Emo grew from punk music in the 80’s. Then during the 90’s, pretty large record labels made it into a much more mainstream music. That’s when "new" emo started to become a fashion trend. From the 2000’s forward, Emo was a full blow trend in music and fashion, but of course, the Emo style was changed to fit mainstream audiences.
Below, We’ve organized emo into decades. In each decade, there was important changes in the music that affected the emo scene. For each decade, we’ll divide things up into “The Music” and “The Scene” so you can see how the music affected the emo scene in each time frame. This will give you a comprehensive emo history.
80’s to 90’s - At first emo was more about the music. All people who dressed up at this time were very hardcore about the music. Music - Emo started as a movement in Washington as an offshoot of the punk scene. Music around 80-90's was very community oriented and politically charged, but pioneers like Ian Mckaye began to turn the music towards a more personal introspective direction. Scene - The kids at this time were closely tied to punk. These few existing "original" emos dressed like nerds with sweater vests and dress pants.
90’s to mid 90’s - Around the early 90’s, the record labels were just beginning to see a glimpse of the possible new success with emo music. With the gaining popularity of the music by large record companies, the fashion began to catch on as a trend. Music - “In 1992 Nirvana hit the top of the chart and within a year the band had sold 10 million copies of their debut…” Scene - As the popularity of the music grew, so did the number of kids dressing up as emo. Emo kids around this time wore tight shirts and old, cut-up jeans.
Mid 90’s to early 00’s - Music - Around the late 90’s, big record companies wanted to profit off of emo bands. But the bands often broke up before they got anywhere mainstream. Finally, in 1997, emo compilations of unsigned bands were released by a record company. Included were such acts as Jimmy Eats The World, which later went on to sign with Dreamworks Records to be one of the first emo bands to go mainstream and even go platinum. Eventually many more bands would follow suit and make emo music a profitable business for record companies. Bands like Save The Day were even performing with Blink 182. Scene - By this time, as the music became much more mainstream, the clothes started to become more mainstream as well. Many people so admired the emo subculture’s fashion that they began to imitate the way they dressed. The fashion was now becoming a full fledged trend.
00’s to present - Music - As soon as the success came, the emo sound was beginning to change. A bunch of mainstream bands picked up the look from the bands from the earlier emo groups. As for the music, they may or may not have loosely based their music off of the earlier bands. Some bands such as My Chemical Romance completely deny any relations to emo. Either way, these bands emulated the softer indie emo/emotional pop punk sound rather than the earlier more dynamic emo. This style of music is what emo is best known for in today's society, leaving many young listeners unaware of the hardcore roots of emo. Examples include Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, Death Cab For Cutie, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Panic! At the Disco, Hawthorne Heights, etc... Scene - Who knew if these new bands were really emo, and who could figure which kid was more scene and which one was more emo. Definitions began to vary and as more and more people thought scene kids and these new bands were emo, they began to change the definition of what it meant to be emo. There is no doubt that kids like this also built a reputation for emo as they attended school. As for the wrist cutting, this probably had some basis in truth because there are many kids attracted to the more angry and bitter side of emo music. Because wrist cutting is so dramatic and crazy sounding, this probably got blown out of proportion and everyone started thinking emos are often wrist cutters.It is a big shame that so much negativity is surrounding emo, because there is so much variety that has grown from its origin. The future of the emo is uncertain, but one thing is for sure. As it impacted everything from new music to fashion to culture, we will continue to be impacted by its influence and its spirit.