Alt together now

Alt together now
photo by Lia Miller
Alt together now

“They’re gonna clean up your looks / With all the lies in the books / To make a citizen out of you / Because they sleep with a gun / And keep an eye on you, son / So they can watch all the things you do”

While these lines may sound like they came straight from a depressed college student’s diary or a serial killer’s note, they actually appear on the third album released by American post-hardcore alternative band My Chemical Romance. Pessimistic yet intriguing lyrics like these separated MCR and other bands like it from the fluffiness of the mainstream pop music that prevailed at the time, and caught the media’s attention. And while MCR split up as the members moved on to different projects, alternative music and the culture that it has created continues to capture students’ hearts and minds.

The label “alternative music” describes anything  that steps outside of the norm in some way, which naturally includes dozens of subgenres ranging from heavy punk rock to soft indie, but some of the most influential bands include Green Day, R.E.M., Radiohead, The Smiths and Nirvana, while some (slightly) more modern artists are Avril Lavigne, Girl In Red, The Killers, My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy.

Not only do students find comfort and enjoyment in listening to alternative music, the culture itself is accepting, and many of the artists act as role models.

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“I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color” —”Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” by Fall Out Boy

Often, you can recognize an alt music fan by the way they dress, mimicking the fashion trends and general aesthetic of the music they enjoy.

Senior Teddy Baker, who enjoys gothic rock bands, described their aesthetic as “mall goth or death rocker.” These aesthetics incorporate dark colors, the occasional band t-shirt and bold styles.

However, many students prefer to change up their aesthetic regularly as opposed to sticking to one all the time.

“I would say that my music taste changed how I dress,” freshman Itzel Gerena said. “People usually dress to their music. But for me, I switch my aesthetic, from grunge to Barbie.”

Grunge outfits tend to be darker and messier, taking inspiration from the aesthetic of bands like Nirvana, and usually featuring plaid or denim in some form.

Other alt aesthetics include punk (which usually incorporates spikes or studded accessories in some form, and contrasting bright/dark colors), and emo (think black eyeliner, skinny jeans and Hot Topic).

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“After it all, I just really wanna call my dad” —”Call My Dad” by AJR

For many, a love of alternative music runs in the family. Most students said that they were introduced to the genre by parents or family members, then explored it more on their own.

 “I kind of started with Panic! At the Disco [from] my mom because she suggested I listen to some of their older songs,” sophomore Finch Uhing-Wagner said. “Then I started discovering other bands. [My friend] introduced me to Mayday Parade”

Since alt music has been around for a long time and is always evolving, it makes sense that kids would adopt their parents’ music taste and then go looking for more modern bands that strike a chord with them.

“[My music taste] is a combination of my mom liking bands like those, and the radio,” sophomore Olivia Hamby said. 

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“17 and coming clean for the first time” —”Coming Clean” by Green Day

While members of the LGBTQ+ community can be found listening to any music genre, students have expressed that the alternative community seems especially welcoming in terms of breaking sexuality and gender norms. This is largely due to the fact that alt culture centers around embracing and celebrating differences.

“[Alternative music] has introduced me to [the] LGBTQ scene, and that encompasses being your genuine self,” Baker said. “The community kind of provides a safe space for a group of people that don’t always feel safe.”

Prominent alt music artists have also taken extra steps toward making the community feel safer and more inclusive, in part by being vocal about their own sexuality, and publicly challenging gender stereotypes. 

Most fans of Panic! At The Disco, an alternative band that first gained popularity in the early 2000s, have seen at least one picture of Brendon Urie waving a pride flag, and the song “Girls/Girls/Boys” inspired the P!ATD Hearts Project, a fan-led project that aims to show support for LGBTQ+ people by holding up paper hearts.

It has also become common for male artists to dress in traditionally feminine clothing and vice versa. The trend of “guyliner” is widely embraced in many alternative subcultures, originally as a way to stand out and now as a challenge to toxic masculinity, with nearly every male punk rock artist in the last three decades wearing it.

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“I fell in love with the girl at the rock show” —”The Rock Show” by blink-182

Forcefully immersing one’s brain in an alt-rock bassline by way of high-volume headphones is fun, but listeners of all genres (alternative or otherwise) can agree that nothing quite compares to the excitement of seeing a band live in concert.

Alt bands frequently implement as many lights, pyrotechnics, and smoke machines as possible in order to create a spectacle that rivals the wonder of their music itself. 

Currently, several of these artists are on tour after releasing new music.

For the more hardcore side of alt music, a mosh pit is the center of energy and enthusiasm at a concert.

“You become one [part] of the mass,” Baker said. “So you have people kicking around, you have people charging into each other. And the fun it feels to just let out anything you want. And it almost feels liberating not to have full control of your body.”

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“Smash all the guitars, ‘till we see all the stars” —”I Am My Own Muse” by Fall Out Boy

Listeners certainly take inspiration from the bands and songs that they admire, and often try to create that music themselves. Some will pick up an instrument because their favorite artist did, and discover a lifelong passion for it.

Gerena was inspired by one of her favorite artists, British indie rock band Lovejoy, to begin playing bass guitar, and Baker plans on picking up guitar in order to play songs from bands that they enjoy.

“One of the things that I want to learn is the main guitar solo from ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Me’ [a song by gothic rock band Type O Negative],” Baker said.

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“And when you’re gone, we want you all to know, we’ll carry on,” —”Welcome To The Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance

The future of alternative music is unsure, but a lot of these bands seem to be making a comeback, while others never faded away. 

AJR released a new album, “The Maybe Man,” on Nov. 10, which shows their development as a group, while keeping some of the fun, quirky elements of their earlier work.

“I feel like a lot of bands have been following [AJR] in their style, especially alt bands,” Hamby said. “But alt is so diverse. It’s kind of hard to tell where it’s going to go. Somebody might pop up like AJR did a few years ago, and gain a massive following and be the new norm.”

And AJR is not the only one. Fall Out Boy, Blink-182, Green Day, Avril Lavigne, All Time Low, and Paramore have all released singles or albums within the last year, and with more activity from all of these bands lately, and the release of the single “The Foundations Of Decay” without any sort of buildup, there may also be hope for a comeback of My Chemical Romance, or at least more enthusiasm for the nostalgia of 2000s punk.

Still, as with all good things, some bands cannot last forever. Last year, Panic! At The Disco announced their official end after slowly losing members over the course of 19 years, and some of the older bands such as Type O Negative have not performed since the early 2000s due to deaths in the group or members’ desire to work on other projects. And while many new bands have risen up to take their place, alternative music may never be quite what it once was twenty years ago.

“I think that the drumming/hardcoreness is going down little by little,” Gerena said. “So either it’s going to get really popular again, or it’s going to turn into soft rock.”

Others are less certain about the direction that their favorite genre will take.

“I’m not really sure [where alternative music is going],” Uhing-Wagner said. “But I hope that it becomes something that can motivate people to keep going when things get hard.”

Despite all of the questions that still remain regarding the genre’s future, fans will never lose that indescribable laughing-screaming-crying feeling that they get from a certain song. 

So long, and goodnight. 

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Songs quoted:
“Teenagers” by My Chemical Romance
“Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)” by Fall Out Boy
“Call My Dad” by AJR
“Coming Clean” by Green Day
“The Rock Show” by blink-182
“I Am My Own Muse” by Fall Out Boy
“Welcome To The Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance

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