The band’s triumphant show at Cornwall’s Eden Project was a parade of tears, screams and heartfelt nostalgia
The first time I listened to My Chemical Romance, I was 11 years old. The Black Parade, the New Jersey band’s now-prolific concept album, had just been released – and I was instantly obsessed. Punk glam meets Broadway, My Chemical Romance’s third album was dark and performative; a goth rock opera that’s so dark, so melodramatic that it’s fundamentally teenage in its earnestness.
As an introverted Turkish kid growing up in the middle of nowhere (Bedfordshire) the feeling of never quite fitting in was already deeply ingrained into my pre-teen brain. Like other weirdos and misfits across British suburbia, My Chemical Romance wasn’t just a rock band, but a group of aspirational friends – a reminder that no matter how bad we felt, or how much shit we endured, we weren’t alone. So, when the band announced their long-awaited reunion tour back in 2019, it was a moment to rekindle those cherished memories – and once again join The Black Parade.
Tickets to the one-off reunion show in December 2019 sold out in minutes, but after several pandemic-related delays, the band kickstarted their UK tour with two intimate sets at Cornwall’s Eden Project (we were kindly hosted by Eden Project’s YHA), before moving onto Milton Keynes – a bizarre choice of locations, but fitting given the band’s fanbase of weird, suburban ex-teens. I would be lying if I didn’t say a part of me was cringing at the idea of hoards of outgrown emos clocking off from their corporate 9-5 jobs and trekking to the leafy recesses of the Eden Project – but I was wrong.
Across one and a half glorious hours, the band played tracks from their decade-long back-catalogue, opening with their new single “The Foundations of Decay”, a brooding six-minute head-banger, before moving onto fan favourites such as “Helena”, “Welcome to the Black Parade”, Teenagers” and “Famous Last Words”. At one point vocalist Gerard Way, standing in front of a pile of industrial wreckage, requested for the spotlight to be turned off him (“It makes me self-conscious”), while in the crowd, the energy was joyous. Emos both young and old were shouting the words at the top of their lungs. Many tears were shed. The performance itself was tight, too, especially considering the band’s last live show was in 2019. As one friend told me: “It doesn’t feel like a comeback tour.”
My Chemical Romance originally emerged as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks (“This broken city sky / Like butane on my skin,” Way sings in the band’s debut song, “Skylines and Turnstiles”), a turning point in waking history that saw the turn-of-the-century optimism of previous years replaced with an underlying atmosphere of fear (the financial crisis would later hit in 2008). At the same time, the internet was growing in popularity. The first generation of extremely online kids logged onto MySpace and posted high-angled selfies in oppressively skinny drainpipe jeans.
With its ethos of emotional vulnerability and boundary-breaking self-expression, emo culture was at its commercial peak. Arriving at a time when conversations surrounding mental health were only just entering the mainstream, emo culture cultivated a space for young people to speak openly about their insecurities, anxieties and depression; It promoted sexual fluidity (performative or not) in ways that pushed against the rigid gender norms of the 00s. But despite this, emo was labelled by British tabloids as a “sinister cult”, and, in 2008, hit an all-out moral panic.
The band’s reunion comes at a bizarre time when emo is so mainstream that Machine Gun Kelly is releasing tracks called “Emo Girl” and partaking in blood-drinking engagement rituals, while former Hype House star Lil Huddy dons black eyeliner and sings pseudo-heartfelt songs about teen heartbreak. It’s an inconceivably different social landscape, but it’s also strangely similar.
The Age of Terror is no more, but the pandemic and ongoing climate crisis induces a similar collective dread that has seen mental health decline, as we mourn what’s lost. We see this in our mass turn towards nostalgia, our cultural obsession with 00s trends and subcultures, but also in our return to childhood comforts, whether that’s videogames or our favourite teen band. Yet, the one thing that remains a constant amidst the commotion is this: emo never dies.