THIS DISS Even a decade ago, Jimmy Eat World didn't want to be called emo.
Back in 2001, when Bleed American
was exploding all over modern-rock radio, I sat down with Jimmy Eat World guitarist Tom Linton and frontman Jim Adkins and asked about the emo label with which their group had been saddled. Linton made a joke about "emo" meaning "potato" in Japanese while Adkins tried his own hand at humor by saying the band was more like metal-fusion. It was apparent that all kidding aside, and despite their previous record, Clarity
, having been hailed as a touchstone in the genre, the two were looking at the association as a negative.
READ + LISTEN: The Top 100 Emo Songs of All TIme
A decade later and not much has changed. Nearly every band who has been dubbed emo clearly wants nothing to do with it. Gerard Way has expressed his annoyance about the categorization from the time My Chemical Romance broke with Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. The frontman will be none too happy with "Helena" clocking in at No. 1 on our list of best emo songs — but what does he expect? The first two MCR releases were the soundtrack for sad kids everywhere, and the Jersey outfit defined emo-chic with the pasty faces, blackened hair and eyes to match the snappy suits offset by red ties. They went more theatrical for The Black Parade and these days look like a pit crew for Speed Racer, with tight jackets, brightly dyed hair, and mirrored sunglasses. AFI had a similar approach: after spending an eternity dressed darkly in borderline bondage gear, thy have decided to go with shorn locks and Reservoir Dogs–style suits.
The change and denial of the classification is necessary for these acts to move forward both artistically and financially. Emo is often thought of as a kid's game — think of the Hot Topic demographic — and it's a fickle one, always looking for something new. When audiences grow out of that stage, either stylistically or musically, things get left behind. But if the band can grow up too, shift its sound into something similar while taking some risks, the chance of becoming a casualty lessens. Take Jimmy Eat World, who found pop-rock gold with "The Middle" and have done everything possible to stay in that zone since. And they're right to try — the audience for music like "The Middle" never goes away.
Will there still be that guy at the House of Blues screaming "Static Prevails!" the entire show? Of course, but he'll also go sit in his cubicle the next day instead of going home to make a mix tape for the girl he met at the show. And this is growing up.
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