Why Emo Beauty Isn’t (and Never Was) a Phase
It’s not a phase, mom. No, really, it isn’t.
You might think the emo music that ravaged millennials’ earbuds in the 2000s — like Taking Back Sunday’s “Cute Without the ‘E'” or “Ohio Is For Lovers” by Hawthorne Heights — was born and died within the same decade, but perhaps you just stopped listening. Some of us didn’t. Now it’s 2023, and it appears the genre and its accompanying doom-and-gloom beauty aesthetic is having a “comeback.” The hill I choose to die on is that emo everything (the music, the look) never actually went away.
With the 2000s rounding back into relevancy (yes, trends are, in fact, cyclical) the staple emo side bangs and chunky colorful streaks first popularized by Myspace models such as Hanna Beth and Audrey Kitching have been reinvented by Gabrielle Union, Cardi B, and Rihanna, among others. And the makeup? Well, that’s just an army of black eyeliner pens and pencils coming to smudge their way across the eyes of celebrities such as Jenna Ortega, Billie Eilish, and Blackpink’s Jisoo, plus runway models at shows by Versace and Rodarte during the most recent New York Fashion Week.
The genre has had a decades-long impact on generations, and those who call emo just another 2023 beauty trend are overlooking this.
Meanwhile, Paramore, My Chemical Romance, and Fall Out Boy — what many fans argue is the true “Emo Holy Trinity” — are about to or have released new music recently and are touring. (It should be noted that all three of these bands have been off and on hiatus since 2009.) So it adds up that these emo-adjacent hair and makeup looks happen to be steadfastly gaining popularity. The dip-dyed orange and gray hair currently worn by Hayley Williams, the frontwoman of Paramore, is just one look I’m waiting to see on a runway.
The first time emo made its mainstream go-round, I called everyone a poser out of protectiveness of the genre (and, you know, being 13). Now, it just fills me with nostalgic glee. As I approach 30 much faster than I would like, the mere mention of any of these bands still makes me foam at the mouth — Fall Out Boy more than any other. I have no shame in loving a band that titles its songs with angsty full sentences like “I’ve Got a Dark Alley and a Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth” because laughing, crying, and shouting along to their lyrics molded me into the person I am. If you think it sounds dramatic, go ahead and think that, but when they released From Under the Cork Tree, the 2005 album that catapulted them to stardom, I was a pre-teen with lots of pent-up rage and no idea of who I was or what I liked independent of other people. Ask any 20-something on the street wearing checkered slip-on Vans and they’ll likely tell you the same.
I certainly had a closet full of band tees, studded belts, and skinny jeans, but that wasn’t emo’s greatest influence on me. Before beauty YouTubers dominated the Internet, my primary sources of #inspo were Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz’s perpetually smudged black “guyliner,” the intricate face paintings of Panic! At the Disco guitarist Ryan Ross, and My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way’s signature wash of rusty red eye shadow. I’d tear their pictures from magazine pages and study their faces for hours. That was mostly because they were — gasp! — cute boys, but I was also endlessly fascinated by the idea of men unashamedly wearing edgy makeup looks I had previously never even thought to attempt. At that point in pop culture, glitter-clad, glam-rock icons like David Bowie, Prince, and KISS has already had their big moment, and the men I often saw on screen all donned the same hyper-masculine California-prep uniform (The O.C., The Hills, etc.). Emo makeup at that time wasn’t just defiant to me; it was a sign of bravery. And I wanted nothing more at that time than to feel brave.