Throughout the early to mid-aughts, seeing your favorite emo band perform meant either attending a live show, or turning on Fuse TV and hoping their latest music video would air. The emotion in the music was high, video production budgets were low, and it all came together in some memorable cinematography. After evaluating hundreds of music videos, we’ve noted several themes and commonalities: the unofficial color scheme of the emo music video is white, black, and red, with hints of indigo blue. Narratives tend to center around hospitals, churches, and either dilapidated buildings or the most ornate mansions you’ve ever seen—all abandoned. Nurses, children, clergy members, fighting couples, and wall clocks are recurring characters.
The following have been ranked by their expert use of these tropes, or their creative departures into originality. Here are the 10 Best Emo Music Videos of all time:
10. (Tie) The Academy Is… “We’ve Got A Big Mess On Our Hands”
It’s clear this music video benefited from a larger budget than most others of the time, which likely has something to do with the overt placement of Nokia slider phones. The cellphone-centric narrative tightly centers around singer William Beckett, who is being taunted and impersonated by his doppelganger. After Doppelganger William punches through a mirror and steps over Real William’s glass-strewn body, he takes off to menace the streets, find some groupies, and clear Real William’s bank account. This video is before its time not just with the use of product placement, but also with its addition of intra-song dialogue, which features a cameo by Pete Wentz and some well-dressed chimpanzees. The ending shows the two Williams fist-fighting on stage in front of a crowd, which is the most literal possible depiction of being at war with oneself, and by nature very emo.
10. (Tie) Alexisonfire “This Could Be Anywhere In The World”
This video can only be described as elemental. It focuses entirely on the band performing, among roaring flames, torrential bursts of water, whipping gusts of wind, and crumbling concrete skyscrapers against heavily shadowed lighting. The movements are perfectly timed to the song, which goes just as hard today as it did in 2006.
9. Hawthorne Heights “Saying Sorry”
Hawthorne Heights shook the very foundation of the emo genre with “Ohio Is For Lovers,” a track so unapologetically Emo with a capital “E” that it was nearly laughable even at the time of its release. Yet, it’s the video for “Saying Sorry” that earns a rightful place on this list. The creative direction nails the requisite emo color scheme by dressing the band in white suits and staging them on a heavenly backdrop with black guitars. It also hits many of the compulsory emo motifs, with interspersed scenes of kids playing “doctor” and young adults fighting in a decrepit house. Yes, the makeup artists did beautiful work on the angelic characters that appear behind the band, but what really makes this video special is the multiple cuts to J.T. Woodruff obliterating the fourth wall and singing directly into the camera.
8. Coheed and Cambria “The Suffering”
Much like Coheed’s music, which has never quite fit into any specific genre, this cinematic music video is a departure from the aforementioned emo tropes. Not only does it look like it was shot inside the Indiana Jones Adventure after hours at Disneyland, but it also features amusingly low-budget CGI of half a dozen mythological creatures. While a centaur lusts after a particular mermaid in a pack of sirens, the band plays, massive scorpions fight to the death, and a winged horse flies overhead. When a giant sea monster takes the mermaid in its grasp, the centaur shoots it down with a bow and arrow, rescuing her in a rare happily ever after.
7. Chiodos “Baby, You Wouldn’t Last A Minute On The Creek”
Shot in a deep vignette to appear as though on film, this video follows an urban foot quest between a woman wearing a papier-mâché mouse head and singer Anthony Green outfitted in a full yellow tracksuit and bird-like mask. Mouse Woman scours the city with a tin hospital box filled with Polaroid photos she hands out to passersby, then takes off running with newly acquired stacks of newspapers and a map. Birdman does a bit of parkour before acquiring a map of his own. Flashbacks of a bedroom wall lined with those same polaroids lead us to believe that Mouse Woman and Birdman are former lovers, which is confirmed when the two find each other in a back alley and have it out in a physical street fight. By 2005 emo standards, this is fine art.
6. Say Anything “Wow! I Can Get Sexual Too”
This unapologetically bizarre and X-rated song is something of an emo classic, and it’s matched by a mildly chaotic music video. While the band performs in front of a solid white backdrop adorned with red landline phones, singer Max Bemis places a phone call to a group of desi women who lead off a Bollywood dance sequence. Meanwhile, as a butler pushes around a bar cart, an unmarked silver sedan appears in the frame along with the words “Blatant Vehicular Endorsement.” Bemis throws some $10 bills toward the camera as he dances in front of it, indicating that the whole thing may be parodying a rap video. After Coby Linder licks his drumstick and Parker Case spanks his keyboard, Bemis slides around in a white sweatsuit with a technicolor LED wall behind him, closing out this quasi-parody fever dream of a video.
5. Fall Out Boy “Dance, Dance”
The bassline of this track alone is enough to bring any elder emo right back to 2007, a year quite perfectly encapsulated in this video. Taking place at a high school dance, it has it all—representation of every clique archetype, sexual tension, misogyny, dance battles, and sequin dresses. The opening scene shows a boy asking a girl to the dance by writing “homecoming?” in open flames on her family’s lawn, which is basically avant-garde, considering prom-posals wouldn’t become popular for at least another five years. Is it unsettling to think about how the band members were in their mid-twenties when they conceptualized and filmed this video? We’d say about as unsettling as binge-watching a season of “Euphoria.”
4. Panic! At The Disco “But It’s Better If You Do”
Back when Panic! At the Disco was still a four-piece band of teenagers making techno-influenced cabaret-rock, they filmed this video for “But It’s Better If You Do,” a song about burlesque queens giving lap dances to men drinking peach and lime daiquiris. After a black and white opening that sets the video in the 1930s with a couple having a domestic argument, the picture turns to full color and cuts to a strip club. While the band plays on a stage looking dapper in three-piece suits, they’re surrounded by half-naked ne’er-do-wells dressed in every fishnet, feather boa, and Venetian mask the wardrobe stylist could find at Spencer’s Gifts. No notes.
3. Cute Is What We Aim For “Curse Of Curves”
This video by lesser-known emo band CIWWAF is a study in emo idealism, fashion, and haircuts. It’s everything we’d ever want for a song boasting a rhyme scheme that could only be outdone by Dr. Seuss or most rappers. Set in an opulent mansion, a group of teenagers gather around a pearlescent dining table. Boys dressed in black and white tuxedos hold conversation with girls in blood red gowns while drinking red wine and maintaining heads of precisely angled side bangs. Lead singer Shaant Hacikyan exaggerates the lyrics into the camera between making eyes at—then hooking up with—every girl in the room. When he ultimately falls backwards in his chair and dies a dramatic death by presumed poisoning, we’re left with the question of, “how did production afford this filming location?”
2. Paramore “Emergency”
Few emo bands have grown and evolved over the last two decades in the way Paramore has, and the video for “Emergency,” the second single off their debut album, is a testament to their emo reign. It plays out in the quintessential location—a building that appears to have once been a mansion but has since become a weather-worn abandoned structure. The band is outfitted in distressed black and white formalwear, with red rose corsages that perfectly match the blood coming from gashes the makeup artist did a passable job of painting on their faces. We’re fairly certain the concept intends to portray the physical manifestation of inner turmoil, and with the lyric, “these scars, they will not fade away,” it exudes emo excellence.
1. Underoath “Writing On The Walls”
Securing the number one spot on this list is a video that’s wholly unique in both concept and execution. The impressive set design of a claustrophobic life-sized dollhouse creates unsettling disproportions with a cast of vintage horror-inspired characters. The band plays in the basement as the characters eerily devolve into various states of mental breakdown and discover a dead body in the attic. The timely choreography of it all makes this video reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film if Wes Anderson made horror movies and was really mad at his parents. Ending in a wide pan to the surface of an Earth shrouded in darkness, it’s as enigmatic and memorable as the emo era itself.