My Chemical Romance is back, just as we’re all getting emo again.
The night before My Chemical Romance’s reunion show in Los Angeles on Friday, band members handed out blankets to fans camping outside. Some especially devoted fans had been waiting outside the Shrine, a venue known for its chaotic lines, since Tuesday. The band’s last performance together was in 2012, about a year before they split. Fans stayed emo throughout the six year hiatus — and My Chemical Romance’s return couldn’t have had better timing. When the band opened the show with its 2005 song “I’m Not Okay (I Promise),” the audience sang along with their whole chests and meant it.
My Chemical Romance’s lead singer, Gerard Way, who usurped Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz to become emo king of the 2000s, said the break up was right. He told the i that when the album The Black Parade was released, “it was a good time to be counter culture.” In 2006, president George W. Bush was in his second term in office and the U.S. was embroiled in “war for oil.”
The Black Parade was My Chemical Romance’s third and most commercially successful album. As a whole, it follows a character called The Patient as he comes to terms with his inevitable death from terminal illness and descends into hell. The song Welcome to the Black Parade, which is about literally welcoming death, became emblematic of emo culture itself. In the last 13 years, it’s become recognizable based on the single opening note alone.
“But when Danger Days was out, we had Obama, things were going really well, we were making so much progress,” Way continued in the i, referring to My Chemical Romance’s fourth and last studio album. “I’m able to read the writing on the wall pretty clearly, and I was like, ‘Nobody really needs us now … I think it’s time to finish.”
That era had plenty of issues, including weathering a crippling recession and further American intervention in the Middle East, but Barack Obama’s presidency inspired a sense of hope most of the world hasn’t felt since the 2016 election.
Internet culture, which has always been dark, ramped up after Trump took office — memes have only gotten bleaker and more surreal. When economists predicted another incoming recession earlier this year, millennials and zoomers joked that they were ready because they had nothing to lose in the first place. A 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index report on millennials found that major depression was the most prevalent health condition affecting the generation. That may be because younger people are more open to discussing mental health issues — the American Psychological Association reports that Gen Z is the generation most likely to report mental health issues — but you have to admit that when climate change, a failing healthcare system, crippling student loan debt, and an increasingly divided nation loom over you, the future can seem pretty miserable.
In a post recapping last year, Way called 2018 “a year of black magic.” When a Guardian reporter asked if the band would ever get back together earlier this year, Way seemed to allude to the dumpster fire we’re all continuing to exist in.
“That’s the stuff I thought about when the world started to get super fucked up again,” he told the Guardian in March this year. “It definitely came into my head, but I’d changed so much as a person. I didn’t know how I’d fit into it any more, I didn’t know how the band would fit into it any more. But you’re right, the world is definitely in need of something more positive.”
My Chemical Romance may be known for its macabre aesthetic — the Daily Mail once referred to them as a “suicide cult band,” sparking outrage among fans — but its music does have more uplifting notes. Welcome to the Black Parade discusses being unashamed of a broken life. Its chorus, in which the Patient declares he’ll “carry on,” was a Tumblr rallying cry.
Like most music beloved by teen emos, My Chemical Romance’s music embraced sadness and owned up to anger. During the Los Angeles show, Way described the song “Our Lady of Sorrows” as “a little stabby” before launching into a guitar riff that turned the entire auditorium into a gloriously chaotic dance floor. Between songs, he asked the audience how many people were seeing My Chemical Romance for the first time, and seemed surprised that nearly everyone raised their hands.
As much as the band embodies the millennial spirit, nobody in the band is a millennial. Age ranges are arbitrary, though: Gen Z is very much into emo music too, now, thanks to TikTok and generational depression. Emo Night, a wildly successful themed party that plays alt rock and pop punk from the aughts, draws in thousands of self-proclaimed emos every month. Modern artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Princess Nokia, and the late Juice WRLD credited the emo music they listened to as young teenagers as influences that shaped their musical styles.
In the pit on Friday night, I danced among two teenagers who brought their parents, a 26-year-old who was able to fly in from Chicago because he could afford it with his “new grown-up job,” and a couple in their 30s who saw My Chemical Romance during Warped Tour in 2005. The thousands of Killjoys — the fandom named itself after the band’s last album — who managed to snag tickets all shared the same anger, sorrow, and reverence for Mikey Fuckin’ Way as they did a decade ago. (The nickname for Mikey Way, the band’s bassist and Gerard’s younger brother, is even printed on official merch.)
It’s fitting that My Chemical Romance closed its show with “The Kids From Yesterday,” a ballad about taking “one last ride” since growing up. I started listening to My Chemical Romance in middle school, just before the band released Danger Days. In the decade since, I scaled back on the eyeliner and drugstore hair dye, but haven’t gotten any less emo. Despite both the fans and the band maturing, dancing to Welcome to the Black Parade when My Chemical Romance performed a second encore was just as much of a near-religious experience as the first time I heard it.
In its review of the show, the Los Angeles Times asks why My Chemical Romance returned now, of all times. Conspiracy theories aside, I can probably answer that question: we’re all feeling a little stabby.