Who among us never underwent the emotional throes of a teenage emo phase? Even if only for five minutes and eleven seconds of “Welcome to the Black Parade,” I would venture to say we’ve all been there.
The collective consciousness of Americans growing up in the 2000s can look back fondly to a time in which angst-fueled emo-punk helped us through the teenage years. There was something awfully cogent about the way the roaring melodies managed to shake hands with impassioned vulnerability above the foundation of boom-box pop rock instrumentals. And it was bands such as My Chemical Romance who laid these tracks, inventing a sound and aesthetic that quickly lodged itself in the musical canon.
Their music itself, especially early on, has a sound that borrows from early punk bands. However, as their discography progressed, the majestic and grandiose spirit of bands such as Queen began to intermix. My Chemical Romance, under the direction of Gerard Way, was equal parts band and spectacle. During an era of flannel-wearing, counter-culture grunge music, Way translated punk and hardcore into a pop rock sound that generation Z could appreciate and call their own. The band’s invigorating rhythm guitar was a sailboat for Way’s anthemic vocal performances, elements that coalesced with epic theatricality on “The Black Parade.”
With the advent of pop-punk, rock music wasn’t just for your dad or older brother anymore. Sure, Gerard Way took cues from the heavyweights of the decades before him, but he did so on his own terms. With the 2006 release of “The Black Parade”, My Chemical Romance transcended from merely making pop-punk to inventing a sort of concept band in the vein of Sgt. Pepper. The album tells a vivid story in rock opera fashion, an ambitious undertaking for what at the time was essentially a B-list alternative rock band. And although Gerard Way is no Paul McCartney or Roger Waters, the success of the band’s reinvention was artistically commendable.
My Chemical Romance catered to, and in many ways made a foundation for, an outsider culture that hadn’t quite existed in the eras that came before. Unlike the grunge- and punk-rock countercultures that followed the likes of Kurt Cobain and Greg Ginn, this crowd was not focused on rebellion or hatred of establishment. This was much less outwardly focused. The music and following of Gerard Way and Co. was an outlet for teenagers with the kinds of depressive thoughts that the experience of high school naturally evoked. Songs such as “Teenagers” spoke to a certain outcast archetype that was vague enough for almost anyone to identify with in some way, while down-to-earth and focused enough to offer tangible catharsis. This combination was not unusual to see in their music, and it earned them the title of “suicide cult” from publications such as the Daily Mail. Backlash from media, perhaps predictably, only strengthened the bond of the fanbase.
Future pop-rock bands, and even the evolving styles of their contemporaries, took these things to heart. Listen to Fall Out Boy’s garage-rock disposition on 2005’s “From Under the Cork Tree” and compare it to the operatic and grand-scale compositions of “Infinity on High,” released a year after “The Black Parade” in 2007. Every band from the pop-punk and alt-rock scene at the time wound up owing a little bit to My Chemical Romance, whether they realized it or not. We’re still feeling the aftershocks of their influence in bands such as Twenty One Pilots and Panic! At the Disco. They aimed to make music that wouldn’t fade away with a change in trends, and they succeeded. After all, the announcement of their sold-out comeback tour has spurred greater chart success than ever.
The point of this is that bands are important. My Chemical Romance were alchemists, taking the lofty grunge and pop punk of their predecessors and giving it to the children to call their own. There’s something deeply significant in that, and anyone who ever felt understood, or found an outlet, or coped with hard times through the medium of their music, identifies with it.