Ah emo, the world’s greatest mystery. The eighth wonder of the world. Pandora’s box. Ask ten different people to define ‘emo’ and you’ll get ten different answers. But now, two girls and their podcast, Kids From Yesterday, are on a mission to find the ultimate answer. (Adult Readers: Take a shot every time you see the word emo.)
Born from a conversation about body positivity and their teenage years, Clodagh Ni Maonaigh and Courtney Smyth realised that as a subculture, emo has been very poorly recorded. From there, the idea for the Kids From Yesterday podcast was born:
“There are so many books on punk and other subcultures, but emo, despite it being such a big movement, was dismissed as something teenage girls liked or just being for people with mental health issues. We were like, it would be cool to talk about these things and celebrate parts of it, and look critically into other parts of it.”
The term “emo” first came into use in the mid 80s. Initially, emo described emotional hardcore bands such as Rites of Spring. A decade later, however, bands from the American Midwest took over, developing more of an indie/math rock sound. American Football and Chamberlain were now the front-runners of the emo scene. In the early 2000s, it moved away from this indie/math vibe. Instead, dipping back into heaviness with bands like Thursday, Hawthorne Heights, and From First to Last.
This trend eventually led to the most well known, mainstream wave of emo in the mid 2000s. Bands like Jimmy Eat World turned the tides and brought emo to a much more light-hearted and pop punk side. With this, bands like Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Paramore became the torchbearers of emo.
However, in recent years emo has split and gone in two completely different directions. On the one hand you have a return to the American Midwest sound with bands like Modern Baseball and The Hotelier. Then, on the other hand, a new wave of SoundCloud rappers are donning the emo moniker, with the late Lil Peep spearheading the way. So, it’s no wonder that nobody can define emo when From First to Last, Lil Peep, and Paramore, are all regarded as emo.
With so many different perspectives on emo, it’s not surprising that the duo are finding it difficult to come up with an answer to the emo enigma. It’s different based on when you first discovered it, what you got from it, and whether you even wanted to be perceived as emo. What is certain though, is the movement’s wide-reaching impact. This goes beyond music into the realm of movies, books, fashion, and many other forms of media.
With the Kids From Yesterday podcast, Clodagh and Courtney have carefully maintained a balance between celebration and critique of the emo scene. They laud the openness about mental health and gender fluidity, while also vilifying inherent sexism and fatphobia.
The lack of body positivity was a particularly important topic for both. Looking back on her teens and her own self-image, Clodagh wished she had had a different perspective:
“When I was in my teens, I was a size 16 to 18 and that’s when I went through my peak emo phase. I didn’t have any fashion I could take inspiration from because the only women in the scene were small. They didn’t have curves. Hayley Williams and her style is so iconic, so I’d buy all the clothes she wore and only wear them once because they didn’t look right. It didn’t fit me in the same way.”
With a modern perspective, things seem different:
“So now that we’ve got a different perspective of diet culture and its effect on people, I know that if I’d had that perspective back then I would have been so much more confident in myself. I was always waiting to be skinny to do things and thinking I’d never get to where I wanted to be in life until I reached a certain weight. So, it was important for us to cover it in order to normalise the conversation that it’s harmful to have this mind frame.”
Courtney mirrors this sentiment, albeit from a slightly different perspective:
“For me, since I’m much bigger now than I was as a teenager, I feel like if I had seen different body types at that age, my self-worth would be different because I wouldn’t have the mindset of, oh well I don’t have worth if I don’t look like these people. Back then you weren’t cool unless you looked a certain way. No one was saying it, but that felt like the overall message. So, I think, looking back, it’s okay if you felt like that as a teenager, but you don’t have to carry that forward. Even looking back now, you can heal from that.”
The perception of women within the scene throughout the 2000s was undeniably steeped in misogyny. There was a prevailing perception that you were a cool girl if you weren’t like “other girls”. If you were stereotypically feminine you would find it hard to incorporate that into the emo identity. This is something that Clodagh struggled with:
“I couldn’t do that because I still had boobs and a bum. It was only if you looked and acted like a guy that they would accept you.”
Femininity meant you were fake. It made you a groupie. There was no space for feminine women.
There were positives too, of course. Emo widely accepted gender fluidity, allowing men to experiment with make-up and clothes. Over time, this acceptance has grown into more robust LGBTQ+ representation, but it’s still not nearly enough. Courtney recalls seeing Frank Iero and the Patience at Slam Dunk:
“The crowd was full of LGBT kids with flags and it was so beautiful. A few years ago, that just wasn’t a thing so it was really nice to see. It was a lovely mix of different genders and it’s really confusing that this wasn’t more prevalent.”
When asked if she thinks that sexism and a lack of LGBTQ+ representation will continue in the future she adds:
“I think things like that are going to keep cycling. These days the scene is much better, it’s incredibly LGBTQ+ and feminist but these negative attitudes are still pervasive and I think it’s important that we have perspective on it and have the ability to sit down and talk about it in a way we hope is interesting. We hope that anyone listening can stop and think okay I’m not going to hate myself or I’m not going to have these attitudes towards people.”
As for the future of their podcast, the pair hope to learn more about emo outside of their own experiences. Especially emo rap and what makes it emo:
“The thing about SoundCloud rappers is, just like emo, they are treated like a joke. Despite their talent they just get the piss ripped out of them all the time. Maybe emo just means getting the piss ripped out of you on the internet?”
That’s it! We’ve solved it! Despite this, they hope to expand the podcast, continually searching for one unifying explanation. All the while immersing us in a pool of nostalgia and killer playlists (posted before every episode). Episodes are released fortnightly and you can find the podcast and social links on the Kids From Yesterday Linktree.