“The Worst Genre That Needed To Shut Itself Up: Emo. Just, gross. You know?” This quote from a Spectator music review, affectionately titled “Emo Go Bye-Bye: The Best and Worst of 2003,” perfectly captures how my adolescent self viewed the entire genre of emo music. I just didn’t get it—Why was Kellin Quinn singing five octaves out of human perception? Was it even singing if half the song was screaming?
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure where my hostility toward emo music came from. As a former tween fan of One Direction, I should have been sympathetic toward music that was popularly hated. I didn’t even mind all things that might be labeled emo or emo-adjacent—Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco were also preteen favorites of mine. But real emo, from artists like Sleeping with Sirens or Pierce the Veil, confused me. I couldn’t comprehend any part of the subculture. The fashion, the scene kid hair, the screaming—what did it all mean?
This past year, I have started a deep dive into emo music. It’s one noticeable part of how COVID-19 affected my relationship with music. In a now-unimaginable pre-pandemic world, music was my release from my monotonous day-to-day life. I would take that sweet five-minute walk from my dorm to Hamilton or Mudd or Union Theological Seminary and enjoy that time, listening to music by myself. On days when the dorm was emptier, I would blast music out loud. One time, my roommate came home expressing concern because she heard me singing along to “My Heart Will Go On,” but it was just another Tuesday afternoon for me. Weekend nights would be spent laying in a friend’s dorm room, listening to a range of songs from Nicki Minaj classics—courtesy of my Barb best friends—to random 2000s throwbacks.
Music, in a very cheesy way, was my best friend when relaxing. Now, music is a constant companion that I can not shake off. Until the pandemic, I couldn’t have imagined that it was even possible to grow sick of music. Now, I’m not so sure.
In the virtual world, in which going to school, work, or a “Zarty” (Zoom party) takes place on the dismally life-sucking world of screens, one might think that I wouldn’t need music to be that release from the world. Unfortunately, it seems like I listen to music at every waking moment when I’m not doing anything—a portion of life that has seemed to increase as I sit still in front of the screen. While I am tempted to write this off as my own craziness, it turns out that I really did listen to more music in 2020. According to my Last.fm numbers, I listened to about 3,000 more songs in 2020 than in 2019—if a song is about three minutes, then that’s about 150 hours of increased listening time. Listening to the same genres and artists is never exciting, and even less so when you’re constantly streaming something.
My newfound boredom with my favorite medium has, interestingly enough, led me to almost unconsciously rethink its role in my life. After listening to hours and hours and hours of music, I have started to explore new genres, new tastes, and new ways to connect with music—the art that I love the most. Two years ago, I had replied to one of my friends with “Who’s that?” when she asked if I knew who Mitski was. The first time I tried listening to Mitski’s “Nobody,” I turned it off. I revisited Mitski only last September after a friend sent me a video with a Mitski song in it. Turns out, I didn’t hate Mitski’s music. Now, in light of the pandemic, I even appreciate “Nobody.” “My God, I’m so lonely/ So I open the window/ To hear sounds of people,” a lyric from the song, has been particularly relatable in the COVID-19 world. She’s even become one of my top ten played artists. And after embarrassingly acing an “Is this lyric from a Naruto opening or Mitski lyric?” quiz despite having seen less than a tenth of Naruto, it’s safe to say that Mitski is one pretty obvious addition to my taste.
I can honestly say that I have become quite the emo convert. The song “If I’m James Dean, You’re Audrey Hepburn” by Sleeping with Sirens was another song that I once shut off after listening to for five seconds. Kellin Quinn, lead singer of the band and former bane of my existence, has a voice that I now enjoy mimicking and listening to. When I was younger, I don’t think I had the ability to access the anger or dramatics of emo music. Screaming in music sounded like screaming for the sake of screaming. But the monotony of the virtual pandemic routine, which lacks everyday social moments like running into an acquaintance or grabbing dinner with a friend, has made life depressingly boring. The ability of emo music to express heightened emotion, whether or not a song’s lyrics are related to boredom, is now something I can appreciate. That occasional scream in a song is a good break from my usual taste of pop or indie music, and a necessary release from the all-encompassing digital world.
Sharing music has been another way to get out of pandemic ruts. Though I have made the occasional playlist for myself, it has now become my instinct to think of which friend to send them to. Music links in my friend’s Discord—something else I didn’t understand until the pandemic—have become a regular way for me to find new songs. I’ve even started making playlists with other friends. After Taylor Swift’s Evermore came out, my best friend and I reordered the original tracklist, which we felt switched too randomly between emotions.
To recreate the weekend experience, we’ve tried out things like Spotify’s somewhat functional listening party option. With one of us in California, one in upstate New York, and one out of the country, everyone is reliving their middle school playlists. Using this feature, we’ve also made it to No. 498 in Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” We even brainstormed a rating guide and started writing our own music critiques in Google Docs.
What has saved and challenged my musical boredom has been leaning into music as my social, instead of my personal, safe haven. Getting creative about what genres I listen to has just been a side effect of this embrace. Having people to share a surprisingly good country song or a horrible pop song with has always been what makes music fun for me. When I’ve mentioned how I have felt during this time, my friends have also had similar reflections. Whether it’s taking breaks in listening or diving into new genres, it turns out we’ve all felt stuck in somewhat of a pandemic music rut, and have felt a subsequent need for change. I guess in the end, it’s not really about the “emo phase,” but rather about the friends that we made along the way.
Enjoy leafing through the Arts Issue!