Monday, December 7, 2009

Subgenres are stupid

As you know from the previous post, I picked up Chuck Klosterman's new book, "Eating the Dinosaur". I actually finished it today and I should say he's back in form. This is not a book review, however. I mention the book again because he mentions Weezer and how "emo" Rivers Cuomo is and other related things. I am going to start this off right now by saying this: the word "emo" is fucking stupid. There is no such word, and no one who knows anything about punk rock in any form should ever use it. "Emo" was originally coined to mean "emotional hardcore". Again, what a stupid fucking phrase. "Emotional Hardcore" is like saying "tasty chocolate" or "fast Corvette". It is completely redundant. ALL hardcore and punk rock is emotional. I used to think "emo" was just a made up word used by Spin magazine because they are completely devoid of any creativity or knowledge of what they write about. Therefore, in order to label something to make it easy on them, they made up the term "emo". No, I was wrong. Maximum RocknRoll made up the term as a sarcastic and derogatory way to slag a certain sound in punk rock. The name was applied originally to bands like Rites of Spring and Embrace out of DC. MRR in its silly defenders of the faith attitude created a monster with this. The name stuck and now literally thousands of bands are labeled (read saddled) with the moniker "emo". What the fuck is "emo" anyway? I've been listening to punk rock most of my life and I still have no fucking idea. As far as I can tell, and as far as the rock music media is concerned, it means punk rock about girls and breaking up with them. That is a gross generalization. Many bands slapped with this bullshit categorization sing about a whole mess of topics. Breaking up with some lady is really a minor part. But again, it is a stupid nonsense categorization. It doesn't really exist. You can't lump bands as diverse as On the Might of Princes, Saves the Day, and Jawbreaker in the same fucking subgenre. It's not like in metal where there are literally a hundred different subgenres that for some reason make sense. A genre by definition means that artists in that category have to adhere to certain sonic rules in their music. "Emo" as the mainstream rock world sees it can't possibly do that.

So how did this happen? How did so many bands get shit on with a stupid subgenre tag that doesn't exist? Well I think I can maybe answer that. The musical style came out of hardcore as a reaction. People were tired of punk rock as it was. Ian Mackaye says in an interview in the American Hardcore movie that "the violence became too central". The DC scene which he helped start became a violent skinhead filled nightmare that was no longer fun. Rites of Spring and Embrace were a direct result of that. The songs were more personal, emotional is a stupid word to use. Both bands would end up mutating into Fugazi, nothing more needs to be said there. Other bands in other areas would do the same. Violent scenes spawned bands that wrote silly pop songs on purpose. Songs about girls, about not fighting, about being nerds. The Descendents actually perfected this before anyone. This is the stuff that pretty much anyone on the planet can relate to, and being able to relate to the music is the only way it really works. Lifetime, Jawbreaker, The Promise Ring, Texas is the Reason. I could go on. This is the root of what would be called "emo". Its not anything really different. If you must call it something call it pop punk or indie punk. That makes more sense to me.

All of these bands are great. Some of the bands that came later are great. Everything was fine. Then came Chris Carabba and Dashboard Confessional. This would embody what the rock press would call "emo". An overly sensitive cry baby and a guitar singing songs without any hint of irony about his most personal issues. How fucking boring can you be? Didn't matter, the ladies ate it up (some dudes too). Everything changed right there. Innovation in punk rock is an absolute must, and I always say that it can be anything the audience wants it to be. However, what Carabba wrote and writes still are Cat Stevens songs with tattoos and better hair. All of the bands I mentioned before were humorous about being fucked over by the opposite sex, or life in general. That's what made the music great. Jawbreaker didn't sing about losing the girl, they sang about never having her to begin with and then chain smoking because of it. Even Saves the Day, who have since kind of shat on their past greatness, are extremely metaphorical and ironic. Even in the songs that border on the over-emotive, Chris Conley manages to put a bit of the "it's my fault I suck" attitude that Dashboard Confessional absolutely lack. The Get Up Kids are another band that slipped in that ironic intelligence. I don't believe Chris Carabba ever had any real trouble with the ladies. I don't care how sincere he claims to be, I don't buy it.

The "emo" moniker now reigns supreme in punk rock. There were equally stupid subgenre names that spawned out of that as well. Screamo is just one off the top. What a stupid fucking name for a genre of music. The problem is that the name won't ever go away. Klosterman calling Weezer an "emo" band is a total example of that. Weezer has nothing really to do with punk rock. If I were to compare them with anyone I'd say maybe The Replacements meets the Beach Boys meets Kiss meets Van Halen. The term has become so normal to use that people completely outside the punk rock community not only know what it is supposed to mean, but they use it in their normal discourse. Klosterman doesn't really know what he's talking about in this instance, but it's forgivable. I understand why he wrote it. Rivers Cuomo embodies the stereotype that the media has given the fake subgenre. A nerdy guy singing songs about girls. Wasn't rock music designed for nerdy guys to sing about girls? I mean how the fuck else would a guy who looks like Keith Richards ever get laid? I work at a high school. I can't count the times kids use the term "emo" to describe something punk rock related. It's now an adjective in our regular speech. Also, and most disturbingly, "emo" sells records. Just ask Fall Out Boy or Paramore. Even though it has to be said that these bands are completely inauthentic, the kids don't care. Fall Out Boy's lyrics don't even make any fucking sense. Paramore? It's a girl barely out of high school singing about the prom or whatever. Just call it what it is. Vapid Power Pop. Fucking ABBA with distortion.

My proposal is to get rid of the term "emo" from normal discourse relating to punk rock. Or anything else for that matter. If you want to tell me how a new band might sound, compare them to another band. Don't use the term "emo". I am not in any way a scene warrior, but the term is fucking stupid. "Emo" is another nonsense word to describe music that is hard to categorize. We should stop actively looking to throw music into neat easily labeled trash bags. If we can do this we can get rid of stupid nonsense genre tags, like "emo" or "viking pagan black metal" or "mathcore". Honestly, what the hell does any of that mean? I think the best way to get rid of stupid genre tags is to completely avoid rock music media. SPIN and Rolling Stone and NME and all the other wannabe music taste makers. Cut them out of your life. Figure it out yourself. That's the best thing I can say. Now here's a picture of Fugazi:

1 comment:

  1. I've always defined emo as music that WOULD be punk, if it had anything even distantly related to balls.

    Take any perfectly decent punk band, strip out anything that makes them good, make their lead singer a castrated man-child, and you've got the foundations of 'emo'