I’m not Goth, mom, I’m Emo
Celia Rose Smith
Imagine this: it’s 2008 and you’re walking down the halls of your middle school. You spot three of your classmates who identify within an alternative culture. Theresa is Goth, Danny is emo and Leila is scene. Yet, do you really know the characteristics that separate their social identities?
If you did not read my column in the last issue of Le Provocateur, I’ve recently discovered that I identify with the emo population. This life-changing realization sparked my curiosity in answering a vital social question: what is the difference between emo, Goth and scene?
If you were in middle or high school in the mid-to-late 2000s, I’m sure you remember those three alternative cultures that challenged social norms when wearing Aéropostale t-shirts and Hollister super low-cut jeans were all the rage. At the peak of their glory, these Goth subcultures were the thing to be. These cultures aren’t gone, but have seemed to fade into the background as the “hipster” fad rose to fame.
The truth is, there’s a very thin line separating these cultures from one-another. In the broadest sense, Goth, scene and emo are all social groupings that fall under Gothic culture. This can make it very difficult to distinguish them, however, there are unique features that define each.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a Goth person as “a performer or fan of [goth] music, or anyone who adopts a similar appearance, typically through the use of dark eye make-up and pale skin coloring, dark clothes and bulky metallic jewelry.” They mainly wear black and sometimes throw in red or white.
The Goth style typically pulls from horror imagery. If you think about it, this makes sense because Goth is derived from the word “gothic” and gothic novels (such as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”) have themes centered on horror. The Goth lifestyle often can also tie into interests like witchcraft, Satanism and mythical creatures. The Cure rose as a popular band among the Goth population.
Emo-hood is largely seen as a teenage phase, but for some it is a lifestyle that continues into adulthood and beyond. The culture has strong ties to music, so dark-colored band t-shirts are very common in emo fashion. Although a dark, alternative style is popular within the emo population, it is primarily the interests and emotional states that characterize someone as emo, not their outward appearance. The culture often deals with realistic life struggles, typically conveyed through forms of self-expression such as art, music and poetry.
Above all else, music is the defining feature of emo culture. Emo started as a reaction against American hardcore punk in the 1980s. This original “emocore” genre drastically developed a new sound in the 1990s due to the rise of alternative emo bands. In the early-mid 2000s, the genre further evolved into the pop-punk influenced sound that remains the stereotypical “emo” music today. Personal lyrics are categorical of emo music and songs usually deal with subjects like depression, suicide, war, hate, love and (especially) heartbreak. Bands such as Dashboard Confessional (my one true love), Modern Baseball, Brand New, The Story So Far and The Hotelier are some of my personal favorites.
Scene is a style that was popularized in the late 2000s. Scene can be viewed as a fashion trend or stylistic choice, and is basically the polar opposite of Goth. Scene style sometimes pulls from anime influences. Scene kids often wear vibrant colors and dye their hair with similar neon colors. The main goal in scene style is to draw attention to the wearer. During the Myspace days (R.I.P.), the scene culture had a strong online presence and they are typically very friendly, upbeat and full of life. The general music taste within the scene community is typically pop-oriented and leans towards “party music” with an electronic or techno beat.
Emo has the largest spectrum of interests and styles, so it is sometimes confused for scene, Goth and punk. The key to recognizing the difference lies in the understanding that emo is short for emotional. For me, this was the groundbreaking realization that made everything so much clearer; ultimately leading to my emo identity crisis.
Scene individuals are typically social beings and openly share the details of their lives, especially on social media, whereas emo culture is far more introverted. As far as emo posts and status updates are concerned, they are frequently cryptic and emotional. Posts often quote song lyrics to explain feelings, reiterating the importance of music in emo culture.
One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between the stereotypical members of the emo, scene and Goth communities is by their style of dress. Scene people tend to wear bright neon colors, while darker colors, especially black, are typical of Goths and emos. Of the three, emo and Goth tend to be the hardest to differentiate because of this dark color palette both groups share in style. However, emo style has punk influences that set it apart from that of Goth. Emo individuals tend to be more focused on their emotional state and music taste, while Goth is a lifestyle and aesthetic in itself and scene culture revolves around expression through color, fashion and style.
The philosophy of life for each of these subcultures is mainly what sets them apart from one-another. Goth culture emerged first and is the darkest and most sinister. It has an emphasis on horror and mythical themes and is a lifestyle. Emo culture is younger, more underground and individuals are typically very emotional. It is grounded in a strong association with music—primarily the alternative rock and pop-punk genres. Scene culture largely communicates their identity through fashion and sense of style—incorporating a neon colors into their look. It is the youngest of the subcultures, and scene kids are known to be energetic, cheerful and colorful compared to their Goth and emo counterparts.
Keep in mind that the above are guidelines based on the general population of each of these subcultures, not a checklist. Creating a single definition outlining the characteristics of every member of these alternative subcultures is impossible. Someone may recognize themselves in one of these subcultures without fitting the stereotype perfectly. Each individual that identifies within these categories has their own interpretation of what it means and how they express themselves. When it comes to identifying with any culture, self-definition is key.
There are so many alternative subculture identities that are misunderstood and generalized by mainstream society. These are not easy groups to define, therefore, it would be overwhelming to touch upon the alternative subcultures beyond emo, Goth and scene in one single article. However, these are important distinctions to be aware of. After all, if you’re going to label and stereotype a person or group of people, you should at least get it right.
The most important thing is whether it be Goth, scene or emo, each group creates a community where like-minded individuals are able to express themselves and feel a sense of belonging.
Celia Rose Smith, a senior, studies English and studio art. She is the Assistant Editor-In-Chief of Le Provocateur. Visit her website at theceliarose.com.