Aesthetics Wiki

Emo is a slang term used to describe a subculture, which is somewhat derived from the hardcore punk scene. The usage of the term has evolved dramatically over the years. Therefore, the definition of the term "emo" can vary, depending on the subject and decade.


In the 80s, emo first developed in the D.C. hardcore punk scene as a name for the fans of the music genre known as "emotive hardcore" or "emocore" in short. The hardcore punk scene of that time was dominated by a "tough guy" mentally, and a whole new scene emerged - aka "Revolution Summer" - as a protest from violence at local shows. People started to use the term "emocore" to distinguish bands from that scene from others. Not only most of them were against violence, their music became more challenging and, actually, it was not just hardcore - they were pioneering in post-hardcore. They were adding emotional lyrics to the more melodical hardcore punk sound. The songs are commonly dealing with past, loss and angst, and are characterized by overly dramatic vocals, akin to crying or screaming. While the initial genre is still not forgotten today, it's more obscure then other subgenres.

Over a decade later, the word has been adopted by a new generation of emotional music within the hardcore punk scene and spawned a cultural phenomenon that is known as the nowadays emo subculture. Just like how punk itself has changed over the years, emo also has evolved to beyond the initial version, but still firmly holds on its roots in emotional music within the hardcore punk scene. Also, different "eras" were distributed by "waves" - commonly, there are four of such.


Besides the original emocore, many other types of punk subgenres have become associated with the subculture due to the vague definition of the initial genre. Most of the music consists of bands that sing and/or scream about the various emotional hardships in everyone's life, and the vocals are often combined with harsh guitar riffs and heavy drums for the typical sound.

Many subgenres have developed over the years, which can be found below.


Emocore is post-hardcore, but more emotional and somewhat melodical. Also known as "Revolution Summer" or "first wave". Notable bands include Rites Of Spring, Embrace (US), Moss Icon, Gray Matter and Dag Nasty. This term was highly rejected by the bands, but now it is used to distinguish them and emo bands of other waves.

Midwest Emo

Often considered the more light-hearted, math-rock influenced variant of Emo, Midwest Emo tends to go for more of an Indie/Geek vibe than the darker, angsty Emo original recipe. 90s stuff is commonly known as "second wave", and 10s or 20s - "fourth wave" or "(midwestern) emo revival".

For more information on this aesthetic, please check out our Midwest Emo page.

Emo Pop

Emo-pop is genre combining emo and pop-punk. Emo-pop features a music style with more concise songs and hook-filled choruses. Well known emo-pop bands are Fall Out Boy, Paramore, My Chemical Romance and Panic! At The Disco. This music genre is not the same as emocore. However, one can still identify as emo if they tend to listen to more emo pop, since emo-pop is a type of emo music. Also known as "third wave".


Screamo (also referred to as skramz) is an aggressive subgenre of emocore that emerged in the early 1990s, emphasizing "willfully experimental dissonance and dynamics". Screamo is strongly influenced by hardcore punk and is characterized by the use of screamed vocals. Lyrical themes usually include emotional pain, death, romance, and human rights. Popular bands in Screamo include:

  • Antioch Arrow
  • Circle Takes the Square
  • City of Caterpillar
  • I Hate Myself
  • iwrotehaikusaboutcannibalisminyouryearbook
  • Old Gray
  • Orchid
  • Pg. 99
  • Poison the Well
  • Saetia


Emo often somewhat overlaps with other subcultures visually, such as Goth (much to the chagrin of the Goths, who absolutely detested the Emo Kids at the time of their rise in popularity, likely due to the confusion between the two scenes) and Scene, due to dealing with negative emotions as its major topic.

Obvious connotations to negativity and cynicism are a common theme in many of the visuals, and often reflected in the form of texts. Characters are usually looking a bit empty or spaced out, saying lurid things. Common motifs also include broken hearts, skulls, guns, splatters, and music notes.


Outfits are dark and mainly consist out of band tees, skinny jeans, oversized hoodie jackets, and Converse or Vans shoes. Some of the more popular accessories are razor blade necklaces, rubber bracelets, stripe arm warmers and tights, as well as studded belts that often feature a check pattern. In the past, the most common places for people to shop were Hot Topic and Claire's, but since the rise of the internet among the mainstream, online shopping has become more popular.

Many members of this subculture will also spot various body mods, the most popular ones being stretched ear lobes, facial piercings, and tattoos. The hair is usually kept long regardless of gender and features side-swept bangs and choppy layers, usually dyed in a deep black color, occasionally with additional colorful sections or streaks. Black eyeliner is iconic for the makeup and sometimes enchanted further with a matching eyeshadow.


External links to help get a better understanding of this aesthetic.