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Emo

Musical genres come and go, often too quickly to tie them down, but this one has been gestating out of mainstream sight for many years. It is short for emotional, and it turns up in terms like emo-rock, emo-punk and emocore (in which the second element is from hardcore, as in hardcore punk, out of which the form first grew around 1984). Long lurking in the musical underground, an expansion in popularity means it has become one of the more popular American underground rock modes in the late 1990s and is now edging tentatively towards the mainstream, with bands like Jimmy Eat World and Weezer. This shift is something that many enthusiasts feel is against its strong anti-commercial spirit. It has now crossed the Atlantic as well. In style, it’s variable, but it’s less macho than hardcore, often full of complicated and layered guitar passages, with passionate and confessional lyrics. The emphasis is certainly on emotion, so the name is appropriate. Despite a report that the term had been invented in the late 1980s in Washington, DC, the first definite sighting of emo I’ve come across in print is from 1999.

While emo may be a controversial term that gets thrown around all too often, Victory at Sea should be proud of the label. It plays in the tradition of some of the best emo bands, such as Sunny Day Real Estate and Modest Mouse, by combining complex guitar work with deeply wrought lyrics.

Washington Times, Oct. 2001

In their mid 20s, Jimmy Eat World are hardly newcomers, and carry with them an “emo” following — the subculture that’s sprung up around emotional U.S. indie-punk bands — and sizable street-cred.

Calgary Sun, Dec. 2001

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 23 Feb. 2002

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 23 February 2002.