With Emo Nite set to take the stage at this year’s Coachella, and pop punk currently topping pop radio airplay, key players behind the US emo revival spoke to NME about the genre’s recent commercial success.
Last year, Olivia Rodrigo’s angsty guitar anthem ‘Good 4 U’ topped Billboard charts while spending six weeks at the top of pop radio. Machine Gun Kelly’s pop-punk albums ‘Mainstream Sellout’ and ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ both entered the hot 100 charts at Number One, while his 2021 single, ‘My Ex’s Best Friend’ led alternative airplay charts for three weeks, before also peaking at Number Three on pop airplay.
Based on the recent pop-punk crossover to top 40 radio, the hashtag ‘emo’ boasting 15.7 billion views on TikTok and counting, and the fresh crop of radio-friendly guitar acts, emo has made a comeback in the US nearly two decades after its emergence.
Back in 2014, when Emo Nite cofounders TJ Petracca and Morgan Freed asked if they could take over the aux at a “small dive bar in Echo Park, Los Angeles” they had no idea that choice would eventually land them on stage at one of the world’s largest music festivals.
“We just wanted to pick the music and Morgan knew the bartender,” Petracca told NME. “He was like ‘you could come pick the music on a Tuesday night. Nobody’s coming on this random rainy Tuesday.’”
“I plugged in my iPad and started playing songs off Spotify,” he added. “Then we made a Facebook event. The capacity of the bar was probably 100, and 200 people showed up. The next month we did it again. More people showed up.”
They were eventually forced to find a larger venue, moving to the 700-capacity Echoplex down the street. Things really took off for Emo Nite, however, when they decided to “shoot for the stars” and book guest DJs.
“‘We were like, how absolutely ridiculous could we make this? Who would be the biggest person we could get?’ Petracca said. “We reached out to people we knew in the industry and got word to [Blink 182 bassist] Mark Hoppus. At the time, we were calling our party Taking Back Tuesday, and he was like, ‘why isn’t it called Blink 180 Tuesday?’”
The Blink 182 man agreed to DJ, and less than a decade after that seminal even, Emo Nite LA has become globally recognised. They’ve brought the pop-punk party to Miami, New York, and London and even introduced their audience to acts like Yungblud who played his first US show at Emo Nite.
Now the duo is set for their biggest performance to date, a full set at this year’s Coachella music festival.
For Freed, who has never attended the festival before, the Emo Nite slot says a lot about the genre’s progress, he claimed. “There’s a couple of reasons why I’ve never been. A lot of times bands I really liked weren’t invited to play. Brand New had a moment, but otherwise, emo has never really had a presence there.”
He added: “For them to invite us this year speaks highly of the genre itself and where it is in our moment in time. It’s a big honour for us to be able to do that.”
The co-founders are excited to use the revival’s momentum to finally get their emo idols on the Coachella stage. “The surprise festival guest and artists we’re bringing with us, when I started having conversations with them they were like, ‘We were never invited, not even at the height of our career, so of course we’ll do it,’” Petracca said.
“It feels really awesome to be putting our heart and soul into something and fighting for this subculture for the past seven years,” he added. “Finally, this year, it feels like it’s breaking through, and we get to be like, ‘I told you it was cool’.”
According to the duo, that fight includes giving a platform to younger bands like Magnolia Park who they introduced to their “built-in audience” by having them on stage with veterans like Lavigne and prominent acts like Machine Gun Kelly, who got his pop-punk start at Emo Nite.
“Back in 2017, MGK came to our parties just to hang out,” Petracca said. “He was still making rap music. He wanted to play our first festival, and he ended up playing for free. He did a few original songs, but he also covered ‘Adam’s Song’. I think that was the first time he ever did anything like that in public.”
Outside of their Coachella set, Petracca and Freed told NME their plans for this year include launching a label called Grave Boy Records. They plan to sign up-and-coming artists because for Emo Nite LA, it’s not just about travelling back in time or “swoop hair, studded belts, and sad faces” but supporting a modern genre that’s finally getting the attention it deserves.
“I read descriptions of some of our competitors and they market themselves like ‘step back in time to 2005.’ We’ve never tried to do that. We’ve always tried to make our events cool and current and something you want to go to tonight because it’s the coolest place to be,” Petracca said, adding: “Not because you like reliving your youth.”
Johnny Minardi, vice president of A&R at Elektra Music Group, agreed with Petracca’s take on the genre still being current.
“There’s probably some teen angst people have been trying to figure out [recently],” he told NME, “but there are also through-lines from the glory days of the late ‘90s into the early 2000s, with acts like Pete Wentz and Travis Barker ushering in a new generation.”
Minardi’s signings focus on Fueled By Ramen, the label responsible for breaking acts like Paramore, Fall Out Boy, and Twenty One Pilots. He’s also A&R for Barker’s DTA records, which recently became home to one of the genre’s early success stories, Avril Lavigne.
Lavigne is one of the artists slated to play Live Nation’s When We Were Young music festival in Las Vegas this fall. Featuring headliners Paramore, My Chemical Romance, and Bring Me The Horizon, the event was initially billed as a one-day nostalgic return to pop-punk’s heyday.
But, when overwhelming interest from fans forced the viral fest to sell out in just minutes, organisers added two additional days boasting the same emo-centric line-up. Those dates sold quickly sold out as well.
Despite speculation that sentimentality drove the festival’s popularity, Minardi believes artists like the Linda Lindas, Jxdn, and Lil Huddy being listed among legacy acts, proves “there is obviously some nostalgia to” its recent prevalence but the genre is still “current because of updated versions of the music from kids discovering it now.”
Those “kids” have also shared the hashtag ‘emo’ 19.8 million times on Instagram, and labels have placed their bets on the success of up and coming pop-punk acts, like Meet Me At The Altar, who were too young to experience the genre’s heydey.
“I just met an artist yesterday who said, ‘I saw a live Blink 182 video and fell in love with their humour mixed with big catchy songs’,” the label scout said. “There’s an escape in it for these young kids. They’re being introduced to this music, but they’re putting their own spin on it because the world is vastly different now.”
One of those vast differences is how social media has allowed for “less gatekeeping” so artists can “choose their own adventure” to find mainstream success.
“Before, unless you were on MTV or the radio, no one would know about you,” he told us. “Now, with TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, you can get to know an artist as they’re recording their first song.”
Minardi added: “If you want to let people in and you have something interesting and authentic to talk about, [social media] is such a momentum builder. It’s hand to hand combat. Social media has changed so much.”
That momentum has also reached typically top 40 listeners, with multiple pop radio programmers telling Billboard last year that they’d noticed “a growing appetite for rock and guitar-based singles over rhythmic pop tracks.”
With “more guitars on the radio now than there have been in the last 10 to 15 years” and “so many ways to bump into the music,” from “radio, festivals, or Emo Nite shows,” Elektra Records is optimistic about the continued upward trajectory of the genre.
Last November, Cleveland rock outfit Heart Attack Man released their EP ‘Thoughtz & Prayerz’ right before heading out on tour with fellow punk-pop purveyors Neck Deep. Their previous releases, 2019’s ‘Fake Blood’ and 2017’s ‘The Manson Family’, combined punk, power pop, and post-hardcore into a sound reviewers still called emo. But with their latest iteration, they let go of any affiliation to a particular genre, dropping an EP they described as “a weird Fugazi and Godflesh love child.”
Heart Attack Man, like many newer acts that have been labelled emo, don’t feel the genre is tied to a specific sound but a “heartfelt, catchy, memorable and upbeat” energy.
“Take the explosion of emo-rap,” vocalist and guitarist Eric Egan told NME, pointing to the subgenre whose most prominent artists include Lil Uzi Vert, as well as the late JUICE WRLDld and Lil Peep. “It lends itself more to the subject matter than the sound. It’s more emotional and raw and naked in its expression. It’s not just regular rap. You can have that attitude and approach applied to any genre.”
The band are set to kick off their first-ever UK and EU tour, supporting State Champs this spring. They’re also recording new music but essentially feel they’re “just getting started”. But despite the recent prevalence of their genre, Heart Attack Man told us they believe the current emo revival may be based more on hype than reality.
“It is totally a nostalgia trip. It’s a trend,” guitarist Ty Sickles said. “There have been people who have been listening to emo music forever. It’s not like it ever really went away. It was always existing in some capacity for the last 20 years. It was just living in basements. Now it’s become mainstream, but that happens to everything, any subculture, no matter how small, at a certain point it’s going to peak in popularity.”
The guitarist continued: “When we were younger, there were bands that got pretty big, like MCR and Taking Back Sunday. Then people were like, ‘after that, it died,’. It never necessarily did.”
Egan added: “I don’t think it’s this huge resurgence all of a sudden. In the grand scheme of things from the most mainstream perspective, a lot of these bands, even revered nostalgia acts that are doing reunions, popular culture at large and mainstream society don’t know who the hell these bands are.
“This generation is comprised of older music fans,” Egan added. “We grew up with it, we got grandfathered in, so it hits closer to home. I wouldn’t call it a full-blown resurgence. Just a changing of the tide.”
Emo Nite will perform Coachella on both Saturday April 16 and Saturday April 23, before the duo embarks on a tour of cities including San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, and more. Visit here for tickets and more info.
Check back at NME all weekend for more reviews, news, interviews, photos and more from Coachella 2022.