The faces of the emo revival

The faces of the emo revival
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I’ve been thinking long and hard (for all of 2 minutes) about how to accurately define what the infamous ‘emo’ sound comprises of and, whilst there may be some disagreements, one thing’s for certain: it’s hard not to know it when you hear it.

Rich with overly confessional sad boi lyrics and unreservedly cathartic-sometimes-downright-depressing imagery, underlaid with thrashy melancholic teen angst-fuelled guitar hooks, the emo sound is all too distinctive. Or at least, it was in the early 2000s.

Drawing on influences from past and present, the latest bout of emerging younger artists, however, has given rise to a new wave of emo merged with elements of the most popular contemporary genres of today, the most notable of which are rap, hip hop, and pop.

Whilst, at its peak, emo was not to everyone’s taste, this genre-blending resurgence has resulted in an interesting amalgamation of hybrid artists reviving emo’s appeal to younger Tik Tok generations, all whilst remaining accessible to older generations nostalgic for their scene years.

In its latest fusion form of emo pop and emo rap, here are the faces bringing emo back to the forefront:

Daine

Having only just begun releasing music in April of 2020 and already amassing over 78,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, this Filipino-Australian teenager with a passion for early 2000s midwestern emo is one to watch in 2021. Citing her musical inspirations as American Football, Tigers Jaw, and even Code Orange to name a few, Daine’s music channels remnants of the scene at its height, but with a uniquely youthful and intimate twist as she laments staple emo lyricism over airy pop beats. In her latest single, ‘Bloody Knees’, it’s as if Daine is singing her darkest innermost thoughts to the listener: “Looking in the mirror, gazing back with vacant eyes. Wounds, weeping, bruising, you think you feel alive?”

It’s easy to see Daine’s influences at play; her penultimate release, ’Angel Numbers’, is perfect for fans of ‘Nothing, Nowhere.’ looking to expand their repertoire, whilst ‘My Way Out’ draws a strong thematic comparison to ‘The Night I Drove Alone’ by Citizen, if it had been released by Juice WRLD and later perfected by an 18 year old from Australia.

One thing emo does well is make sadness sound pretty, and Daine’s music epitomises just that. To summarise her sound: if Twilight had been made in 2020, Daine would be its soundtrack.

Siiickbrain

If ‘Such Small Hands’ by American post-hardcore band La Dispute had an illegitimate love child with the entire trap genre, the result would be Siiickbrain. Caroline Miner Smith, a.k.a. Siiikckbrain, has managed to debut a string of releases in under a year in which every single could be the lead track, marking her territory on almost every song with spine-chillingly distinctive unclean vocals.

My favourite thing about Siiickbrain is that she seemingly came out of nowhere. In an interview back in 2019 discussing her plans for the future, not once is music mentioned. Flash forward to 2020, and Siiickbrain is releasing some of the most exciting music to come out of the alternative scene.

TNT’ing her musical debut with the spoken-word emo rap heavyweight, ‘Cigarettes and Cartier’, Milner’s screams feel soul-baringly raw as they accompany emotionally-charged lyrics. What follows is a mixture of hauntingly eery, dark, twisted, yet extremely captivating releases, including ‘GASLIGHT!’ alongside Maggie Lindemann. Packing a punch from the first beat, the dark bass and blood-curdling screams perfectly juxtapose Lindemann’s sickly sweet melodies. It’s both refreshing and empowering to hear two women take back control in a song as sinister as this.

‘PIN CUSHION’ is the latest song offered up by the artist, starting with resigned and withdrawn vocals delivering a classic emo trope of self-disparagement: “I’m your pin cushion, and I always have been, spit in my face, I feel your look sinking in.” This makes it all the more poignant when the unclean vocals kick in as a reclamation of power.

On one hand, Siiickbrain’s music is gut-wrenchingly sad. On the other, it’s menacingly daring.

PRINCESSBRI

PRINCESSBRI is the answer to the prayers of anyone wishing Avril Lavigne’s music was a little darker, or Lindsay Lohan’s band in ‘Freaky Friday’ had stuck with it.

Coming in an outwardly scene package, with big bright hair and an enviable sweeping side fringe that would have 2007 Myspace users quaking, PRINCESSBRI is the pinnacle of Y2K emo grunge pop punk…in 2021.

Her latest album, ‘Sick of It All’, was released towards the end of 2020 and opens with ‘My World’, setting the tone for a strong heaping of ‘DIY-made-in-your-parents’-garage’ charm. If live shows weren’t currently a thing of distant memory, I have no doubt that PRINCESSBRI’s would be the place to be to live out all your early 2000s coming-of-age fantasies. 

In direct contrast to her debut album centred on purely emo rap, this newer album sounds like an emo nostalgia road trip; the softer tracks, ‘In this End’ and ‘Rejects’, are perfect for anyone looking to cry to anything other than the same three Mayday Parade songs, ‘2 Much Pressure’ is reminiscent of earlier Paramore, and ‘Sick of It All’ takes me back slightly to ‘Take This To Your Grave’ era Fall Out Boy.

If you want to broaden your music taste without stepping too far, PRINCESSBRI is the solution.

Phem

You’ve probably already heard of Phem, because how could you not have?! Busy at work with collaborations spanning G-Eazy, Machine Gun Kelly, and Lil Tracy under her belt, Phem is easy-listening-but-hard-to-swallow emo dark pop.

Utilising catchy pop and hip hop beats to disguise deeper, more meaningful lyrics, her recent EP, ‘how u stop hating urself (pt 1)’, ticks every box in the emo checklist: emotion-ridden vocals – check, self-deprecation & pity – check, a dash of depression – fat CHECK. 

Opening single ’honest’ ft iann dior is fun emo pop, whilst its succeeder ‘stfu’ is infectious emo rap. ‘Suxker punch’ is the standout, however, with caustic lyrics spat out over a stripped back acoustic guitar melody: “Call me up, tell me I’m a b*tch, and how I’m ’bout to be so rich.” The track sounds vulnerable and intimate, like it was recorded in a bedroom on a laptop mic, but this adds to the child-like magnetic innocence of it. It’s like finally hearing the other side of the story – the girl’s account – that they sing about in every male pop punk song ever.

Phem makes music for lonely souls, and if that alone isn’t enough to prove her emo credentials, she has also writing accreditations on The Used’s latest album ‘Heartwork’…

Sorry X

When I think of emo, I don’t necessarily think of good vocals. Distinct, yes, but not refined and fine-tuned by typical industry standards. Well, this is where Sorry X comes in, bringing to the table a set of lungs that could dominate in both American Idol and your local battle of the bands.

With strong sultry vocals accompanied by trap hi hat rhythms, her most recent EP, ‘Hellfire’, features some notable collaborations, including fellow emo rap/alt-pop artist ‘Saphir’ on the stand out track, ‘Reflection’. The song is an emo Soundcloud rap ballad, giving new meaning to the Kanye West-coined phrase ‘808s & Heartbreaks’ – a theme persisting throughout her entire discography to date.

If you’re looking to soundtrack your sorrows, give Sorry X a listen.

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Lucinda