Emo: 10 Most Influential Bands in the Movement


My Chemical Romance sitting in a movie theater.

My Chemical Romance is one of the best emo bands of all time – Author Anne Erickson, Photo via Warner Bros Records Publicity

Emo is a pretty easy genre to explain to people, because it’s defined by emotional lyrics. Get it? Emo and emotional? The genre’s name literally defines its sound. Emo got its start in the Washington, D.C., hardcore scene, but many of the genre’s most influential bands were far removed from any kind of a hardcore punk sound. So, what at the best emo bands of all time, and which groups are the most influential emo bands?

What is Emo Music?

So, what is emo music? Emo is music with emotional, cathartic and confessional lyrics. It’s a very personal musical genre. The singer often sings about their woes and feelings, so it really comes from the heart. Musically, the genre can have different sounds, from gothic (My Chemical Romance) to screamo (The Used) and beyond. But, what brings all of these styles together are those emotive lyrics.

10 Most Influential Emo Bands of All Time

10. All-American Rejects

“Dirty Little Secret” hit-makers the All-American Rejects were a part of the emo wave in the 2000s. The band made songs with huge books and a very emo-pop sound, including the aforementioned “Dirty Little Secret,” as well as “Swing, Swing” and “Move Along.” Perhaps their most emo song was 2006’s “It Ends Tonight,” a ballad that showed off vocalist Tyson Ritter’s penchant for writing bleeding, emotive lyrics.

9. Brand New

The Long Island guys of Brand New meshed punk-pop and emo, but they also added some experimental indie rock sounds to their music. By the mid-2000s, they were making waves on the air and on MTV and performed with a bevy of bands in both the emo and punk genres, including New Found Glory, Dashboard Confessional and Good Charlotte.

8. The Used

Who says emo can’t hail from Utah? The Used came up from the unlikely state of Utah to become one of the biggest bands in the emo genre. While the band was heavy on post-hardcore and screamo, they definitely had an emo character to their sound, with vocalist Bert McCracken singing the most vulnerable of lyrics. The band went mainstream with their 2001 emo-hardcore anthem, “The Taste of Ink.”

7. Taking Back Sunday

One cool thing about emo is how the genre really did almost always intersect with another genre. There are very few pure emo bands that don’t have at least a little something else in them. Taking Back Sunday is a shining example of a band that mixed emo with post-hardcore and melodic hard rock, and they sounded great doing it. They came from New York City, so they have some of that East Coast punk in their sound.

6. Fall Out Boy

Chicago’s Fall Out Boy are one of the biggest bands on this list. But, they’re not at the very top, because while there’s a definite emo character to their music, they’re not exactly an pure emo band. Who is, right? But, Fall Out Boy got huge with their emo-pop sound that was very pop and pop-rock-leaning. It worked, and the band made it big on not just alternative radio but Top 40, making Pete Wentz and the crew household names.

5. Jawbreaker

Jawbreaker are one of the earliest bands on this list that helped shaped the emo genre, as they got their start in the mid-1980s. These guys are vastly influential to the early emo and punk scene with their emotive, beautiful take on hardcore. I also believe Jawbreaker is very underappreciated, both in the punk and emo genres.

4. My Chemical Romance

From the moment “Helena” was released, it was very obvious that My Chemical Romance would be one of the biggest emo bands on the planet. They’re definitively the gothic side of emo. My Chem were able to mix emo, goth, post-hardcore and pop-punk to create a sound all their own.

3. AFI

Putting AFI so high on this list is pretty controversial, especially since AFI fall into so many different genres. They’re also one of the most influential punk bands, as well as hardcore and horror punk. But, I put AFI so high on this list because they really bridged the gap between bands that were very early in the scene, such as those early hardcore-emo bands, and bands that got big later. AFI got together in 1991 and have released new music as recently as 2021, so they helped bring that early emo sound into a more modern era of music. There’s also the fact that AFI simply rocks. “Sing the Sorrow” is my favorite album of all time.

2. Dashboard Confessional

Singer and songwriter Chris Carrabba wears his heart on his sleeve, and that makes for some great emo music. Carrabba’s band, Dashboard Confessional, broke big in the 2000s, right when the emo craze was peaking. They became one of the most high-profile bands in the emo genre. So, what was Dashboard Confessional’s biggest hit? “Screaming Infidelities,” of course, a painful breakup anthem about missing that special someone and envisioning them with someone else. “Vindicated” was another big hit.

1. Jimmy Eat World

Man. It was hard to pick a most influential band. Really, any of the top five on this list could have taken the honor. But, when I think “emo,” I totally think Jimmy Eat World. The Arizona band helped define was it was to be emo, with a very upbeat and pop-infused take on punk, combined with the emotional lyrics of emo. The band’s 2001 release “Bleed American” and its popular single “The Middle” are the blueprint for the punkier side of emo.

That wraps up our tally of the best emo bands and most influential emo bands of all time. Check out our list of 10 punk bands that fans say aren’t punk here. Also, reach out to me with your thoughts at anne@audioinkradio.com.

Anne Erickson
Posted by Anne Erickson | Alternative, Features, Rock, Rock News