaged Mark Zuckerberg's eye when My Chemical Romance released their debut album in 2002 – but one platform proved a fertile early breeding ground for bands to grow an audience and help curate their own scenes: MySpace. The MySpace generation were perhaps the first generation of bands to be able to bypass the record industry and invent their own successes, tapping directly into an audience of kids who just totally, like, got it, man.
That wasn't 100% a good thing. Whereas the record industry had once served as gatekeepers and tastemakers – also not 100% a good thing – now everyone could have a bash at this music-making lark. The platform was swiftly filled with chancers and wannabes – but while most of it was dreadful, a few of them made the odd killer song.
We've rounded up 10 of the best here for your listening pleasure, so prepare yourselves for a world of excessive drama and gothic infatuation – the emos are back in town.
10. Hawthorne Heights - Ohio Is For Lovers (2004)
The mid 2000s was a different time, that's for sure – these days a song written about missing your girlfriend while on tour including the lyrics ‘So cut my wrists and black my eyes,’ might raise a few eyebrows, but for angsty teens in 2004 it was catnip. Hawthorne Heights soon became posterchildren for a generation of swoopy-fringed kids and Ohio Is For Lovers lives on as perhaps the most outrageously dramatic emo song of all time.
9. From First To Last - Note To Self (2004)
The From First To Last story is one of many surprises – not least that they managed to produce this stone-cold banger from their catalogue of cliche-filled offerings. Before he went on to change the face of modern electronic music, Skrillex began his music career with this divisive group. Their debut album Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has A Bodycount documented the point where post-hardcore morphed into emo and sounds like Geoff Rickly fronting Underoath – but badly. Songs like Note To Self caught the attention of many, including the legendary Ross Robinson who produced the band’s follow-up album Heroine, unexpectedly bringing along Wes Borland to join From First To Last as a touring member.
8. Boys Like Girls - The Great Escape (2007)
Cleaner, prettier and somehow cringier than their contemporaries, Boys Like Girls were what you got if you crossed Nickleback with All Time Low and then removed any passion for making music. The Great Escape spearheads the band’s debut self-titled record, which is packed full of songs all about the good ol’ days and lost times with friends. Sure, it's trite bollocks for the most part, but the nostalgic sentimentality of this track sure feels good in 2021.
7. We The Kings - Check Yes, Juliet (2007)
While there’s nothing distinct or interesting about We The Kings' sound, their debut single, Check Yes, Juliet, is one of the most joyously fun emo songs of the mid-2000s. From its instantly recognisable opening guitar line to its colossal singalong chorus, this song is a jewel in the band’s uninspired pop-rock back catalogue. WTK are still making music today, but they've never quite scaled the heights of this song – which went platinum in Australia – again.
6. Falling In Reverse - I’m Not A Vampire (2011)
That this band's reputation was built more on the idiotic misogyny that informed the first half of their career – both within their songs and outside of them – than their actual music should tell you what you need to know about Falling In Reverse. I’m Not A Vampire doesn’t exactly buck this trend, but it does see Falling In Reverse channel their inner Steel Panther and transform themselves into cheesy glam rock satires. It’s so ridiculous that it begins to become catchy – although we can’t quite figure out what possessed vocalist Ronnie Radke to re-release it as a piano-led cinematic ballad last year.
5. The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus - Face Down (2006)
Like many of the bands on this list, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus struck it big on their debut album and spent the rest of their career trying to repeat those former glories. Their hit Face Down was inspired by vocalist Ronnie Winter’s experience of domestic abuse and acts as an ode to anyone experiencing a similar situation. Despite its subject content, the song is still raging fun to sing along to, and if you prefer your emo with a bit of scream, go check out the original version.
4. The Starting Line - The Best Of Me (2002)
A music video set in generic American suburbia? Check. Not a forehead in sight? Check. A shell necklace that the singer will regret wearing one day? Check. This must be Paramore… no it’s Fall Out Boy…. or could it be Yellowcard? Nope, this is the short-lived Philadelphian emo outfit The Starting Line, whose song Best Of Me sounds like a mashed-up copy of every hit pop-rock track of the early-2000s. It’s like a classic emo playlist compressed into four minutes, and it’s a blast.
3. The All American Rejects - Dirty Little Secret (2005)
The All-American Rejects were emo masked as radio rock, and it made them unstoppably popular for about two years. In this time they penned two platinum records, developed a vice grip over high school movie soundtracks and quickly became poster boys for a style of punk so wet that it made Blink-182 look like Black Flag. Dirty Little Secret is significant for being the King of 2006’s teen flicks, featuring in Bring It On: All or Nothing, John Tucker Must Die and She’s The Man – all movies that share its irresistible guilty pleasure charm.
2. The Audition - Warm Me Up (2008)
Unfortunately for The Audition, their breakout album Champion came out just after the boom of emo and in the decline of the CD era, so they never managed to capitalise on this big single. Here, frontman Danny Stevens adopts several Brendon Urie-isms in his vocals while the band around him attempt to make music that has more bite than the usual pop-punk. The result is a song that actually has some character, it’s just a shame that the band never repeated this formula.
1. Metro Station - Shake It (2007)
In perhaps the least rock’n’roll story of all time, Metro Station members Mason Musso and Trace Cyrus met because their younger siblings were both starring in the Disney Channel show Hannah Montana. They quickly found fame on MySpace thanks to a distinctive – if polarising – electro-pop sound which saw the advent of the neon-emo sub-genre and a scene that was no longer just defined by sadness. Honestly, only on MySpace. Shake It may not be a masterpiece, but it has been lighting up dance floors at the emo club for well over 10 years now.