“IT’S NOT A PHASE, MOM!”: Exploring Otherness and Emo-ness

photo by gretels nintedo ds

“MIIIISS, GRETEL’S GOTH NOW!” whined the classmate sitting next to me. I stared in awe,  as the whole room turned to gaze upon the new look I decided to debut. The previous day, my  mom had bought me hot pink hair chalk (which I generously applied to my bangs that morning). It was the perfect accessory for a wannabe punk 4th grader who was way too young to dye her  hair. My kind teacher quickly disregarded the question and complimented my chalky, fuchsia  fringe. Little did I know, this would not be the last time that I would stand out amongst my peers;  I was the girl who would discover and inevitably come to terms with her sense of alienation  through the exploration of style and music. This was only the beginning of my journey towards  achieving who I wanted to be and what I wanted to represent. 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word otherness can be defined as being or feeling  different in appearance or character from what is familiar, expected, or generally accepted. However, this philosophy is more than just feeling left out. The term was commonly used  towards anything and anyone that challenged social norms… or was the slightest bit “different.”  The concept details the way humans are categorized based on their gender, race, class, and the  overall power structures that they are placed into. Therefore, it’s surely a widespread  experience, for it touches upon the dynamics within the majority and minority. Specifically, the  alternative music scene is home to various bands consisting of POC’s and queer individuals.  Icons like Gerard Way, Hayley Williams, in addition to early 2000’s metal groups like  Killswitch Engage were some of my favorites as a kid. More modern examples include bands  like PVRIS, boygenius, and Meet me @ The Altar. Even South Florida harbors some notable  names like opposition dolls, palomino blond, and gravess. Something that the mainstream lacks  that this scene highlights is the very concept of otherness; it inevitably attracts listeners that  society may deem as outcasts due to their relatability and representation.  

As I mentioned before, I have been familiar with being considered as “the other” from a very  young age. Growing up as the youngest and the quietest member of the household, I had a hard  time relating to my family. My parents were always funny and sociable, while my older sister  was what I considered to be the perfect high school cheerleader. Me on the other hand? I took  solace in sitting in the corner with my stuffed animal and headphones on, while they partied  away outside with the rest of our chaotic, Cuban counterparts. I was emotional, anxious, and  could never quite get into the things everyone else enjoyed. Long story short, my first crush was  Rudolph from The Little Vampire and Avril Lavigne was my style icon (we can blame her for  the colorful hair streaks). 

Having always felt like an outsider from a young age, I naturally gravitated towards my eyeliner  wearing, guitar playing cousin. Having been practically raised by a queer, immigrant mall goth,  I was more than well immersed into the epitome of early 2000’s alternative history. I was  handed down her old t-shirts, Cd’s, and her cherished iPod touch with countless albums  downloaded from LimeWire the night before. I knew the lyrics to Linkin Park, Evanescence,  and System of a Down songs way before I was even allowed to see those bands in concert. She  showed me nu metal movie staples like Queen of the Damned and would let me stay up late to  watch her band rehearse in the living room. But apart from the gifted studded belts and music 

lessons, she offered patience and understanding. Through her, I found comfort, in addition to  exposure to a culture that made me feel like I belonged. 

It is only fair that I provide some insight into the subcultures I hold near and dear, for they are the foundations of everything I enjoy and am today. One thing that all these groups have in  common is the value they place on vulnerability, openness, and freedom of expression.  Members of each subculture unquestionably reject the mainstream but embrace our quirks and  uniqueness. 

Most importantly, all are meant to create a domain where people feel safe enough to  embrace their differences and finally be themselves. 

Here is a short analysis and definitive look into the scene genres from my early childhood. 

Emo: short for “emotional hardcore”; a subgenre of punk rock where members’ “fashion  style…reflected their emotional and introspective tendencies” (as stated by Torry  Mastery).  

Goth: music subculture ranging from genres like death rock to new wave. Its fashion and  lifestyle are often characterized by its ties to “darkness,” however more colorful, elaborate  styles exist.  

Scene: a result of Myspace and the alternative “fashioncore” movement in the early 2000’s;  the subculture is defined by colorful clothing, over-the-top hairstyles, and geared more towards  an electronic sound. 

Now, back in MY day (at the very wise age of 10), I barely understood what any of these words  meant. I always just considered myself to be just that…me! I took inspiration from anything that  simply caught my eye, while still trying to learn about the details that each category  encompassed. I never even considered myself to be “emo” until people began pointing it out. The closest thing I engaged in that was remotely “gothic” was watching The Grim Adventures of  Billy & Mandy, while also clicking on the occasional scene hair tutorial on YouTube. But I  didn’t care about having to label myself or having to strictly consume only a specific type of  media. Frankly, I would even get frustrated at the titles people were so quick to give me. The  whole point in my “alternative” journey was happiness: wearing the things I liked, learning  about the ideals I connected with, while listening to music that made me feel. 

An issue many of us face today when inquiring into these different subcultures is trying to  become the perfect manifestation of what we are exploring. In a TikTok by a creator named Jax  (@cinnagal), she highlights this problem by explaining how people have been favoring  aesthetics, as opposed to the subcultures we originally knew about. She explains how emo and  scene kids cared more about the community created with those like-minded individuals we  found through the arts we engaged with. But nowadays, people feel the pressure to look a  certain way, while trying to “out emo” our peers with whatever new trend money can buy.  Being “emo” or any kind of alternative is more than just the skinny jeans you wear and the  black dye you apply. I believe it’s not about “looking” the part but living the part. This  emphasis on aesthetics creates an atmosphere where people like me might feel like they are no  longer where they’re meant to be. 

Having to reside within a society where we are already pushed to the side for our innate  individuality, we prioritize the connections we make and who we want to become. I believe  that’s why “the other” tends to gravitate towards the alternative scene, for we are able to create  that something we want to see in the world. These subcultures are all interconnected, as they  give and take from one another in the same way people learn and grow amongst themselves. I  am an amalgamation of all that I have witnessed and experienced through my explorations of  these very communities. Regardless of internet algorithms or trends, you’re going to see people  of all shapes, sizes, and styles throughout local shows. It has been extremely reassuring to have  made the connections I have with people who share both morals and t-shirts with me. Meeting  people who like the same bands that I once thought were obscure opened up so many  opportunities for friendships, while also allowing me to discover new content that my peers may  recommend. The same, kind smiles you recognize at an indie pop event could be the same  sweaty faces you once met at a hardcore house show. Different bands, artists, and music lovers  form relationships that defy the social boxes we were once forced into. I’m proud to say that  Little Gretel would be ecstatic to know that I have not only had real pink hair, but have also  found my own sense of belonging. And just like the great Chester Bennington once said, 

“I want to heal, I want to feel like I’m close to something real 

I want find something I’ve wanted all along 

Somewhere I belong” 

Through our individual otherness, we have all found each other.

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