9 January 2018 | Community

Then and now: Music for misfits

Ahead of Fall Out Boy and Paramore’s respective UK tours, we take a look at what it means to be a misfit in 2018


Written by Rosie Dodds

“Lie in the grass next to the mausoleum. I’m just a notch in your bedpost, but you're just a line in a song.” Unrequited love? Check. Self-imposed exile and the scrutiny of being misunderstood? Check and check. Yes, you heard that right. That’s the nasal sound of Fall Out Boy’s Mania tour hitting Electric Brixton this week.

"For the first time in history, victims of playground bullying could use that experience against their aggressors."

And if that wasn’t enough to make your tiny emo heart explode with suppressed glee, you’ll be pleased to hear that fellow rock band Paramore will also be returning to UK stadiums this week. However, before you upturn your bathroom cabinets in search of your extra hold hair spray and favourite black kohl eyeliner, it’s worth considering the journey that emo culture has undergone since it reigned supreme in the cloistered bedrooms and Myspace forums of yesteryear.

In the early 2000s, back when it was somewhat acceptable to buy Kerrang! and My Chemical Romance scored their first - and only - number one, emo culture had its brief dance with mainstream media. As the charts began to echo the whiny vocals and problematic lyrics of bands like Hawthorne Heights, The Used, and Panic! at the Disco, the misunderstood youth of the new millennium became fleetingly united by a prevailing sense of brooding introspection.

For those not invested in emo culture, this sudden surge of self-identified outcasts provoked a feeling of confusion that only served to fuel the gratification of those who had decided to outcast themselves further. The emo kids weren’t misfits because their peers had defined them as such, but rather, they were misfits because that was the identity that they had chosen for themselves, and, for the first time in history, victims of playground bullying could use that experience against their aggressors.

However, just as quickly as the subculture came about, the momentum behind it died out. As Myspace’s popularity dwindled and the teenage population became acquainted with some of life’s more pressing problems, the angst and introspection associated with emo culture was made laughable, and in order to survive in the changing market, bands like Paramore and Fall Out Boy were forced to adapt their music to echo that change.

"Rejecting the norms imposed by society has never been so appealing, or so necessary for that matter."

Yet, fast forward to 2018 and the power of the misfit lives on. Although no longer paired with black nail varnish and a dodgy side fringe, the misfit still plays a prominent part in popular culture. Somewhere between the death of UGG boots and the resurgence of the ‘thrift store’, the world realised once again that marching to the beat of your own drum is often the only way to stand out from the crowd.

Moreover, now that twenty-first century youth are perhaps more engaged with the political climate, more aware of mental illness, and more socially responsible than ever, rejecting the norms imposed by society has never been so appealing, or so necessary for that matter.

Ranging from the ridiculous to more serious examples, it seems that popular culture has embraced the misfit wholeheartedly. The typography used for Kanye West’s Yeezus tour, as well as the branding used for Demna Gvasalia’s label, Vetements, both bear an uncanny resemblance to the iconic font used for American heavy metal band Metallica. And if that wasn’t enough, even Justin Bieber's Purpose tour logo is etched in the distinctly metal-esque style.

Carrying the torch for the modern day misfit is Jaden Smith. He’s even named his clothing line MSFTSrepublic - vowels removed because there’s “no ‘I’ in team”, duh - that serves to provide “a place for the lost kids and everyone to go”. Yeah, we’re not taking him too seriously either, but despite his somewhat laughable bravado, Smith has launched one of the first brands to cater for people who don’t want to comply with convention or gender norms when it comes to fashion. In other words, Smith had built a progressive - and successful - brand using the archetype of the misfit.

And then there are more controversial artists like XXXTentacion, who, along with the late American musician, Lil Peep - who openly rapped about depression, drug use and painful relationships - has been complicit in hip hop’s recent appropriation of emo culture. “While you are listening to this album you are literally,  and I cannot stress this enough , literally entering my mind,” says XXXTentacion during the opening of his 2017 album, 17.

"It seems that popular culture has embraced the misfit wholeheartedly."

Perhaps asserting one’s individuality isn’t even the real motive of misfit culture, that moving towards a society that is more emotionally honest is instead the central issue, or better yet, that the emotional strand that exists in much of hip hop - old and new - is now able to fall upon ears that won’t deride, scorn, or enfeeble it by classifying it as something less than music.

Either way, it appears that popular culture’s championing of the underdog is here to stay. Emo culture may have had its day, but music’s appreciation of the misfit is more present than ever.