Emo is short for emotional, and refers to pointed emotional expression in music. It emerged in the late 80s as a sub-genre of the post-hardcore scene. The label was derived from the particularly confessional lyrics of these early bands. By the 90s it had been reinvented and became a staple in the mainstream with bands like Weezer and Jimmy Eat World. It peaked in the early 2000s and by 2010 had largely waned in popularity, though some bands have attempted to keep it going strong.
A number of themes have been significant within the genre, most notably sadness. As a result corollary issues within the subculture have been depression, self-harm, and suicide. A dark cloud has often hung over emo in its early development. As a result many bands that fit the label haven been somewhat reluctant to identify with it, either for fear of social stigma (being too sensitive) or in order to avoid association with dangers of certain mental health issues.
In light of these themes it is significant to note the presence of emo music within the Christian scene. While it is true that the gospel offers hope and power to the believer, it is not true that Christians don’t also still struggle. Christian emo artists were willing to be honest about the struggles of faith, loss, heartbreak, and even mental health issues where the rest of the church was pretending they didn’t exist. For that reason emo music was a good addition to the Christian music scene, the reminded us of the reality of Jesus’ words, “In this life you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Christian emo was demonstrative of a theological and lived honesty that is still needed in the church today.
My list is not very eclectic, it mostly centers around the same handful of artists – even the same handful of albums. These artists and albums, however, represent, in my opinion, the best examples of the genre. Not every song on this list is representative of the theological honesty mentioned above, but these are, in my opinion, the best songs in the genre.
Here are my favorite Christian emo songs:
1. “Brightest” by Copeland
A short and simple love song, but executed to perfection.
2. “The Feel Good Drag” by Anberlin
Lust feels like a drug, but the destruction of pursuing illicit relationships will destroy you.
3. “Goodbye, for Now” by Cool Hand Luke
A poetic interpretation of Jesus’ final words to his disciples.
4. “The Bradley” by Further Seems Forever
An amazing song about the pain and freedom of breaking from an unhealthy relationship.
5. “Understand the Dream is Over” by the Juliana Theory
An emo reality check!
6. “Snowbirds and Townies” by Further Seems Forever
My favorite FSF song. Chris Carrabba is a beautiful lyricist, and in this song he reflects on a long-lost love.
7. “Coffee” by Copeland
Another simple love song by a genuinely great band. Some speculate that this song is drawing a line from romantic love to the “transcendent love” of God that “comes down.”
8. “Into the Dark” by The Juliana Theory
A gripping song about those suffering with suicidal ideation and the help that family and friends can provide to lead them out of that internal “hell.”
9. “The Sound” by Further Seems Forever
A gritty song about a wonderful relationship that has slowly grown cold; the “sound now turned to silence.”
10. “You Belong Here” by Anberlin
A powerful song about giving it all to make another feel accepted. Risking a broken heart is a significant part of loving well.