My favourite teen band lyrics now make me feel sick

Perhaps the music itself was more of a sexual awakening than we thought – but for all the wrong reasons (Picture: Emmie Harrison-West)

If, like me, you spent the early noughties as a proud emo kid – you’ll be just as excited as I am for the revival of all things scene following the announcement of the When We Were Young Festival.

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The festival is set to take place in Las Vegas this October, with iconic bands My Chemical Romance and Paramore headlining, accompanied by sets from AFI, Avril Lavigne, Bright Eyes, Jimmy Eat World, The Used, Taking Back Sunday, The All American Rejects and the rest of the nostalgia-inducing, angsty bands your dad used to tell you to turn down as a pre-teen (he didn’t understand, OK?).

It was a simpler time, when the day’s only worries were your straightened fringe getting greasy on the way to school; or updating your MySpace with a new selfie from above – complete with a band t-shirt, fingerless gloves from Claire’s, and poster from the last Warped tour in the background.

Frontmen and women with dyed long hair, who wore pink eyeshadow and neon studded belts, were our sexual awakening.

Except, I can’t help but think that perhaps the music itself was more of a sexual awakening than we thought – but for all the wrong reasons. 

Where I once enjoyed indulging in some much-needed nostalgia (often in the form of revisiting mine and my then-boyfriend’s Taking Back Sunday ‘song’ when I was 14) it now seems to me that our guilty pleasures are in fact guilty of being sexist, and in some cases extremely derogatory towards women.

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Listening back to the lyrics to many of the bands I idolised as an innocent teen, as a 28-year-old, I’m pretty disgusted. Instead of basking in nostalgia, I feel sick hearing them. 

Some hits from these cult bands are slut-shaming (even rape-defending) and reduce women to sexual objects.

In too many songs, women are described as ‘sluts’, ‘whores’ (think of your favourite line in *that* Panic! At the Disco song), ‘bitches’, and ‘cheap’ if they enjoy sex, or wear make-up – encouraging men to believe the reason we don’t sleep with them is because we don’t think they have enough money, or that we’re already f**king someone else.

If I’m being frank, it verges on incel territory (don’t even get me started on the shallowness of Good Charlotte claiming girls don’t date boys that don’t have stacks of cash or a Ferrari).

Many of these bands built entire albums around shagging women – multiple, in fact – but painted women as harlots if they did the same. 

In You Me At Six’s debut album Take Off Your Colours, for example, lyrics speak of ‘keeping score’ on ‘who is a whore’ in one song; having ‘front row seats’ to women on their knees, and leaving ‘respect at the door’ while women ‘ticked off’ their list of lovers. 

How much of this music has affected my – and much of my generation’s – perception of sex? (Picture: Emmie Harrison-West)

Similarly, Cute Is What We Aim For (whose lead singer sported possibly the most iconic side-parted fringe of the era) feature a song called The Fourth Drink Instinct on their sex-saturated debut album that speaks of a ‘gentleman’ having a one-night stand with an underaged girl, with a fake ID, who’s too intoxicated to ‘understand’. It’s absolutely dripping with rape-culture, misogyny and victim-blaming.

In another song, they explain how there’s always a ‘whore’ in every ‘circle of friends’, while in Curse of Curves they sing that her ‘bone structure [is] screaming’ for unwarranted touching – yet they still seek ‘shallow as a shower’ women who are ‘provocative and talkative’. Seems pretty shallow to me.

Fall Out Boy spoke of just being notches in girls’ bedposts, and spying on lovers from closets – asking for ‘sympathy in the form of crawling into bed’ with them. 

Panic’s lead singer told us lying was the most fun girls could have without taking their clothes off – with cheating girls ‘exchanging body heat’ in the backseat of someone else’s car, while still boasting he was a ‘better f**k’.

Don’t even get me started on Busted’s ‘Who’s David?’ It’s three minutes of slut-shaming a ‘cheap’, ‘stupid lying bitch’ who’s ‘been this way since high-school’ – ‘this way’ being flirtatious and covered in make-up. 

This, coupled with other songs that feature the band fetishising their teacher or being objectifying an air hostesses makes me think Busted didn’t perhaps write the best lyrics for a teen to sing on family car journeys.

It’s got me thinking: how much of this music has affected my – and much of my generation’s – perception of sex? How much of this music affected me growing up, and how I allowed myself as a woman to be treated by men? 

I definitely think, looking back, I forgave too easily and gave boys more credit then they deserved because of what the men I idolised taught me about women and sex. 

It’s worth taking a step back and thinking deeper about some of the music we idolised (Picture: Emmie Harrison-West)

I grew up believing that women were to blame for men’s behaviour, reducing us to mere lipstick stains on collars and bedsheets. That women were never victims, but the problem – that we were ‘sluts’ or ‘whores’ that couldn’t enjoy or indulge in sex, but be blamed for simply having too much of it. Albeit with the wrong person.

I felt criminalised for enjoying sex – and I’ve lost count of how many times fellow emo boys called me a ‘slut’ over the years.

I think of young boys who listened, too. How many of my exes treated me badly because the men who chirped in their ears told them I was the problem? That I was probably dry-humping another boy behind their back, and needed to be punished for it.

Our coming of age music was sexist, slut-shaming and victim-blaming, to put it bluntly. Even Paramore’s Hayley Williams recently admitted that Misery Business was ‘anti-feminist’ – apologising for the lyrics: ‘Once a whore, you’re nothing more / I’m sorry that’ll never change’.

Paramore has made the conscious decision to stop playing it live, too – with Hayley stating she was ‘narrow-minded’ when she wrote it. But what about the other bands, the boybands who were postered around our beds as impressionable virgins and controlled our attitudes towards sex? Where are their apologies? 

It’s safe to say we felt our teen hearts beating faster when we saw the line-up to our generation’s epitome of a nostalgia-fest, but it’s worth taking a step back and thinking deeper about some of the music we idolised. Thinking about whether many bands’ back-catalogues deserve to stay stashed in a shoebox with the rest of our CDs – gathering dust.

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Yes, maybe *all* of these men were scorned by lovers, but – regardless – the sad reality is that scores of teens were led to believe that calling a woman a ‘whore’ for enjoying sex was cool because the singers in our favourite bands did it.

And it’s a notion that still sadly exists, even today.

So, before we bring back organ-damaging skinnies and crank up the emo back-catalogue, let’s remember: just because a song that brings back memories of when you were young is a guilty pleasure, doesn’t mean it’s not extremely harmful.

Some so-called ‘guilty pleasures’ and bands have no place today, and should stay, unwelcomed, in the past.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk. 

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