A punk phenomenon grows up

Punk is dead, right?
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  February 8, 2012

DARK TWISTED FANTASIES Is there that much of a difference between the stadium-selling drama of Dashboard Confessional and Bright Eyes and the emo-laced antics of Kanye or Drake? 

Punk is dead, right? We've all heard the narrative a zillion times: that a '70s UK youth explosion reacted to rock's bloated pretentiousness, leading to NYC punk, then hardcore, then post-punk indie rock, then the twilight of "alternative" and grunge in the '90s . . . and then what? It's time we faced it: the vanguards of rock have gotten really old — and are oblivious to a new punk movement that has permeated pop culture and become an international code for youth rebellion.

READ + LISTEN: The Top 100 Emo Songs of All TIme

In the late '90s and early '00s, emo — once a minor punk offshoot — quietly overtook all other established rock genres, selling boatloads of records and filling stadiums at a time when the biz was increasingly giving up on marketing rock. Perhaps more important, though, emo did it the punk way, disseminating its aesthetic through relentless touring and intense introversion that made the movement essentially invisible to adults. This willingness to discard the typical macho posing of prior rock and punk waves, mixed with DIY's innate determination, was key to the movement's success: emo conveyed an air of sensitivity and made it palatable to whole new audiences by mixing it with punk attitude.

For instance, as hip-hop became the alpha dog of pop culture, it became clear that there was money to be made in an artist willing to detail his or her insecurities to a mass audience. The '90s may have seen rap harden with gritty street tales, but something happened by the end of the '00s: is there really that much of a difference between the drama of Dashboard Confessional and Bright Eyes and, say, the emo-laced antics of Kanye or Drake?

Emo's defiant sensitivity proved to be, increasingly, a global brand, and by the late '00s it had become a fabulously dramatic international style movement. "Emos" became a self-identifying teen phenomenon in locales as far-flung as Russia, Saudia Arabia, China, and Mexico — all places that, by 2008, saw authority figures make moves to thwart this burgeoning cult of youth. Like the long hair and ripped leather gear that represented '60s rock and '70s punk, emo's flattened asymmetrical bangs have come to signify a new global introspection — and a legitimate threat to an oppressive status quo.

So while the old guard is busy making a museum out of CBGBs, there are teens from Mexico City to Riyadh speaking truth to power through long hair — and punk rock.

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  Topics: Music Features , Music, Arts, Dashboard Confessional,  More more >
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