I’m Pretty Much Okay (I Promise): 13 Emo Icons From the Mid-’00s a Decade Later
“Emo” is a word that simultaneously means everything and nothing, and as a musical genre, it’s even more confusing.
Originally used to describe a sect of ’80s punk bands who played “emotional” hardcore (or “emocore” if you want to break the seal on throwing around -core suffixes), it can be confidently applied to Fugazi-related Washington, D.C. outfits like Rites of Spring and Embrace. But as bands like Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate began to emerge in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the term also began permeating the pop-punk and indie rock scenes, too.
But modern emo — the emo known to a generation of faithful Hot Topic shoppers — saturated the mainstream in the early 2000s and basically tied together a disparate range of genres that had more to do with being aesthetically, not musically, similar. Whether it was referring to the acoustic pinings of Dashboard Confessional or the post-hardcore “screamo” of bands like Thursday, the emo label could essentially be slapped on any music that expressed emotional pain (which, if you ask Nick Hornby, is basically everything).
However, like grunge a decade before it, the emo movement of the mid-’00s revolved around a misnomer that, despite itself, turned into a viable genre. With fundamentals rooted in angst and heartbreak, there was an overall sense that — as My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way turned into a battle cry for an eternally embattled generation — everything was not okay.
But now, you know, a decade later: how is everybody doing? Check out our full run-down below:
With a ghostly pale face, deep red shading around his eyes and nearly always dressed in a smart red and black shirt-tie combo, Gerard Way was an intentional anti-hero and the closest thing MTV had to Kurt Cobain since probably Kurt Cobain. Boyishly good-looking and devilishly charming, he and MCR basically mastered rock that was both theatrical and threatening with ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)‘ and ‘Helena,’ then took it all a step further with 2006’s concept album, ‘The Black Parade.’ The band went their separate ways after 2010’s ‘Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys,’ and Way went onto write the Eisner Award-winning comic book, ‘The Umbrella Academy‘; married Lyn-Z of Mindless Self Indulgence; and became a father. He released his debut solo album, ‘Hesitant Alien,’ on Sept. 30.
Matt Pryor had a huge hand in putting Lawrence, Kan. on the rock map (if such a map exists) with the seminal emo outfit the Get Up Kids, who came together out of high school in 1995. Not quite as commercial as some of the other names on this list, the Get Up Kids’ 1999 pop-punk landmark, ‘Something to Write Home About,’ provided an outline for countless bands to follow. They broke up in 2005 and got back together in 2008, but Pryor has kept himself insanely busy regardless. He’s released seven albums with his other project, the New Amsterdams, two with the Terrible Twos (a children’s version of the New Amsterdams) and four under his own name. In 2009, he was behind the acoustic ‘Where’s the Band?’ tour; in 2012 he formed the supergroup Lasorda with members of fun. and others; and he also now hosts ‘Nothing to Write Home About‘ — a Marc Maron-esque podcast on which he interviews his musician friends.
First things first: That’s not Tyson Ritter in the screen shot below. That’s TV’s Dax Shepard. You’ll know when you’re looking at Tyson Ritter. Trust me. The All-American Rejects rose to fame out of Oklahoma largely on the strength of the ultra-catchy 2002 single ‘Swing, Swing‘ and (let’s face it) Ritter’s chiseled good looks. While the band have gone on to release three more albums since then, Ritter unsurprisingly found success on his own as a model and actor — most notably with a recurring role as a high-maintenance rock star on NBC’s ‘Parenthood.’ He’s also married to actress Elena Satine, who looks like this.
If you had asked around shows in 2005 who among the active frontmen would go onto become a global mega-star, few likely would’ve suggested Sonny Moore — the diminutive and pitchy singer of post-hardcore outfit From First to Last. But after Moore left the band in 2007 to indulge his dance-inspired impulses, he released an EP called ‘Gypsyhook’ in 2009 that hinted at what he could do with ProTools. But nobody could’ve foreseen that all along, beneath the lopsided haircut and never-ending energy, was Skrillex — the face of mainstream dubstep. Six Grammys, a VMA and even an appearance in ‘Wreck-It Ralph‘ later, Moore is a full-on cultural phenomenon.
Taking Back Sunday‘s charismatic frontman Adam Lazzara, however, definitely would have topped a ton of “Most Likely to Succeed” lists in 2004. The center of the Long Island pop-punk scene, he was also directly or indirectly caught up in romantic melodrama and passive-aggressive in-fighting that directly or indirectly led to a revolving door of musicians and uncertainty in TBS. But by 2011, Lazzara was married, most of the fences were mended and the band brought back its classic lineup. Still seething charisma, he put out his first solo song, the folksy ‘Because it Works,’ as part of an I Surrender Records compilation in 2013. Taking Back Sunday’s sixth album, ‘Happiness Is’ also debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard Top 200 in March 2014.
Thrice were always more of a band’s band with their melodic take on post-hardcore than they were commercially successful, but by the time they transitioned into more atmospheric, experimental and outright epic work with 2005’s ‘Vheissu’ and the ambitious ‘Alchemy Index,’ they had cultivated a fervent following. But after the band went on hiatus in 2012, frontman Dustin Kensrue released a few acoustic-oriented solo records under his own name (one was a Christmas album) before revealing his true calling: worship leader for Seattle megachurch Mars Hill Church. He released an EP with the worship band, the Modern Post, in 2012 and a solo album of praise songs called ‘The Water and The Blood’ in 2013. However, he recently resigned from his position amid the current controversy surrounding embattled pastor Mark Driscoll.
Joel Maden, along with his identical twin, Benji, shot to fame with Good Charlotte‘s 2002 pop-punk playbook, ‘The Young and the Hopeless’ and the single, ‘Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.’ The band continued to release albums to varying degrees of mixed results up through 2010’s ‘Cardiology,’ but Madden secured a firm foothold in the world of TMZ after he married Nicole Richie in 2010. He also became a judge on the Australian version of ‘The Voice’ in 2012. Benji Madden, by the way, is dating Cameron Diaz.
Thursday probably had the most street cred of any of the bands on this list and they deserved it with their searing post-hardcore ferocity and the outspoken political views of singer/screamer/philosopher Geoff Rickly. Although the band broke up in 2011, Rickly turned his attention to his one-time side-project United Nations, who just released their second album, ‘The Next Four Years,’ in the summer of 2014. (If you’re wondering how they get away with using the name United Nations, Rickly explains it in the video below.) In addition to constantly dodging litigation, Rickly also joined up with the remaining members of Lostprophets earlier this year after their lead singer, Ian Watkins, was sent away for a long, long time. They go by No Devotion and Rickly said he would release their future works on his own label, Collect Records, launched in June ’14.
In certain circles, especially circles along the East Coast, emo begins and ends with Saves the Day — and Chris Conley is Saves the Day. The band’s 2001 effort, ‘Stay What You Are,’ could be heard blaring from car speakers in high school parking lots for years thanks to its blend of upbeat pop with decidedly down lyrics and it promptly put the band through the major label ringer. While the band emerged on the other side with their core fanbase intact, Conley (the only permanent member of the band) also toured acoustically with Matt Pryor’s ‘Where’s the Band?’ tour in 2009. He also teamed with Say Anything‘s Max Bemis to release an album that same year as Two Tongues. Saves the Day released their self-titled eighth album in 2013 via Bemis’ Rory Records, largely to critical acclaim.
There’s arguably no bass player in the world more mistaken as the frontman of his band than Peter Lewis Kingston Wentz III. While Pete Wentz is the primary lyricist for Fall Out Boy, the far less marketable Patrick Stump is the lead singer. But Wentz is nearly as famous for his non-FOB activities as he is for his bass twirling. In 2005, he founded the Fueled By Ramen imprint Decaydance Records (now DCD2) which effectively created its own scene with the likes of Panic! At the Disco and Gym Class Heroes. He also opened a New York nightclub and started the clothing line Clandestine Industries, but he’s perhaps best known as the former Mr. Ashlee Simpson. After forming the electropop Black Cards during FOB’s hiatus, he took a gig hosting the tattoo reality competition, ‘Best Ink,’ on the Oxygen network.
Jesse Lacey is possibly the most polarizing figure to come out of the Long Island scene. Regarded by many as brilliant and a baby by others, he was once bassist for Taking Back Sunday before a girl got between him and guitarist (also Lacey’s boyhood friend) John Nolan. Lacey splintered off into the pop-punk Brand New, which for a minute, seemed to exist just to take jabs at his former bandmates. But in 2006, Brand New released the dark and intricate ‘The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me,’ which helped cultivate a mysterious new aura around the band, increased by the fact that Lacey stopped doing interviews (unless, apparently, it’s about his gear).
Although AFI formed a decade before My Chemical Romance and enjoyed a decent amount of success playing upbeat hardcore, they became mainstream mainstays in 2006 on the strength of the glossy goth punk of ‘Miss Murder‘ and ‘Love Like Winter‘ from ‘Decemberunderground.’ While the band has remained active ever since, Havok and AFI guitarist Jade Puget have also released two albums as the electronic duo Blaqk Audio and recently formed the hardcore outfit, XTRMST. An outspoken straight edge vegan and animal rights activist, Havok has modeled, played the role of St. Jimmy in the Broadway production of Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ and launched the clothing line Zu Boutique.
Chris Carrabba could very well be single-handedly responsible for an entire generation of teenage boys picking up acoustic guitars to pick up an entire generation of teenage girls. A little guy with big feelings, he fronted Further Seems Forever out of Florida before leaving in 2000 to focus on his solo project, Dashboard Confessional. With six Dashboard full-lengths (three certified Gold) under his belt, he branched out to form Twin Forks in 2011 who have released an EP and an album featuring their modern take on traditional folk music.