Emo as a movement has largely been dead since roughly 2006, yet fans of My Chemical Romance were devastated to hear that the beloved band of their edgy teen years had disbanded in 2013. While this love may have persisted purely due to the nostalgia, I have trouble believing that the fanbase lasted this long on fond memories alone. On Spotify, the band still has roughly 4.5 million monthly listeners and 2.4 million followers. I guess you could say, their memory will carry on. (
I’m so sorry.)
As with just about everything else in my life, I was late to the party. While I recall having a CD of The Black Parade from back in the day, I hardly knew the songs or what the hype was all about. I always had a soft spot for the whole aesthetic of the emo movement, since I was about 12 years old, but never had I acted on it. It was probably for the best, since I was cringy enough as a kid without throwing in a dose of emo and scene angst to it. Yet, in October of 2017, I stumbled across MCR and decided to listen to them. Immediately, I was hooked. I’m an adult and definitely beyond the years of trying to be edgy out of the overwhelming need to be an individual whilst being the exact same as everyone else, yet this didn’t stop me from awakening my inner goth. I consider myself as such due to my love of Mary Shelley, H. P. Lovecraft, and my love of the aesthetic as a whole, even if I doubt I could pull off a Victorian waistcoat with any success. I fully acknowledge, however, that my music taste is decidedly emo, despite considering myself goth, even though I do unironically shop at Hot Topic. (Don’t judge me too harshly, they’ve got lots of graphic tees and belts adorned with bullets and hoops. Do you really expect me to say no to that?) Anyway, all that to say, I like MCR a whole decade after they were popular in mainstream culture.
I’ve never been huge on “real music”, having grown up on video game soundtracks after having been raised on a steady diet bands like Metallica, AC/DC, P.O.D, and King’s X. I never really understood the appeal of most music, hardly connecting to the lyrics in a meaningful way. This has been the most pronounced with current mainstream radio music, all seemingly featuring the same repetitive beats and vocals that, to me, have shallow meanings. Why is MCR, also a mainstream band, different? I would attribute this to a few factors, most notably their rather distinct sound, the messages of their songs, and, as stated before, their overall aesthetic as a band, especially in their Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge and The Black Parade days.
The sound, for starters, is what first caught my attention. The theatrical vocals and the different moods created by the instruments from song to song stood out to me. Having been hardly able to tell the difference between one pop singer on the radio to another, it was refreshing to find some music that truly had a unique sound. While their first album adhered more to the punk roots emo music emerged from, their second album took a few liberties. The drums and guitar riffs are still steady and carry enough energy and grit to still fall within the genre of emo, especially when combined with the angsty lyrics, but the start of their experimentation with their sound is noticeable. Some of the songs, such as the gentle guitar sound at the beginning of “The Ghost Of You” and the atypical guitar sound in “The Jetset Life Is Gonna Kill You” are examples of this, but experimentation takes a lead role over the duration of the album. Their fourth and final album, Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys, sounds incredibly different from their original sound, incorporating electric sounds and upbeat staccato notes that would never be heard in the genre. It may even be a stretch to classify that album as being emo because of that, falling more into a pop-punk realm than true emo. A good balance between the two, in my opinion, would be The Black Parade. Each song on that album has a distinct sound to it that makes it memorable. “Mama” has an accordion refrain that is hard to mistake for any other song, the aggressive tone to “Teenagers” that perfectly captures the youthful frustration they sing about, and the infamous G note at the start of “Welcome To The Black Parade” show the many sides of the band’s musical expression.
Yet, these different sounds somehow work together, even with the narrative nature of the album. Never have I heard a band have so many unique sounds that all sound so good, so that was a big feature to me.
The lyrics appealed to me as a lover of English as I listened for the poetic imagery in each song, discussing heavy subjects such as death, suicide, illness, abuse, rejection, war, and even teen pregnancy in beautifully crafted lines. It’s no mystery that these songs speak to hurting young people. Cheers For Sweet Revenge does carry a more negative edge to it as a whole and leans toward the teen angst side, yet The Black Parade acts as a musical narrative about a man dying from cancer yet it somehow still has a positive spin on it. While songs such as “Disenchanted” reflect on the disappointing elements of life, others have a rather inspiring message that celebrates a life previously lived. Death is pretty negative, but the upbeat melodies and the lyrics can help reframe that, allowing the listener to reconsider the meaning of the inevitable fate that awaits us all. My guess would be that this effect is achieved through a contrast between the upbeat sound in a song such as “Welcome To The Black Parade” while the lyrics focus on death. Something about the chorus and the bridge comes off as inspiring to me, making it relatable in a way.
As for the aesthetic, I can’t get enough of it. If I’m honest, I’d love my own Black Parade jacket to wear for the hell of it. It’s hard to not have a goth vibe with an album about death, yet they capture it in a dramatic and iconic way. Many people who have see the signature black and white military jacket can recognize it almost instantly. The entire band took on a black and white military aesthetic during the era of that album, just as they do with their other albums. As a whole, their dedication to their image for each album is admirable and makes for entertaining stage presence and brings the tone of the album to life. From classic punk-emo to post-apocalyptic rebellion, they’ve clearly worked very hard on their visual aspects of their performance to accompany the music and it compliments each album perfectly.
While they may be a dead band, their influence to this day reaches many. After their recent YouTube uploading binge, many fans hope in vain for a reunion tour. As much as I’d love to see them live, I doubt this will come to fruition. Regardless of what happens, I’ll always be an MCR fan for their courage to break out of genre conventions and make a name for themselves that many know and love.