The New Age of Emo: Mom Jeans, Just Friends, and Unity in the Scene

Mom Jeans and Just Friends have quickly leapt to legendary status in the emo scene this year with their canon-worthy albums, titled Puppy Love and Nothing But Love, respectively. The titles of these albums really capture the overall philosophy of these bands — in a time of extremity and polarization, they seek to spread love, build positive connections, and support and uplift their fellow musicians, especially those whose music and contributions are more likely to be drowned out by the voices of a sea of angsty straight white dudes.

The emo scene, at least in the mainstream, has been this way for a very long time, and with the #metoo movement scoping out the abuse that is pervasive everywhere, there is nowhere for abusers to hide. This has taught members of the scene that it is crucial for people in positions of privilege to support their friends and community now more than ever, to create a welcoming space for punks of all identities and backgrounds. And this newer wave of emo is doing just that — rather than writing questionably misogynistic lyrics and perpetuating exclusivity in the scene through all-male tickets, Mom Jeans and Just Friends built their tour lineup with bands to whom Mom Jeans lovingly referred as some of their “dearest friends;” Shortly, a solo female led project performing with a full band, and Mover Shaker, a group of proudly queer, self-proclaimed “trans weirdos.” Diversity of this scope is practically unprecedented in the mainstream emo scene, yet creating a ticket with artists of different backgrounds and identities allowed for a diversified scope of sounds and perspectives, resulting in an all around more rounded concert experience. This is something we have truly been missing out on, and Mom Jeans made sure we felt it by booking some of the most badass artists out there.

I got to witness evidence of this cultural shift firsthand when I saw Mom Jeans’ headlining US tour this past September. Shortly opened the show at St. Louis’ Fubar Lounge with tracks from her debut EP, Richmond, which came out in September of this year. Her lyrics show great depth of feeling, with gentle support from her acoustic guitar. Her voice drifted softly above the awestruck audience hanging on her every word. She captivated the room with the authenticity of her music, intimately informing the audience that her closing number, “While We’re on the Subject,” was written about her sexual assault and the emotional turmoil that our current callout culture can create. “While We’re on the Subject” gently faded to complete the set with repetition of the words “parts of me felt whole – and now I’m a body” hanging in the air. A brief moment of silence, then rapturous applause.

Following Shortly was Mover Shaker, an enthusiastically queer punk rock outfit with fun, chaotic energy. They have a distorted yet sometimes gentle sound, drawing from melodic emo bands such as Dikembe, featuring midwestern math emo inspired guitar riffs a la Tiny Moving Parts. Between songs they shouted loving words of protection to the audience wrapped in threats towards potential creeps in the audience — “This next song is fun one. Move around, have a blast, but if you touch anyone without their consent we will fucking kill you!” This was a really welcome callout. If you’re a girl that attends concerts regularly, you’ve probably been groped or addressed inappropriately by some scummy indie dude, and having the people on stage explicitly denounce that type of behavior makes the whole setting feel safer. This was a hopeful glimpse into the future of the music scene that I’ve been waiting for ever since I was a 16-year-old punk rocker. Years of getting pushed around, laughed at and patronized by older men at metal shows have finally paid off. No more eye rolling at my excitement, no more questioning glares that ask, “What is she doing here?” Concerts have always felt like home to me, but now I felt like I was really home — no critical family members, no patronization, just a loving home full of kind-hearted people that fully accepted me for who I am.

This air of protection and love carried on throughout Just Friends’ set. As anyone familiar with Just Friends could have predicted, the crowd went absolutely nuts during their set, every last body in the room bouncing up and down to the beat. The brass-infused, joyful punk outfit draws from a vast array of influences, with the upbeat fun of ska, funky grooves reminiscent of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the diction and gusto of pop-punk bands. The stage was packed with seven band members, each person bringing a unique energy to the set. The fans shoved and jumped, knocking off the glasses of a girl standing in front of me, resulting in the crowd splitting to help her look for them. When the song ended even the band paused to check and make sure she was okay, not proceeding with the set until she gave them a thumbs up. The sold out show was packed from wall to wall, and once the crowd’s energy skyrocketed a damp, hot blanket of fog began to hang over the room.

The energy of the crowd persisted through Mom Jeans’ set as expected. Having expended far too much energy dancing my ass off during Just Friends and having already seen Mom Jeans live a few months before, I spent a majority of this set leaning on the cool, damp wall, people watching, and trying to ignore how dizzy and weightless my head felt. Fubar clearly hadn’t turned on the AC, and the windowless establishment was packed with far too much noise and far too many bodies, a classic predicament of all the best punk shows. Despite the gross circumstances, Mom Jeans performed their set with energy and grace, thanking us between sets for being loving and respectful towards the opening acts, addressing a problem they had earlier in the tour with people being noisy enough to where they drowned out Shortly as she played her set. Having a headlining band sticking up for the openers when the crowd is shitty isn’t something I have seen often, but Mom Jeans posted a tweet a few days prior to this show calling out those people. And it was the coolest.

Sexism has been pervasive in the emo scene for years. But having massively influential bands like Just Friends and Mom Jeans setting a precedent for using their privilege to boost the voices of the often overlooked sexual and racial minorities of the scene is crucial for the progression of a safer, welcoming scene for music lovers of all kinds.