By Danielle Chelosky
2005 was less of a year and more of a weird dream. For once, emo had struck the radio waves, unlike the genre’s previous eruptions in the 1980s and ‘90s. Panic! at the Disco — a fizzy young group that played with gender image — sang an eccentric, noisy anthem about infidelity deemed catchy enough for Z100 rotation. My Chemical Romance’s legions of depressed teenagers in black eyeliner (the “MCRmy”) grew by the minute following the release of the theatrical masterpiece Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. And Fall Out Boy’s seminal From Under the Cork Tree debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 when it dropped on May 3 — 15 years ago this week — and remained there for two weeks.
From Under the Cork Tree wasn’t meant to be a mainstream piece of music. Within the first minute, frontman Patrick Stump makes a casual allusion to self-harm (“The ribbon on my wrist says do not open before Christmas”) on a song titled “Our Lawyer Made Us Change The Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued,” which is, on its own, something else to unpack. The track is a tongue-in-cheek track about fame and egotism. It’s also a whimsical introduction to a jam-packed record where FOB call themselves liars from the get-go.
Around this time, social media network Myspace became one of the first online spaces into which teenagers dove headfirst, utilizing it as a new form of self-expression. The crossover between Myspace and emo culture was unmissable. Communities came to life via comments and messages, and music connected users to one another more than anything else. Fans chatted for hours, discussing their favorite songs, their take on recent rumors, and their favorite band members. Hyper-sexualization and self-deprecation became the new trend, making From Under the Cork Tree one of the most resonant pieces of music.
From jealousy to secrecy, Fall Out Boy’s horny moments are always intertwined with something dark. There’s the casual “Oh, don’t mind me, I’m watching you two from the closet / Wishing to be the friction in your jeans” in “Sugar, We’re Goin Down,” which, although creepy, became a relatable line. Jealousy is at the forefront of “Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner," and Stump shamelessly sings: “Can I lay in your bed all day? / I’ll be your best kept secret and your biggest mistake / Hand behind this pen relives a failure every day,” proudly taking on the role as the mistake, which happens a lot on this album.
Today, the album may not seem particularly game-changing. But the aforementioned hyper-sexualization and self-deprecation — which are both scattered playfully and meaningfully throughout the record — have become integral parts of contemporary online culture for both teens and adults. Myspace is dead, but it’s no longer “edgy” to spend all of your time oversharing and making friends on social media; it’s expected. So is being both “horny on main” and outwardly sad. Fall Out Boy chipped away at the idea that depression should be kept inside, and the walls have since come crumbling down. The modern manifestation of Cork Tree is basically a finsta or a Twitter meme account.
The musical meaning of emo as a genre has largely been overtaken by the internet culture of emo. Plenty of people who’ve picked up the phrase, “I’m emo,” would laugh if they heard songwriter Pete Wentz’s cringe-worthy poem at the end of “Get Busy Living Or Get Busy Dying (Do Your Part to Save the Scene and Stop Going to Shows).” “He said why put a new address / On the same old loneliness / When breathing just passes the time / Until we all just get old and die,” he speaks over no music before the song ends. As awkward as most of the lyrics were, they served as the perfect away messages. It almost made more sense online than aloud.
If there’s a modern band that exemplifies the way internet emo culture has infiltrated music since Cork Tree, it’s 100 gecs. The Outline likened their album 1000 gecs to “a neon-colored Twitter feed,” and the record includes a song titled “xXXi_wud_nvrstøp_UXXx” that sounds like the musical embodiment of an online relationship between two Myspace emo fans: “Baby, you know that I got you / I could never stop you / I would never stop you / ‘Cause you know I’m crazy,” sings a sheepish, high-pitched, slightly electronic voice. It also resembles the same dramatized love that drenches Cork Tree.
One of the reasons the album resonated so heavily was because of its drama. Fall Out Boy turned all of these gritty emotions — depression, heartbreak, longing — into life-or-death scenarios. Quite possibly the most over-the-top track is “I’ve Got a Dark Alley and a Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth (Summer Song),” the title of which tells you this band indulges in self-pity like it’s something to be proud about. There are no jokes in this ballad, just a flood of poetically dismal lines that have been turned into edits and reblogged tens of thousands of times on Tumblr.
That’s what makes it so strange to think about the way emo started as an extension of hardcore music, completely pre-internet, with no implications about culture. Now, the leniency with the term “emo” grows wider and wider, which is how someone like Billie Eilish can sometimes get pegged with the term. Her fame came through SoundCloud, and she wears an emo persona: a young, black-clad, sad-aura outsider. Last year, she was even photographed with Wentz. Her music carries a haunting, unsettling atmosphere, but at its heart, it’s still pop.
Then, there’s the late Juice WRLD, who gushed over his love for Cork Tree in our 2018 interview with him. His hit “Lucid Dreams,” which has surpassed a billion Spotify streams, is infused with the same obnoxiously heartbroken energy found in Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Goin Down.” Cork Tree in part begat the entire emo-rap movement, as it made it cool to use music to be shamelessly sad. There’s a reason Fall Out Boy were featured on Lil Peep’s posthumous “I’ve Been Waiting” as a tribute, and nothing,nowhere. remixed Fall Out Boy’s song “Church.” Wentz always had a soft spot for hip-hop, too, which accounts for the unexpected but amazing Lil Wayne feature on Folie à Deux’s “Tiffany Blews” in 2009.
The list of current self-identified emo bands who were influenced by Fall Out Boy is endless, whether they know it or not. From Under the Cork Tree set the groundwork for today’s humiliatingly despondent tunes, from Modern Baseball’s self-deprecating Sports (which includes the notable track “@chl03k,” about talking to a crush on Twitter) to The Front Bottoms’s indulgent, personable Talon of the Hawk. It inspired other hopeless romantics to grab a guitar and sing wildly about their insecurities, their intense longings, and their depression.
Spinning Cork Tree today is weird. But when I first came across this album, I was pulled into the self-pity-party and couldn’t leave, even though I wasn’t a grown man who was sensitive, depressed, and horny. I wasn’t on MySpace either. It simply was my door into angst, and as soon as I turned the knob, I locked myself in.