Whether you look back at the early-to-mid 2000s fondly, or would rather relegate the whole era to the most repressed corners of your mind, there’s no denying that it was a time that gave birth to some stone cold bops. Led by brooding, angsty, heavily eye-linered rockstars with questionable – by which we mean amazing – hair, the emo scene which emerged at the turn of the millennium re-ignited the mainstream's interest in alternative music all over again.
And then, as so often happens, the whole thing fell out of fashion, and for many, "emo" became a dirty word. But the emo movement of the early 2000s involved so much more than just a Hot Topic-stuffed wardrobe. It combined all the most emotive elements of punk, indie, alt rock and pop to provide adolescent fans with an emotional crutch in an overbearing world.
Despite its temporary dip in popularity, turn-of-the-century emo is enjoying something of a renaissance of late – as evidenced by most the internet losing their shit over the recent announcement of the When We Were Young festival. To celebrate the genre finding its way back into our hearts, these are the top songs of the era... don’t be surprised if you find yourself recalling every single lyric.
The All American Rejects - Dirty Little Secret
Whether your emo phase is actually your dirty little secret or not, it’s likely that The All American Rejects were one of your most trusted accomplices when it came to indulging in a healthy dose of teen angst. Released in 2005, Dirty Little Secret was the top single from their second album, Move Along – and yes, that’s the name of yet another ridiculously catchy AAR tune. Feeling nostalgic yet? Cast your eyes over frontman/serial smirker Tyson Ritter below, and find yourself transported back to your poster-adorned bedroom, inflatable chair and all.
My Chemical Romance - I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
I’m Not Okay (I Promise) was the track we all turned to no matter the emotional forecast. On bad days – when our young relationships were in the gutter and our siblings were trying to start world war three with our parents, for example – Gerard Way’s overwrought efforts provided a form of therapy for disaffected youths the world over. And during good moments, it made everything feel sort of sunny. It might not be the OG My Chem anthem, sure – we only need to play a singular piano note to recognise that one – but it’s certainly one of the most iconic tracks in their catalogue, on a par with The Black Parade.
Panic! At The Disco - Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off
Is lying really the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off? If we forget the misogynistic undertones of this song, this song crackles with an arrogant sultriness which makes it downright addictive. As frontman Brendon Urie orders in the pre-chorus “Let's get these teen hearts beating, faster, faster”, we’re faced with its undeniable sleaze, but nevertheless, it remains a sure choice for the best emo corkers of yesteryear, and the ultimate go-to for getting over a toxic break-up. As a bonus, it's accompanied by a bizarre music video that features people walking around with fish tanks on their heads for no discernible reason.
Paramore - For A Pessimist I’m Pretty Optimistic
That’s What You Get, CrushCrushCrush…essentially, any song on the 2007 Paramore paragon Riot will certainly bring all the emos to the yard. But, be it the lofty chorus crowned by Hayley William’s powerhouse vocals, or the introductory punching guitar riffs, For A Pessimist I’m Pretty Optimistic is the one that simply has that extra edge. It’s probably worth noting too that sharing an album with a song like Misery Business is going to lead to some overshadowing, but regardless, there’s no doubt that this song got played at least a dozen times a day on black Ipod classics/nanos everywhere.
Thirty Seconds To Mars - The Kill
Back in the days when Jared Leto donned a black bowl-cut fringe instead of a terrible Italian accent in various Hollywood movies, Thirty Seconds To Mars were the masters of writing gut-wrenchingly dramatic songs. Boasting a theatrical chorus and moody lyrics, The Kill is just about "It's not a phase, mom!" as you can get. The music video for the A Beautiful Lie track was a notable moment of the era too, and was inspired by Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining based on the Stephen King novel. While scribbled in heavy eyeliner, Leto even spots the frisky man in a bear costume, after screaming at his own clone. What ever happened to totally OTT music videos, eh?
Fall Out Boy - Dance, Dance
Just like The Black Parade, this song is so iconic that it’s instantly recognisable in about point two of a second. Serving as one of Fall Out Boy’s most famed songs – it’s got to be a toss up between Dance Dance and Sugar We’re Going Down, hasn’t it? – this track is all-out emo mayhem. The chorus feels like a call to engage in reckless debauchery, and the track comes with a music video featuring manic dancing and an ever-so-awkward young Pete Wentz, clearly ravaged by hormones. Speaking of toss ups, can you ever really have called yourself emo if you never had heated arguments over which heartthrob was better – Pete Wentz or Gerard Way?
Metro Station - Seventeen Forever
Fun fact, Metro Station’s co-vocalist/guitarist Trace Cyrus is the brother of pop idol Miley Cyrus. Clearly, thanks to their achy-breaky-hearted father, writing irresistible earworms runs in the family. Without them, we wouldn’t have been given the Metro Station classic Shake It, or of course, the mega Disney Seventeen Forever. Lifted from their 2007 self-titled album, these songs are sickly sweet, and might even at this stage in your life make you wince. Either way, Metro Station are still totally fun, and will even be making an appearance at 2022’s When We Were Young festival. Just beware of soaking up too much nostalgia, as you’ll be tempted to grow out that fringe again.
Jimmy Eat World - The Middle
Remember that music video you used to get embarrassed watching whenever your mum entered the room? The one with that house party where everyone was in their underwear? Jimmy Eat World’s The Middle is a song that should probably come with a disclaimer: it’ll have you recalling your most awkward teenage moments, bad hair days included. The lyrics still come in handy to this day though too, and offer comfort to those feeling “left out” or different from those around them (especially if everyone is confidently frolicking in their pants). As frontman Jim Adkins suggests “Yeah, just be yourself, it doesn't matter if it's good enough (good enough) for someone else”, things suddenly don’t seem so crappy.
The Used - I’m A Fake
Kicking off with a spoken word introduction from vocalist Bert McCracken, who poetically discusses his conflicting relationship with his addiction issues after turning sober, the song’s unbrazen honesty and subject matter is heavy stuff. Arguably matching My Chem’s affinity for channelling the darker sides of reality, The Used are all about gut-wrenching vocals, poignant lyrics and adrenaline-fuelled punk rock riffs. Simply, it’s true emo at its finest. Taken from 2004’s Love And Death album, this song, like many others on the record, is packed with heavy-hearted emotion and plenty of singalong hooks.
Avril Lavigne - Sk8er Boi
Canadian pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne has been distancing herself from her roots over the last few years, dishing out trivial pop music before becoming commonly known for that weird conspiring theory which claims that the “real” Lavigne died in 2003. More recently though, Lavigne has returned to her true emo calling, reminding us all of why exactly she was crowned the punk rock princess of our childhoods in the first place. Her ultimate hit Sk8er Boi was never a true emo track per se, but who can deny that fishnet-sporting emo kids never found themselves brooding to this song about failed romance at one point in their lives?