Emo music means many different things to fans, from the genre’s forebearers in ‘80s D.C. to ‘90s godfathers like Jawbreaker and Cap’n Jazz, to the boom in popularity around the early-aughts Warped Tour era, to modern torch carriers like the Wonder Years and the Dangerous Summer.
Suffice to say that any list that covers this much ground — and with such, shall we say, emotional fans — is not going to please everyone. In creating this list, Variety set some parameters:
*The song had to have come out during emo’s pop culture peak: 1999-2009. The only exceptions were Sunny Day Real Estate, whose 1994 debut album “Diary” was an essential stepping stone for the bands of this era, as well as Weezer’s 1997 sophomore album “Pinkerton,” which fully shaped and influenced scores of groups to follow.
*Only one song per band.
*Although classics like the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” might have been played alongside emo on Fuse in the early aughts, they probably wouldn’t have been on the Warped Tour, which places it more in the indie rock category, which was also booming at the time.
*Although the genre was bolstered by writers whose lyrics made outsiders feel like they belong, there has been a reckoning in recent years to unearth bad behavior beneath the surface of the scene, including bands treating women badly, sexually harassing fans and a reappraisal of violent lyrics. When a song is influential enough to make the list but was made by someone with a toxic past, it’s noted in the write-up.
Thanks to high profile tours from bands like My Chemical Romance and Paramore, the reunion of Blink-182 and the upcoming emo-heavy When We Were Young festival in Las Vegas, the genre has come roaring back into the mainstream, and the nostalgia is unsurprisingly strong. Check out our list and feel free to suggest your favorites in the comments, and listen to the Spotify playlist of all the songs below by clicking here. — WE