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Is Being Nostalgic for the Emo Era a Coping Mechanism for COVID?

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“I’m not okay.” 

Those three words defined 2020 for nearly everyone on this planet. It’s no surprise that legendary emo punks My Chemical Romance’s “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge” reentered the Billboard charts in 2020.

It seems that during a time of unprecedented hysteria, death, denial, violence, delusion, and mayhem, we went back to our angsty roots.

“It’s not a phase mom!” At least, for me it wasn’t.

Me being emo in 2020.

As a pop-punk musician and alternative lady, I never grew out of my “emo” phase. The last band I saw before the great quarantine of 2020-2021 was Alkaline Trio. However, those of us who moved on from the skinny jeans, posters of Gerard Way, and black eyeliner thicker than a Snicker, still have that emo streak, and it woke up during a global pandemic.

Thousands of millennials across Tik Tok, Instagram, and Twitter have been reminiscing on hot summer days at Warped Tour, and the first time they heard the opening “G” note of “Welcome to the Black Parade.” These comforting memories could be associated with youth, freedom, or even trauma.

My Chemical Romance. Picture from their FB page.

Experiencing trauma is where our coping mechanisms should kick in. But our self-admitted ‘mentally unstable’ generation can’t access healthy things like meditation, exercising, or going to a bar so you can forget it all. In fact, we can’t even step into a bar. 

The thing is, COVID has made us lose those mechanisms and obliterated them (so long and goodnight indeed). So, when some of us turn to booze and pills, grass and video games, others turn to the good old days of reading Fall Out Boy lyrics over and over and getting sad all the time about when your parents didn’t understand that you had depression. 

Simpler days

Throwing it back to when your Myspace name was the most important part of your identity is helping us through the crisis of not knowing if you’re ever going to be employed again. When Pete Wentz connected a wire to our hearts with, “Got a sunset in my veins/ and I need to take a pill to make this town feel okay,” it hit harder in 2020, where everyone’s town is contaminated, people are dying all around you, and no one is here to bail you out.

Pete Wentz in 2009. Photo from Wiki Commons

The year 2020 was a Fall Out Boy song from hell.

Our connective tissue right now is the internet. We don’t see many humans from day to day and we don’t get to laugh in the break room with your work husband or wife. We don’t get to meet up and drink down and blackout.

We can’t avoid our problems in front of a television screen because we’ve gone through Netflix. We can’t be in good moods. We’re discovering traits that we hate in ourselves because we’re spending too much time alone. 

These are the vibes of early 2000’s emo. And hearing a lyric like, “I am not afraid to keep on living / I am not afraid to walk this world alone” may be the rallying cry that saves a life, just like it did when you were 15. 

Yet, we still feel guilty about how much we have in comparison to others. We want to help fix this world but we can’t.

So, we’re probably all a little emo right now. Black eyeliner really does cover the trauma sometimes. Listening to Green Day’s “American Idiot” front to back because it’s still relevant is both calming and terrifying.

Looking at photos of yourself from 2007 when you were jumping up and down at concerts, dripping in sweat from the kids who finally got you, is a pogo down memory lane that feels a hell of a lot better than a Zoom call. 

Me with Alkaline Trio at Warped Tour 2010.

Is that why emo is making a comeback?

Is that why a new generation of Tik Tok musicians are doing covers of “Helena?”

Is that why thousands of Gen Y’ers are discovering “From Under The Cork Tree” for the first time? 

The heartache and blood personified by Gerard Way, Pete Wentz, and Billie Joe Armstrong is the heartache we feel for our country, our conscience, and ourselves.

Green Day in 2008. Photo from their FB page.

We are and always have been, a collective of kids who didn’t make it, the broken, beaten and damned.

We are the Jesus of Suburbia, stuck inside with boredom on the brain and pennies in our pockets.

We’re laid off and not getting laid. We’re moving back into our parents’ houses and raiding the fridge for a meal that didn’t come from a drive-thru. We’re depressed and panicking. We can’t pay our rent and we feel like no one understands us. 

I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty emo to me. And you know what? It’s okay not to be okay (I Promise.)

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Tess F. Stevens

Tess F. Stevens

Hey I'm Tess. I'm a pop-punk musician and social media professional based in the East Bay of California. My EP "Patient 139" is out now. Check me out @tessfstevens on Instagram and Tik Tok. For music, merch, and more visit tessstevens.com

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