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Most emo-privy people mark the emergence of the genre as being in 1984, when the band Rites of Spring began playing in Washington, D.C. In a surprising deviation from standard punk music, the RoS lead singer produced heavily emotion-laden lyrics, dangerously exposing himself and his personal feelings in each song. There was no precedent for this sort of direct vulnerability, with the closest comparable exposure being country/western music, in which singers lamented about dying dogs and insufferable in-laws. However, emo made the pain even more personal, as the singers exposed not those around them but themselves through their heart-wrenching tales of woe.
With the incorporation of Rites of Spring into the Washington, D.C. underground scene, emo became acceptable, and copycats followed. The next band to make a substantial impact through emo was Moss Icon, who combined Rites of Spring's lyrical heartbreak with traditional punk's energy, drawing new, excited audiences with its adopted intensity. As the music began to reach more and more people, the movement grew, and emotional-punk music began to spawn its own subculture in the early 1990s.
By the late '90s, the American teen's appetite for hardcore had somewhat subsided, replaced by a craving for semi-commercialized punk pop. The emo movement turned away from its hardcore roots and began to incorporate twinkling guitar or piano riffs, and melodies became more heavily emphasized as the music moved away from its "screamo" past. The music during the 1990s became more mainstream than ever, and by the millenium arguably "emo" bands were garnering regular rotation on MTV and radio stations nationwide.
Since emo emerged from the underground and came into the national spotlight, it has become more and more indistinguishable from its punk-pop counterpart, which is what has become of the original punk movement that spawned the emotional-punk subgenre. Modern pop is currently shying away from the boy bands and dance divas of the late '90s and early millenium, instead steadily moving toward more of a punk sound and overall culture. As these two (sub)genres overlap and reintegrate, a new underground will emerge as "hardcore" followers shun the commercialization of their movement.
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This site last updated April 21, 2003.
Copyright Emily Seawell 2003