The Cult of the Emo Kids

Last month I had the pleasure of watching a live recording of the Full Frontal podcast, a podcast by the band All Time Low hosted by Alex Gaskarth and Jack Barakat. Two charming, funny, and attractive 20somethings. I went partially for work and partially for fun, but I noticed something that made me feel great.

The sold out room held almost entirely women between the ages of 16 and 30 (minus a few men who work with me, the crew that work with the band, and the odd parent or two). The moment the band took stage the energy in the room tripled, I felt the fans cheering in my chest. It instantly took me back to seeing My Chemical Romance at The House of Blues freshman year of college. These men sparked something inside their fans that is hard to replicate.

After years of going to shows, delving into online groups and message boards, and poring over every magazine that even mentioned my favorite bands, I now recognize something important about fandom. Once it’s there it’s never going away, and once you become part if it, you’re in it for life.

The fandom around All Time Low is similar to, if not partially the same, fandom around My Chemical Romance, my favorite band ever, who’s fandom I spent the better part of 5 years immersed in. Their fandom is similar to Blink 182s, is similar to Bring Me the Horizon, is similar to Good Charlotte’s, and this could keep going all day long.

These bands have a few core things in common:

1. They’re all made up of relatable, engaging, and interesting men

2. They all sing about being left out, marginalized, forgotten

3. They all always have, and always will preach inclusion, acceptance, and love

The groups of teenage girls and women who flock to these bands identify with who the band is and the band’s message. It creates a bond that goes far deeper than “favorite band” and attaches itself to the soul. This leads to a fiercely loyal and supportive fan base who will do anything for these bands, and pay any price they can for content.

Never underestimate the cult of the emo kid.

The type of men who start pop-punk-emo-hardcore bands have something to say, and it’s spilling out of them. It’s well known through the scene that a majority of band members (and especially lead singers) suffer from some form of mental health issue, even though they radiate confidence on stage. Giving their female fans a living example of someone who not only survives but thrives* with mental illness.

Seeing someone who you admire talk so openly and candidly about their personal struggle with mental illness starts to make it feel okay. It starts to feel manageable. It gives you hope. These men gave voice to a generation who were (and to some degree still are) told to “get over it”, “work through it”, and “figure it out” instead of being told help is an option.

In his solo tour, Gerard Way got on stage every night and reminded the crowd that it’s always a good idea to find someone to talk to, that there are people out there who want to help and support you, and if all else fails: there’s always chocolate cake. At both shows I attended, the audiences were an 80-20 ratio of women to men. When he began his speech about mental health the women in the audience cheered the loudest.

Members of hardcore bands like Bring me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes, and Sleeping with Sirens’ Kellin Quinn also spoke about depression on stage and in the press. These open and honest confessions create a welcome and warm environment for women in a music scene dominated by male fans who think feelings are for the weak. The band members create stage personas that allow their fans to imagine being their best friends. There’s an endearing nature to all these front men who allow their female fans to feel connected and included.

A main theme these bands sing about is that feeling of being left out or excluded. Most famously the band Simple Plan whined about it in “Welcome to My Life”. Girls across the world latched onto the themes of being left out, misunderstood, and forgotten. Within the music scene a lot of girls feel this way, and within their lives everyone feels this way at some point. At a certain point the Simple Plan song felt like a meta-commentary about the industry they worked in, and I think their fans saw that and connected strongly with it.

It’s similar to the when the lead singers discuss their mental illness, having someone articulate your feelings so accurately really creates a bond. The fans of these bands can connect with each other easily because they connect so strongly to the music. The bond that comes with feeling excluded and forgotten your whole life is strong. These fans create a welcome environment for each other because they know right off the bat that they share this intense emotion.

When I stood in line for 14 hours at My Chemical Romance shows I connected instantly with the women around me. A quick compliment on someone’s sweatshirt turns into a discussion about everything from childhood to biggest fears. We all shared a bond over this music that so well articulated our feelings of isolation and exclusion. The most ironic part being we shared these feelings, thus we were so far from being isolated in our experiences.

Most importantly, all of these bands created inclusive and accepting fandoms. Of course, like anything, there are some bad apples, but over all everyone I’ve met at shows, online, and in various lines have been some of the most accepting and understanding people in the world. The support female fans give each other is the best part of being in these fandoms.

They pick each other up literally and figuratively. In mosh pits they look out for each other and make sure no one gets trampled on, or hurt. In life they stand up for one another and offer words of comfort and support when their fellow fans are feeling down.

At a My Chem concert in Manchester, New Hampshire I met a woman named Angie who flew there from Miami, Florida. She met up with some of her friends who she made through a LiveJournal group, and spent the entire day hanging out with them, me, and my cousin. After that day Angie and I became fast, close friends. We still talk to this day, and exchange birthday cards and Christmas gifts. When I’m feeling down she can help pick me back up, and when our beloved My Chem broke up we could lean on each other for support.

Her dedication to the band (flying thousands of miles just to see them) isn’t an isolated incident. I’ve known many people who shell out thousands of dollars for the bands they love. When a connection becomes this deep it doesn’t become a question of how much, but of how soon. How soon can I see them, hear them, engage with them again?

These bands created a community that spans age, gender, race, and class. No matter who you are or where you live if you get sucked into one of these fandoms, you have a family for life.

*a phrase overused when talking about mental health, but possibly because it is the only one that fits well, or possibly because everyone who writes about it is just getting over a cold and can’t quite think properly.


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