Emo is, notoriously, a tricky thing to define. It spans genres, cultures, and hundreds of songs over 35 years. When putting together this list of 45 of the best emo songs, we’ve stuck to a couple of simple rules: firstly, they’re pretty much all from the 00s. Secondly, if it was associated with emo during that era in any way, it counts, even if it wasn’t intending to be lumped in with everything else. That means some people might categorise some entries as pop punk, post-hardcore, or even indie, but they were also at a time classified as emo, so it counts.
If you’re just at this point in the long-building revival dipping your toe into your adolescence, this list will hopefully function as a good starting point. There’s a playlist of all of the songs at the bottom, too.
1. ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’ – My Chemical Romance
Maybe an obvious shout, but there is nothing that encapsulates mid-00s emo more than this song, Gerard Way’s ‘Revenge’-era make-up, and the vaguely Heathers inspired music video.
Most emo line: I’m not okay/I’m not okay/well, I’m not okay/I’m not o-fucking-kay
2. ‘Lover I Don’t Have to Love’ – Bright Eyes
All of Conor Oberst’s back catalogue is created purely to cry to, but ‘Lover I Don’t Have to Love’ wins for its breathy, overwrought storytelling and an iconic feature on The O.C.
Most emo line: Love’s an excuse to get hurt/and to hurt/”Do you like to hurt?”/”I do! I do!”
3. ‘A Little Less Sixteen Candles – A Little More “Touch Me”‘, Fall Out Boy
It’s hard choosing a top 10 Fall Out Boy track, but ‘Sixteen Candles’ has all the tongue-in-cheek bitterness and an ambitious vampire-themed music video while going very hard.
Most emo line: I don’t blame you for being you/but you can’t blame me for hating it
4. ‘Emily’ – From First to Last
Unusually mellow for From First to Last, ‘Emily’ is a melodramatic, acoustic rumination on love and one that 90% of emo boys sent to girls who were not called Emily in the mid-00s.
Most emo line: ‘Cause thunderstorms could never stop me/’cause there’s no one in the world like Emily
5. ‘Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team)’ – Taking Back Sunday
The entirety of 2002’s ‘Tell All Your Friends’ deserves a look-in, but ‘Cute Without the ‘E’’ wins for A) going straight in and B) its vicious, melodramatic approach to infidelity.
Most emo line: I will never ask if you don’t ever tell me/I know you well enough to know you never loved me
6. ‘The Middle’ – Jimmy Eat World
All the best emo bands have a “feeling left out” anthem, and maybe it’s second wave legends Jimmy Eat World who are partly (mostly) responsible, but ‘The Middle’ is still the best one.
Most emo line: Hey, you know they’re all the same/you know you’re doing better on your own, so don’t buy in
7. ‘The Taste of Ink’ – The Used
The Used’s 2002 self-titled album is full of contenders, but ‘The Taste of Ink’ wins, purely because its lack of instrumental intro makes it the perfect Myspace song.
Most emo line: Couldn’t take this town much longer/being half dead wasn’t what I planned to be
8. ‘Transatlanticism’ – Death Cab For Cutie
Where would emo be without Ben Gibbard? ‘Transatlanticism’ is still an anthem of desperate longing and well worth defying your short attention span to spend almost eight minutes with.
Most emo line: I need you so much closer [x8]
9. ‘Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off’ – Panic! at the Disco
Sure ‘I Write Sins’ is the obvious choice, but ‘Lying’ has all of the hallmarks of a truly great emo song: misplaced horniness, jealousy, and a vaguely vengeful vibe.
Most emo line: I’ve got more wit, a better kiss, a hotter touch, a better fuck/than any boy you’ll ever meet, sweetie, you had me
10. ‘The Only Exception’ – Paramore
Paramore’s Hayley Williams has a lot of iconic songs under her belt, but perhaps none more than ‘The Only Exception’, a raw, honest acoustic track that was released when she was just 21.
Most emo line: And up until now I have sworn to myself/that I’m content with loneliness
11. ‘Dirty Little Secret’ – All-American Rejects
A vaguely threatening, upbeat song about infidelity that still goes off.
Most emo line: I’ll keep you my dirty little secret/don’t tell anyone or you’ll be just another regret
12. ‘Beating Heart Baby’ – Head Automatica
In which multi-faceted king Daryl Palumbo of Glassjaw fame turns his talent to electronic emo bops.
Most emo line: Girl, you gotta get away from me/’cause you want nothing to do with me
13. ‘L.G. Fuad’ – Motion City Soundtrack
“Let’s get fucked up and die” is a catchy line, but the rest of the lyrics are literal poetry.
Most emo line: I’m a mess, I’m a wreck/I am perfect, and I have learned to accept all my problems and shortcomings/’cause I am so visceral, yet deeply inept
14. ‘The Best of Me’ – The Starting Line
It’s rare that an emo song actually sounds as romantically optimistic as this one.
Most emo line: We got older but we’re still young/we never grew out of this feeling that we won’t give up
15. ‘Note to Self’ – From First to Last
Before Skrillex was Skrillex he was Sonny Moore, a 16-year-old with a lot of talent and a lot of feelings.
Most emo line: Note to self: I miss you terribly/this is what we call a tragedy
16. ‘Letters To You’ – Finch
Released at a time when Finch were post-hardcore royalty, ‘Letters To You’ helped earn them that crown.
Most emo line: I’m not sleeping and you’re not here/the thought stops my heart
17. ‘Juneau’ – Funeral For a Friend
Probably one of the best uses of repetition in an emo song of all time.
Most emo line: Tied to the testing of wills, where my heart breaks and spills
18. ‘Ohio is for Lovers’ – Hawthorne Heights
A recent comment on this video reads, “man, depression was just better in the 2000s”, and I agree.
Most emo line: So cut my wrists and black my eyes/so I can fall asleep tonight, or die
19. ‘Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down’ – Fall Out Boy
Fun fact: allegedly, Patrick Stump slurred his words on ‘Sugar’ to make the lyrics sound better.
Most emo line: I’m just a notch in your bedpost/but you’re just a line in a song
20. ‘Such Great Heights’ – The Postal Service
Not content with Death Cab, king of heartbreak Ben Gibbard shows up to add electronic music to the feelings.
Most emo line: It’s thoughts like this that catch/my troubled head when you’re away/when I am missing you to death
21. ‘This Year’s Most Open Heartbreak’ – Funeral For a Friend
Probably the most emo song title of all time.
Most emo line: Suicide to kiss your kids goodnight/will you take from them, what they’ve taken from you
22. ‘Stare at the Sun’ –Thrice
Another post-hardcore track controversially labelled as emo, it has all the helplessness and metaphor of the best.
Most emo line: a shrine or stone I haven’t kissed/a scar that never graced my wrist/a mirror that hasn’t met my fist
23. ‘At Your Funeral – Saves The Day
Saves the Day were monumental to second and third wave emo, and 2001’s ‘At Your Funeral’ is a landmark.
Most emo line: I’d offer you my hand it would hurt too much to watch you die
24. ‘Smile in Your Sleep’ – Silverstein
Post-hardcore and emo have more overlap than most bands would like to believe, and the entirety of Discovering the Waterfront serves as evidence.
Most emo line: And all the times you promised me that/everything would work out in the end, you were gravely mistaken
25. ‘Roses For the Dead’ – Funeral For a Friend
A rare emo song about genuine grief, ‘Roses For the Dead’ sees Matt Davies examining his feelings in the wake of the death of two close friends.
Most emo line: Wasting the hours now/we’re all suckers for tragedies
READ MORE: 45 OF THE SADDEST SONGS EVER WRITTEN
26. ‘Konstantine’ – Something Corporate
The direct reference to Jimmy Eat World’s 1999 ‘For Me This is Heaven’ sees Something Corporate really doubling down.
Most emo line: It’s to Jimmy Eat World/and those nights in my car/but this time I’m alone/and I don’t see those stars
27. ‘That’s What You Get’ – Paramore
‘That’s What You Get’, from 2007’s ‘Riot‘! is a fun, poppy song that shows Paramore at their high-energy best.
Most emo line: I drowned out all my sense with the sound of its beating/and that’s what you get when you let your heart win
28. ‘Understanding (In a Car Crash)’ – Thursday
Car crashes are an emo staple, and maybe we have this iconic track by post-hardcore band Thursday to thank.
Most emo line: I don’t want to feel this way forever/a dead letter marked return to sender
29. ‘Calling All Cars’ – Senses Fail
If you want to feel old, remember that ‘Calling All Cars’ was launched for streaming via AOL Radio.
Most emo line: So will you scatter my ashes where they won’t be found?/I kept my word when I swore that I would let you down
30. ‘Thank You For the Venom’ – My Chemical Romance
‘Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge’ did not need to do that on every single track, but it did, and we are grateful.
Most emo line: So give me all your poison/and give me all your pills/and give me all your hopeless hearts/and make me ill
31. ‘So Long, Astoria’ – The Ataris
Adolescent throwbacks by people in their mid-20s are a cornerstone of emo, and this extended Goonies reference is no exception.
Most emo line: Life is only as good as the memories we make/and I’m taking back what belongs to me
32. ‘Ocean Avenue’ – Yellowcard
A very earnest, almost sweet early emo song about teen love and getting out of your hometown.
Most emo line: If I could find you now things would get better/we could leave this town and run forever
33. ‘MakeDamnSure’ – Taking Back Sunday
This goes hard in its own right, but Adam Lazzara’s dance moves in the video sealed the deal.
Most emo line: I just wanna break you down so badly/in the worst way
34. ‘Hands Down’ – Dashboard Confessional
Originally recorded as an acoustic track… is there anything more emo than that?
Most emo line: My hopes are so high/that your kiss might kill me/so won’t you kill me/so I die happy
35. ‘The Recluse’ – Cursive
Released on Saddle Creek of Bright Eyes fame, ‘The Recluse’ seems like a fitting social distancing soundtrack.
Most emo line: But maybe I don’t want to finish anything anymore/maybe I can wait in bed ’til she comes home
36. ‘Thnks fr th Mmrs’ – Fall Out Boy
A bitter, vengeful ode to ex-lovers as only Fall Out Boy do best – and with a Kim K. Kameo!
Most emo line: Thanks for the memories/even though they weren’t so great/”he tastes like you only sweeter”
37. ‘A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White’ – Underoath
Heavier than most, formerly Christian band Underoath are hard to pin down, but this track has all the drama of screamo.
Most emo line: I never thought we’d make it out alive/I never told you but it’s all in your goodbyes
38. ‘Attention’ – The Academy Is…
Attention: Pete Wentz’s Decaydance protégé Will Beckett rarely gets as much of it as he deserves.
Most emo line: Oh, did I mention when I see you it stings like hell? To the fact that we could have something that’ll never happen
39. ‘Just Until Sundown’ – Further Seems Forever
Before there was Dashboard Confessional, there was Chris Carrabba’s early emo project, Further Seems Forever, to break your heart.
Most emo line: Blaming this all on my views/blaming the mood of the music/blaming it all on you
40. ‘Something That Produces Results’ – The Early November
Opening with the chorus is a bold move, and one that only makes this song go harder.
Most emo line: It takes a lot to make the end/it takes a lot of smart thinking
41. ‘Blue and Yellow’ – The Used
One from their standout debut album, this song deals with the drawbacks of working with your friends.
Most emo line: Should’ve said something but I’ve said it enough/by the way my words were faded/rather waste my time with you
42. ‘Until the Day I Die’ – Story of the Year
It’s a little dramatic, sure, but it definitely gets his point across.
Most emo line: But if you died right now/you know that I’d die to/I’d die too
43. ‘If I Told You This Was Killing Me, Would You Stop?’ – The Juliana Theory
An early contender for most spiteful lyrical emo clichés in one single song.
Most emo line: Listen, here’s the clever one who speaks before his thoughts are done
44. ‘Face Down’ – Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
Red Jumpsuit Apparatus’ biggest song is also the least misogynistic pop punk/emo song of all time.
Most emo line: One day this world’s gonna end/as your lies crumble down, a new life she has found
45. ‘Existentialism on Prom Night’ – Straylight Run
John Nolan, formerly (and currently) of Taking Back Sunday is responsible for a lot of tears.
Most emo line: Sing like you think no one’s listening/you would kill for this/just a little bit
For all your emo needs, here’s a playlist of all the songs.
Did we miss your favourite song? Let us know in the comments below.