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“Like Phantoms, Forever”: The Return of My Chemical Romance

How the label “emo” haunts the band’s legacy and why this is the resurrection the world needs

Sean Tellvik  |  Freelancer

My Chemical Romance are back from the dead. On Oct. 31, rock band My Chemical Romance announced their return for a one-night show in Los Angeles after a six-and-a-half year breakup. Many fans worried this may have been a one-off reunion event, but with the addition of festival dates in March, it is time to take the return more seriously. 

To fill the empty spaces in their hearts following MCR’s breakup announcement in 2013, fans devised numerous theories about a planned reunion. A band who posthumously released a song called “Fake Your Death” on a greatest hits album titled “May Death Never Stop You” invited some speculation about the permanence of their split. 

The band primarily consists of singer Gerard Way, bassist Mikey Way, and guitarists Frank Iero and Ray Toro, who have all been working on their own solo projects since the band’s split. However, no individual member of the band has had quite the same level of success as that which they experienced united. Hits like “Helena,” “I’m Not Okay (I Promise),” “Welcome to the Black Parade” and “Teenagers” have stood the test of time and circulated many a Spotify “emo” playlist, which brings me to the most slippery issue surrounding the band’s identity. 

Many fans, streaming platforms and articles about MCR identify the band as emo, a term with a messy history and complicated implications. The band themselves have tried to set the record straight that they are not an emo band, even expressing disgust at the term. 

The term “emo” is short for “emotional,” referencing the genre’s often dark or confessional lyrics. Part of the problem is the misconception that emo culture begets self-harm and suicide. On the contrary, the music often acts as an outlet to channel much of the depression and mental health issues that lead to these actions. Especially during the 2000s, the toxic perception of emo culture has spawned violence and brutality against those who identify as emo. But the core of the genre, when separated from stigma, can offer catharsis and a form of identity to its listeners.

I believe so many people attribute the emo genre to MCR because they have validated people’s feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness — you name it — and shown listeners that it’s okay to not be okay. The lyrics to “I’m Not Okay (I Promise),” which say “You really need to listen to me / because I’m telling you the truth / I mean this, I’m okay, trust me / I’m not okay,” capture the feeling of masking one’s emotions to conform to an expectation of baseline happiness. I think MCR’s openness about these feelings are what made them such a popular band while garnering them the unwanted emo label. 

One of the band’s most famous lyrics from the song “Famous Last Words” defiantly states, “I am not afraid to keep on living / I am not afraid to walk this world alone.” This message of perseverance contradicts the claim that their music breeds self-destruction. Countless fans have given their testimony to defend that this is a band that saves lives. And I think the world needs to hear their message once more to break down the stigma against mental health issues.

 

Contact the author at stellvik15@mail.wou.edu