Music

It’s OK To Be Emo At 25: From Hawthorne Heights to Princess Nokia

The first time I heard about Hawthorne Heights was when their music video “Ohio is for Lovers” debuted on MTV. A quick Google search and a couple clicks later, I found that someone posted a link to the song in a comments section on vampirefreaks.com, and I listened to it nonstop.  I downloaded the album The Silence in Black and White onto my MP3 player and later burned those files onto a CD. I was 13 and considered myself tech-savvy because of this step-by-step system, and in 2005, you could get away with this.

Rolling Stone dubbed Hawthorne Heights as the “grassroots chart kings” after their “aggressive” use of Myspace helped increase their popularity. TSIBAW was certified gold, and “Saying Sorry”, a single on the sophomore album If Only You Were Lonely, peaked No. 3 on the Billboard charts. 

There’s something about frontman JT Woodruff that drew me in. His songwriting felt more like horoscopes; it’s like he knew what I was going through and what I was feeling without actually knowing anything about m. His use of first person often felt like he was either talking to me (Hey there, I know it’s hard to feel like I don’t care at all) or I imagined myself as him (I fall to pieces, now a broken mirror in your life). Hawthorne Heights were keen bottling up loneliness and sealing it with a chorus (The distance and my heart’s to sand / Flowing through the hourglass).

Back then, I didn’t know what emo – let alone being “emo” – really was. I was young and upfront about speaking my mind. I liked what I liked, and I felt how I felt. I knew at that time I was growing into an outsider and learning that I wasn’t fitting in with my group of friends anymore. Labels were becoming more acceptable in understanding your identity whether you agreed with them or not; eighth grade was coming to a close, and we were all changing.

I traded in my ballet flats for Converse and committed to skinny jeans. I started straightening my hair and wearing black eyeliner. I wore band tees and hoodies all the time. I measured my moods on a scale of “ZOMG” or “meh.”

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The fine line between emo and pop-punk could be best described by the way Woodruff talked of Hawthorne Heights’ second album: “The darker stuff is a lot darker, but the lighter stuff is a lot lighter.” Every now and then, my boyfriend and I would retreat to Fall Out Boy’s Take This Back To Your Grave. We’d easily fall into a conversation about who we were back then and how much – or how little – we both have changed; every song off that album perfectly fits into a high school memory.

It’s only after we do a run-through do we realize our music tastes split. We part ways after Fall Out Boy; he reaches for The Ataris, New Found Glory and Blink 182, while I turn to Underoath and Flyleaf. We meet again with Taking Back Sunday, A Day To Remember and Yellowcard, but don’t stay together for long.

I barely listen to Hawthorne Heights now. I can’t relate to them like I used to, and I’ve moved on. I’ve found myself caught up in hip-hop, where poetry has the power to soften reality.

Then, I heard Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO Tour Lif3,” and it reminded me of “Ohio is For Lovers.” Hawthorne Heights was the first band I’ve ever heard about who sang about desperately wanting to be loved and dying because of loneliness (So cut my wrists and black my eyes / So I can fall asleep tonight, or die)Likewise, Vert evokes the same struggle, despair and frustration  (She said, ‘Baby, I am not afraid to die’ / Push me to the edge / All my friends are dead).

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In a House of Vans crowd engulfed by Glitter Moneyyy’s girl-power vibes – which was quickly countered by JPEGMAFIA’s rage – Princess Nokia’s presence was warranted. She skipped out onto the stage in a white skater dress, sparkly pink Vans and pigtails and asked for audience members at the House of Vans to be respectful of the young women, people of color and anyone from the LGBTQA community in the crowd. She deemed this as a “safe space” and even offered extra water bottles to a group of girls, who were standing a few feet from the barricade. She also told them that she’s been reading about her motherland, Puerto Rico, and its historical sufferings.

The Nuyorican’s set was divided between her debut album 1992 Deluxe and her latest EP A Girl Cried Red. The covers for both feature a picture of Nokia. In 1992, she’s standing in the middle of a basketball court, holding a ball and wearing an oversized T-shirt and baggy jeans. In AGCR, she’s dressed in all-black, standing in front of White Castle and flipping off the camera.

During Nokia’s set, her anthem “Tomboy”, where she praises her “little titties and phat belly”, transitions into a cover of Blink 182’s “I Miss You”, and her DJ gets swapped out for a live band. I waited to see if the crowd would follow the change-up and go from bopping to moshing, as her fiery energy was suspended. She wailed, “Don’t waste your time on me, I’m already the voice inside my head.” Her listeners swayed back and forth.

Nokia hosts a podcast on Beats 1 called “Voices in My Head,” and she spills her love for emo music. Her song “Flowers and Rope” is a another descendant of “Ohio is For Lovers.” Nokia says, “Life of a loner, I want it to end / hurt myself and I gave it three nights.”

The idea of being lost prevails in both, feeding into the mantra, “misery loves company.”

A blaring, white light flipped on after the concert was over, and I saw her fans swarm in, impatiently waiting for a photo op. “There she is!” my best friend said and pointed to the stage. We stood closer to the exit and could only see her black puffy hair from the distance, as the crowd swallowed her whole.

All photos by F. Amanda Tugade

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