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Independent vs. Emotional: Why Neither Trend Wins
Independent vs. Emotional: Why Neither Trend Wins

         Flash back to 40 years ago where it all started in the underground, a place where music was thriving under the radar…. The 1960s was a time for change, and that change was emerging through “social upheavals” (“Indie”) and an undeniable “counterculture movement” (“Indie”). Although the underground existed before this decade, the line between it and the mainstream was growing thicker. As Andy Warhol produced pop art and the Velvet Underground released new, influential music, the divide ignited through tension. By the 1970s in New York and London, punk rock was finally born as a backlash to glam and disco. At the forefront of this musical phenomenon, a new ideology arrived: “Art was inherently democratic and belonged to whoever felt like producing” (“Indie”). Thus, the name indie, short for independent, was conceived (“Indie”). It was not until years later in 1985 that punk rock would take a new turn. In Washington, D.C., bands were growing tired of the “loud-and-fast rules” (Kelley and Simon 14) that bands like The Ramones presented. A lighter subgenre of punk rock was in need of development, and soon enough, music followers had their wish granted. The first band of this kind was the Rites of Spring. Their song entitled “Theme (If I Started Crying)” embodied emotional lyrics about sobbing (Kelley and Simon 14). Although this new melodic genre called emo did have a distinct connection with the word emotional, the term was supposedly coined from a jeering audience member’s banter at the band Embrace’s show in 1986. He used the word “Emo-core” in reference to Emo Philips, an actor and comedian at the time (Kelley and Simon 13). Either way this new type of music finally had a name, and that same year the Smiths’ celebrated record named The Queen is Dead became the quintessence of emo music (Kelley and Simon 14).
         Now, fast-forward to the present time of the year 2007.… The indie and emo scenes have completely different conceptions than when they first appeared. After Nirvana’s breakthrough in the 90s with their hit single “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” indie became the “over-ground” (“Indie”) and has continued to be “over-commercialized” (“Indie”) in the 21st  century. Some artists have kept their legitimacy after singing with a major record label, such as Sonic Youth and Jane’s Addiction, but those bands are scarce (“Indie”). As for the emo scene, it has become a cultural sensation among teenagers today. No longer is emo just a subgenre of punk rock; it is more often referred to as a lifestyle or fashion statement (emo-corner.com). The book Everybody Hurts, written specifically about emo culture, even outlines ten different types of emo personas, including illustrations of personal style and what each emo person would have on his or her iPod. Unsurprisingly, one of the ten characters mentioned is “Indie Emo.” The main quality of this emo person is his or her “overtly intellectual music” (Kelley and Simon 20) taste. Music seems to be ranked last with the other emo stereotypes, and when it comes to the fateful lists of bands, this is where the indie and emo scenes crash and collide: separating the good music from the bad music (Kelley and Simon 20). Traditional emo bands include The Promise Ring, Fugazi, Mineral, Jets to Brazil, Christie Front Drive, and Still Life, whereas today the emo bands are My Chemical Romance, Fallout Boy, Panic! At The Disco, Against Me! and A.F.I. (emo-corner.com). On the other hand, indie followers started out listening to The Ramones, Pavement, Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr., and Belle and Sebastian and now listen to bands such as Death Cab for Cutie, Muse, Sigur Ros, and Radiohead (“Indie”). The difference between these two updated lists is great. Considering that emo projects volatile music filled with screams, indie cowers away with its slower and gentler sounds, yet somehow these two scenes have seemingly merged together because of the world’s youth and their preoccupation with edgy trends. Although these scenes both offer valid sources of entertainment, the idea of them representing lifestyles is absurd because they are both just from musical origins. Since fashion has also intervened in both scenes, the real indie and emo followers that are strictly about the music cannot be separated from the fakes who are only trying to keep up with the latest styles. Conforming to either of these scenes ultimately progresses the destruction of the individual and music itself.
         The controversy concerning the emo trend truly began in 2001 when the scene became fashionable and almost left the true nature of it-- music-- behind. Fashion had mildly played a role in the scene before that time, but once an emo icon that sang about falling for girls and saying that he sucked had arrived, alterations in wardrobe selections ignited the spread of an undeniable trend. Guys and girls alike seemingly paralleled the emo band Weezer’s front man Rivers Cuomo, bringing thick-rimmed glasses, tight argyle sweaters, and pale skin to the forefront of the scene. Although some people saw it as an awkward or nerdy look, there was nothing extreme about these clothing choices. The fad’s fan base started out relatively slow, but by the year 2001, the entire emo scene was taken over by an affinity toward dark and nearly gothic styles that are still prevalent today (“New Emo”). A twisted and morbid take on the Rivers Cuomo look, the new fashion became all about layers, specific shoes, girl jeans, tattoos, piercings, dramatic makeup, multiple accessories, and, above all, outstanding haircuts. At the beginning of the change, everyone that fell under the emo label could be found in a tank top covered by a band t-shirt of a Warped Tour artist, such as Good Charlotte or New Found Glory, a black hoodie, ragged jeans, and a pair of old Converse shoes, still wearing the famous thick-rimmed glasses. As the scene progressed even more into the years 2003 and 2004, A.F.I., My Chemical Romance, and Hawthorne Heights introduced emo into pop culture and engaged viewers with their almost grotesque appearances. Together they inspired the rage of heavy red and black eye makeup for both genders and the renowned emo-sweep hairstyle, similar to a combover. Tattoos and piercings were also introduced into the culture despite their earlier discouragement from being included in the scene. The most famous piercings are the side lip ring, gauged ears, and the upper lip piercing called the Monroe or Madonna. Tattoos are usually limited to emo band lyrics or scenes from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, and tribal tattoos are completely excluded. However, no modern emo fashion style would be complete without a few other things. Recently, girl jeans have become the new obsession for guys, and now accessories for girls, such as necklaces, headbands, and wristbands, almost always include skulls, guns, or brass knuckles to match their similar tops. But the one characteristic of an emo follower that is the easiest to notice is his or her hair. The emo sweep, as mentioned before, is a dead give away, but the combover portion is just a part of the actual haircuts. The two most identifiable ones are “The Gunshot Wound” and “The Working-Class Mullet,” named by the authors of Everybody Hurts. The first is a lengthier bowl cut for men with spiked-up hair in the back, and the latter is a short bob for women with choppy layers distributed throughout the top. Most cuts are accompanied by black hair dye with chunky highlights of blonde, pink, or red colors. When these elements are all combined, emo is outwardly at its best: in fashion. Of course bands influenced the evolution of the emo style, but this sub-genre of punk was never meant to be solely based on a fashion statement as it is today. People are walking around with band t-shirts on of artists that they have never attempted to listen to, and somehow this has even been encouraged in the scene. According to Everybody Hurts, “Just because you rock a band’s tee doesn’t mean that you have to rock along to the band’s music” (Kelley and Simon 47). This blatantly shows a lack of real interest in the music and more of a desire to just be trendy. Because of ideas like this, the controversy of emo being related to only music or fashion has peaked, and leaves everyone wondering, “Is music still an integral part of this scene?”
         Although the indie scene has slightly endeavored in the realm of fashion, its controversy does not so much involve ridiculous trends as it does record labels. Independent music-- music written, recorded, and released independently by an artist or band-- has found its way into a maelstrom of debate. In 2004, indie rock reached its peak in mainstream media through artists such as Keane, Snow Patrol, and the Killers. Finally, independent music had established itself in the market as being sellable. However, there was one significant problem: these bands were signed to major record labels, otherwise known as selling out. This faux pas caused a lot of confusion and had indie followers questioning some artists in the musical genre. Following in the year 2006, the well-known indie band Death Cab for Cutie, who previously released a total of 15 albums, EP’s, and single CDs under an indie label, produced a record under the major label Atlantic Records (Discography). The band also starred on The O.C. television program. Of course, signing to Atlantic was already a blunder for the band’s roots in indie, but appearing on a teen soap opera was the epitome of selling out (Gillespie). Other bands such as Modest Mouse and The Walkmen have also partaken in these almost, as some fans see it, degrading appearances (“Liner Notes”). Although it is true that major labels receive higher responses and sales than indie labels, bands are losing their fans due to obvious changes in lyrics, music, and overall sound once the switch to a major record company has been made. Not only is that an issue, but also the idea of an indie label has people perplexed. How is a band supposed to be independent if it has a record label helping it record and release an album? That is a contradiction in itself. Just because a band is signed to a record label that only records and releases indie bands does not actually mean that those bands are, indeed, indie. The only real way for underground labels to maintain their indie credibility is through the integrity of their businesses. “So in a world where the mainstream sounds like the underground and the underground acts like the mainstream, what happens to truly underground music?” asks Ryan Gillespie, writer for PopMatters.com (Gillespie). The answer is unclear. There are so few self-released albums by bands now that the label indie is allowed to be thrown around at bands that technically sound indie but are not independent. Some argue that this should not even be a factor anymore since most authentic indie record labels still let artists control everything that they are creatively producing. But as mainstream music is becoming indie, true indie music is starting to suffer. A band called Clap Your Hands Say Yeah released a completely independent record in 2005 that finally received heavy press in the United Kingdom in 2006. Around the same time in the same location, the so-called indie band the Bravery went gold due in part to their affiliation with Island Records. Obviously, this huge difference proves the fallacy of the indie scene. One can only hope that indie in 2008 will not turn out to be the emo of 2001 (Gillespie).
         Because of the controversy that the emo and indie trends present, one really has to question whether or not they are necessarily good, providing social entertainment, or bad, taking over people’s lives. The conflict concerning the emo scene has progressed from a fashion show to a lifestyle, which really shows how far this fad has gone. No longer is the decay of this scene just about “the tightest jeans,… the silliest looking makeup, and… the worst haircut,” as claimed by Rob Dobi, creator of the popular website YourSceneSucks.com; now, it is all about the standards that the emo generation is following (Dobi). Apparently, “true emo-ites are born-- not made-- and they embody certain patterns of behavior and thought that serve to bond and unite” (Simon and Kelley 2). According to Everybody Hurts, emo followers are depressed, industrious, empathetic, faithful, insecure, and not athletic. Despite the fact that half of these traits are not physically or mentally healthy, the book still celebrates their greatness in the emo world. Instead of pointing out these flaws as what they are, the reader is told that pity parties, averageness, and laziness are the main values of being emo. Since when have they ever been healthy? When someone’s life consists of spending hours making his hair perfectly disheveled only to get on MySpace.com or talk on AOL Instant Messenger, something is wrong. What happened to going out and meeting new people? It is true that some people in the scene do go out to places like the mall or possibly band shows, but one can almost guarantee that those are the only rare occasions (Simon and Kelley). Along with these habits, the most damaging part of the emo lifestyle is the suggested cutting, self-mutilation, and suicide that teenagers partake in. Since emo has become such a huge part of the mainstream culture, many have said that the music that these kids are listening to has led them to this affliction (“ABC Investigation”). These ideas are present in the scene’s music, but the larger source ultimately just comes from a kid’s desire to fit in and find acceptance. It is a personal choice to harm one’s self, but there is no doubt that a strong influence comes from what the media says about the emo lifestyle. When a solution is presented to one of these depressed teens, most likely, it will be put into affect. Since the strong ideology in the emo culture says that everyone should look and act the same, emo has definitely began to destroy individuality and, furthermore, destroy lives.
         As for the indie culture, it is not so much as unhealthy like the emo scene rather than it is detrimental to music, something that emo today has definitely disregarded altogether. Indie music has been identified as being one of the most musically-sound genres of modern day, but is it really living up to its traditional standards of originality and independence? Since indie followers have dabbled in the popular fashion scene of thick-rimmed glasses and tight cardigans, it is getting easier to identify this group of less-than-original people, making the trend quite similar to emo’s swift change from music to fashion. This has people wondering if indie is starting to lose its underground authenticity solely because of its growing popularity. Others choose to believe that the influence of fashion does not reflect anything about these bands or their values. While, indeed, it may not, how can an “underground” band have t-shirts in a nationwide store like Hot Topic where every fan can buy the exact same shirt? That does not stress originality from the fan nor independence from the band. The indie band Say Anything’s lyrics from the song “Admit It!” clearly outline some of the fashion faux pas of the indie scene today:
                   Despite your pseudo-bohemian appearance and vaguely leftist doctrine of                              beliefs, you know nothing about art or sex that you couldn't read in any trendy New York underground fashion magazine...Proto-typical non-conformist. You are a vacuous soldier of the thrift store Gestapo. You adhere to a set of standards and tastes that appear to be determined by an unseen panel of hipster judges-BULLSHIT!-giving you thumbs up and thumbs down to incoming and outgoing trends and styles of music and art. (“Admit It!”)
By pointing out some of the major characteristic flaws of the scene, Say Anything strikes back as a true indie artist. The band denounces the lack of individuality that is spreading throughout the scene because of an interest in fashion. It also claims that people’s knowledge of music is only coming from what the media considers good instead of people actually having their own tastes. Although Say Anything scolds these “fakers,” the band has recently signed with the indie record label J Records, and front man Max Bemis declared:
My main motivation was to further my idea that no mainstream music fan is worth less then somebody who reads about our band on buddyhead or some livejournal. I am prepared for the chants of “sell out sell out sell out” and more than willing to literally spit back in the face of anyone who would desert me because I signed to a major label. My music is not something to be owned by a core audience. It’s made to be appreciated universally. (Bemis)
Bemis, Say Anything’s creator,  does make a valid point that the indie scene is supposed to only be about the quality of music made, not about what record label it is coming from. Although that is true, it is possible that Say Anything just wanted to reach a larger audience for the money and publicity. It is becoming nearly impossible to tell which bands are staying true to their indie roots by creating inventive and sophisticated music and which ones are out there to support a conforming industry where mainstream music is the only good music (Bemis). Indie bands are losing their quality, and indie followers are losing their music.
         Today, these conformist behaviors of dressing alike and going mainstream in both the emo and indie scenes, respectively, have been taken to the extreme. There is a time when the question is asked of whether or not these fads will pass, and now is that time. It seems like this cultural phenomenon has made a huge dent in the youth of America’s society, but the truth is that this trend is exactly that-- a trend. The emo culture is beginning to peak as boys endeavor to kiss other boys for attention and girls are becoming more and more androgynous (“ABC Investigation”). The indie culture, on the other hand, is rising as its fashion scene is becoming its fan’s main priority and selling out is the thing to do (Say Anything). So how is this problem solved? Easy. It will take care of itself. Although some parts of fashion do last, the trends of the older years, such as big sunglasses or Birkenstock sandals, are not completely dominant in today’s world. That is what is expected of the emo and indie trends based on the previous pattern of these other trends. It is not to say that they will totally disappear, but before anyone knows it, the next big fad will show up and take over. People could expect the emo scene to out-do itself even more as it follows a dark couture path, which will eventually lead to nowhere. The indie scene will most certainly find another way to gain exposure in the mainstream, possibly by appearing on more excellent television shows like Grey’s Anatomy, but only for the sake of music. In the mean time, people need to realize that they are individuals, not the shadows of everyone else. With the lack of personal creativity and the dependence upon the media for what is cool, the American youth is conforming at a high rate. What is the point of dressing alike and listening to the same music as everyone else? Why not be different? And as for the downfall of music, artists should consider their choices more before signing a record deal. Most bands don’t understand the great impact that that will have on their music and their fans. The quality of music should mean more than money. But either way, these destructive trends have eased their ways into the lives of everyone today, but sooner or later, they will ease their ways out. In this case, neither trend wins.

Works Cited
“ABC 4 Investigation: Emo Exposed.” Spin.com. 25 May 2007. 8 Nov. 2007 <http://
“Admit It!.” Sing365.com: Save Your Time. 8 Nov. 2007 <http://www.sing365.com/
         music/lyric.nsf/Admit-It-lyrics-Say-Anything/D59CF64E93E2AFBD4825          6ED700072BEC>.
Austere, Amy. “The New Emo.” Quazen. 16 Jan. 2007. 29 Oct. 2007 <http://
Bemis, Max. “Bio of Say Anything.” Say Anything: In Defense of the Genre. 8 Nov.          2007 <http://www.sayanythingmusic.com/biography>.
Discography. 14 Nov. 2007 <http://www.deathcabforcutie.com/>.
Dobi, Rob. “About.” Your Scene Sucks. 8 Nov. 2007 <http://yourscenesucks.com/>.
emo-corner.com: the BIGGEST emo website ever. 2006. Google.com. 17 Oct. 2007.          <http://www.emo-corner.com>.
Gillespie, Ryan. “Major Leagues.” PopMatters. 26 Jan. 2006. 29 Oct. 2007 <http://
“Indie Through the Decades.” CNN.com. 2006. 17 Oct. 2007 <http://www.cnn.com/
Pastavas, Alexandra. “Liner Notes.” The OC. 29 Oct. 2007 <http://
Simon, Leslie and Trevor Kelley. Everybody Hurts: An Essential Guide to Emo Culture.          New York: HarperEntertainment, 2007.

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