World Wide Words logo


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

Page created 23 Feb. 2002

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.

Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select a site and click Go!

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL:
Last modified: 23 February 2002.