Emo Saved My Life: Challenging the Mainstream Discourse of Mental Illness around My Chemical Romance

Rosemary Hill

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter examines the role of mental illness in the discourse by and about My Chemical Romance fans in the context of the emo moral panic in 2008. I ask two questions: How were fans represented in the mainstream press; and how did the fans represent themselves at that time? Fans of My Chemical Romance are unusually vocal about their experiences of mental illness. The band was derided in America and the UK as leaders of a ‘suicide cult’ with the fans their victims. This mainstream connection between music and mental illness is not new: Researching the American heavy metal moral panic of the late 1980s, Gaines and Arnett found a disparity between the popular image of the metal fan as depressed by the music he listened to, and the reality of fans finding in the music solace from alienation and anger. What is new is the gender of the fans-they are a female and feminised audience-and their angry response to the mainstream press. Building on Gaines’ and Arnett’s work, I analyse readers’ letters to Kerrang! magazine during the late 2000s, data from interviews with fans, the film Emo: The Movie, and articles in the mainstream press. I argue that the mainstream press characterise My Chemical Romance fans as misguided innocents. I contend that My Chemical Romance fans discuss the music of the band as enabling them to cope with pre-existing depressions, to overcome bullying and even to save their lives. There is a clear disparity between the mainstream representation of My Chemical Romance fans and the words of the fans themselves. I conclude that My Chemical Romance fans’ willingness to discuss depression has been misinterpreted by their detractors, and I offer instead a positive story of the therapeutic benefits of emo music.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCan I Play with Madness? Metal, Dissonance, Madness and Alienation
EditorsColin McKinnon, Niall Scott, Kristen Sollee
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781848880573
ISBN (Print)9789004403581
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


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